Top 10 Things You Can do to Build a World that “Wastes Not, Wants Not”

We take. We make. We waste. And waste. By 2025 waste volumes will nearly double from 1.3 billion tons to 2.2 billion tons. In 2030, living on a planet with 9 billion people – including 3 billion new middle income consumers – will require thinking beyond take-make-waste to a post-waste economy. During the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Annual Corporate Citizenship Conference we chaired an interactive discussion with the American Chemistry Council’s Craig Cookson, Ecova’s Erik Makinson, and HP’s Nate Hurst to discuss how they and other leading companies are rethinking design, manufacturing, and consumption to close loops, turn waste into energy, and find money in the trash at a scale that can solve the global waste challenge while driving real business and environmental results.


The list below compiles the Top 10 Things we can all work on to improve our collective ability to better manage and reduce waste:


  1. Use Systems Thinking. Recognizing how our operations, supply chains, and processes fit into larger systems and systems of systems – not only at work but at home as well. You can bring this level of awareness to all your different roles as a consumer, organization leader, and environmentally-conscious citizen to think differently about what you buy, produce, and use.


  1. Forge Better Partnerships to Get Beyond the 1980s. Most waste laws, regulations, mindsets, beliefs, and behaviors are set very locally and frozen in time. We need to move beyond these increasingly obsolete frameworks and build a new culture designed for this century and the next. We need to forge partnerships that include waste processors, recyclers, manufacturers, retailers, and others. You can work with the people and organization around you to encourage a more collaborative environment between the major players from the organizations that produce the waste to those that process it to those that make new use from it.


  1. Dirty MRFs and Deteriorating Commodity Values. Single-stream, curbside recycling, zero waste, waste-to-energy. These concepts can become a jumble of opposing ideas. Instead, they could become part of a self-reinforcing rubric of different approaches – a drop-down menu for different communities to choose from at different times or according to different needs. At the same time, as a field, we need to come to terms with the technical and logistical challenges of actually processing waste so that we can extract the highest amount of high quality commodities. That includes dealing with the realities of running different kinds of Materials Recovery Facilities, both “dirty” and “clean”, and the declining value of different recovered commodities.



  1. Barriers, Carrots, & Sticks. Communities and organizations can and should lower barriers that prevent more effective waste management, including providing incentives at all levels – individuals, households, and organizations.


  1. Rotten Carrots & Twisted Sticks. While incentives and penalties can modify behavior, they can also create unintended consequences and funky behavior. Carefully craft your policies and incentives to ensure they promote the intended behavior and results.


  1. Make it Business Supportive. HP’s in-store printer cartridge recycling program does more than just recycle cartridges. It drives foot-traffic and customer loyalty for the participating office supply stores. Think about how you can create a program that actually drives business-results for yourself and others in your value chain.


  1. Use Sub-Regulatory, Voluntary Approaches. The current political environment makes new laws or regulations very unlikely. At the same time, we have a lot of tools at our disposal to craft voluntary collective approaches. Work through your local community and business organizations, like your local chamber, to bring the vital stakeholders together. You can also join up with the US Chamber Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center as it hosts a national dialog on better Managing Waste.


  1. Think of it as Value Adding and Job Creating. The next generation of emerging waste management ideas will bring new opportunities for creating economic value and driving job creation. With innovative thinking and entrepreneurial grit you can build entire new businesses on the trash produced by the old.


  1. Iterative vs. Big Bang. Markets do an amazing job of channeling resources to where they are needed most. They do this by aggregating thousands, even millions of small decisions, the net of which does the ultimate crowd-sourcing from the collective wisdom of all market-participants. Given the very local nature of most waste management think about the kind of iterative decisions and experiments you can run to test your approaches.


  1. Stay on Top. So much is changing in how we manage waste. To stay on top of it, plug into the US Chamber Foundation’s Managing Waste Issue Network.


What do you think of our list? Something we missed? Something you’d add? Comment below. We want your feedback! Want to join the conversation? We’re hosting an invitation-only interactive webinar on Managing Waste on Oct 1 at 1pm ET. Click here to request an inviation.

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