Last week, The Wall Street Journal held its fifth annual Eco:nomics conference on the future of business and the environment. The paper published several interviews from the event with bigwigs including Bill Gates and T. Boone Pickens.
I thought this one about making money on garbage was interesting. WSJ editor interviewed David P. Steiner, CEO of Waste Management.
He said his company did an assessment of all the trash it hauls to figure out how much it would be worth if it were separated into constituent parts and sold into commodity markets. The answer: $10 billion to $12 billion.
“Our total revenue right now is $13 billion, $14 billion,” he said. “We could double our revenue if we sold it for its commodity value.”
But instead of just selling trash as commodities, he said, Waste Management is trying to up-cycle it into something more valuable than a commodity – such as chemicals or energy.
Right now the company’s business is still 75 percent trash hauling and 25 percent up-cycling. But, Steiner said, upcycling materials is ultimately more profitable than sending them to the landfill, and “in the next 10 to 15 years, I think it’ll be 100 percent up-use and zero traditional.”
The story also highlights a few things that are improving Waste Management’s environmental footprint: solar-powered compactors that reduce truck trips, garbage trucks that run on liquefied natural gas made from landfill-generated methane, technology that sorts recyclable material so consumers don’t have to, and more recycling bins in convenient public places such as gas stations.