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This Great Cause

Today I invited Kelsey Rumburg, the author of Trash to Treasure, to share her perspective on businesses that reimagine a new life for trash, and turn that into profit. Here is what she said:


The Regenerative Mindset

Every day, consumers throw trash away and have no second thought about what it is doing to our planet. Our world needs businesses who can address this dilemma of massive waste but find real, practical solutions as well. Two such businesses are Patagonia and TerraCycle. These companies have made massive strides to eliminate waste and should be highlighted for their tremendous, necessary work. Although he is not a household name, Yvon Chouinard has made his mark on history. He is a real risk-taker, and it has served him for the best. Chouinard grew up enjoying the outdoors. Through trial-and-error, he created a chain of outdoor clothing and goods stores known as Patagonia that has allowed him to achieve a level of success most entrepreneurs only hope for. However, this worldly success was not what he had anticipated. He soon realized how devastating consumer culture and textile production were on the environment, and Chouinard was faced with a new challenge—continue to grow and scale to achieve greater financial success at the cost of the environment (which he loved so much), or risk it all to push for innovation and find a way to help the planet, while continuing to supply gear to his beloved coworkers and customers.


Chouinard decided to take the risk. And so many of us are grateful that he did! He began using organic cotton and other recycled fabrics in his clothing, instead of the conventional textile they had previously been using. He also created a system to extend product life through recycling. He was aware of how people often buy clothing and throw them away at the start of a new trend. Patagonia started to lead the way toward thoughtful purchasing, care and repair, reselling gear, and recycling it only at the absolute end of its life. From New York Subway ads stating “You don’t need this jacket” to launching Worn Wear, an e-commerce and pop-up store for trading-in and purchasing previously loved Patagonia clothing and gear, the company has taken a stand to ensure that none of its products end up in a landfill and they are lovingly worn for as long as possible. Patagonia now operates the country’s largest outdoor gear-repair shop and boasts that in 2017, it made 50,295 clothing repairs. Chouinard continues to help reduce waste in his industry, and hopefully, many other businesses will follow suit.


Mindset Shift

Another “mover-and-shaker” is TerraCycle, whose clear vision is a world without waste. This mission helps them attract [likeminded] talent, partnerships, investors, and customers who join them as they reach this goal. TerraCycle isn’t your average company. Walk around the office headquarters, and you find an array of mismatched secondhand desks, walls of upcycled records and water bottles, and a multitude of other trash re-purposed into office furniture and decoration. Sound like some Portland hipster’s dream UX/UI design firm? Maybe, but you would be shocked to know this is not some little group of hippies living in a commune—it’s big business. While still in college, founder Tom Szaky figured out a way to turn worm waste into fertilizer. He used recycled plastic bottles, that he had collected, to package the product. After realizing worm fertilizer could have its limits, Szaky soon started to collect other things. He took things other people have seen as invaluable and either repurposed, upcycled or recycled them. They now collect packaging from other companies, like Clif & Honest tea, and reuse it. They have even worked with Head & Shoulders® to create a bottle for their products that was made from recycled beach plastic! But, of course, this system could have its disadvantage: they were ordering products from companies, and then recycling the shipping material. Unintentionally, they were contributing to consumerism. By providing an outlet for things like wrappers and plastic bags to be recycled, it allowed using them to be normal and acceptable. The only change for the consumer is putting the waste in a specific bin. Which, while an important mindset shift, does not address the whole issue of eliminating waste.


So, TerraCycle developed another company called Loop that works with major retailers to provide reusable packaging for their products. Similar to the milkman model of years gone by, Loop sends consumers their favorite products in a specially designed bag via UPS, collecting a small deposit from them when they order the products and returning it when the packaging is returned. After collecting the packaging from the consumer’s home, it is cleaned and refilled—eliminating substantial amounts of packaging in the supply chain.


To say the very least, Szaky has figured out a way to turn trash into cash and solve many problems at once. He’s helped his companies grow into large-scale, profitable businesses.


As a matter of fact, in 2018 TerraCycle had over twenty million dollars in revenue and $1.1 million in net profit, demonstrating that you really can make green from green.


Yvon Chouinard and Tom Szaky are leading the regenerative mindset movement, and it is exciting to think of all of the up-and-coming businesses that will join the fight to sustain Planet Earth. They are doing such great work and hope the rest of the world notices and joins this great cause.


What are the simple steps we can take to embrace this in our own lives? We can start by looking at our own trash! Try a trash audit – pick a day and put your trash in a bag that you carry with you all day! You might be surprised at how much trash you can create in just one day!


How do you change that? Research companies that are turning trash into their products, like Patagonia or Terracycle, when you need to purchase something. Or, reuse or upcycle something you already have!


Curious to learn more? Check out Kelsey's book, Trash to Treasure, on Amazon now!

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