We have all these words, any many more, to describe something that does not have value to us. We seek ways to eliminate waste, we have whole industries devoted to garbage disposal, and still, our annual production of trash is blooming at an alarming rate. Indeed, according to Garbology by Edward Humes, Americans throw away over seven pounds of waste per person per day, 365 days a year!
How do we tackle this enormous challenge?
We find ways to use it! We get creative, we get scrappy, we give it a new life. We take this thinking and apply it to the businesses we build and to the world we create.
LEAN methodology came up in a discussion the other day — the famed method for eliminating waste used in Toyota’s manufacturing process. Serendipitously, it reminded me that the first step in LEAN thinking is to define value.
All of the waste we throw away has value. Maybe not to us. But to someone. When we start to challenge how we see waste, we can create some amazing companies.
Who is leading the way to change this?
There are plenty of companies, large as small, working diligently to transform waste into their products. Some brands you might be familiar with include:
Patagonia Worn Wear — loved by outdoorsman and urbanites alike, they have developed a process to resell and recycle every single one of their items. Yes, every single item.
Or Terracycle, which famously finds a way to recycle or repurpose every item sent to their facility. From ice cream wrappers to vinyl records, they’ve found a way to create value from it.
As I share in Trash to Treasure: Exploring a New Wave of Entrepreneurship with Waste, when we start to see trash, we can start to see the possibilities it has to change our daily lives and even our economy.
As we start to become more aware of what we see as trash, we begin to realize that much of it — from plastic to textiles to food scraps — can be given a second life. It may be easy to tell ourselves that we live in a world of abundant resources and don’t need to worry about the one plastic thing we throw away. Still, reflecting on our relationship with waste is a key part of the journey in becoming both a regenerative entrepreneur, and, more importantly, a mindful consumer.
This regenerative mindset teaches us that value is always there — if we choose to see it. If we are willing to engage with the idea that our trash might actually be a treasure, we can create value from nothing. Next time we see trash, let’s call it what it really is:
Kelsey Rumburg is a creator and a builder dedicated to inspiring social and environmental change through her words and actions. Check out her book, Trash to Treasure, for more information. Follow her Instagram, @kerumburg, to stay up to date on all things #trashy!