The zero waste battlefield could get bloody

Many businesses have latched onto the fact that money talks in zero waste terms. It's smart capitalism – taking what was previously a cost and turning it into a profit centre.

Zero waste will, ultimately, make landfill obsolete. It involves rethinking product lifecycles and goes far beyond recycling, stretching into a landscape covered in scrap carbon. It's about tracking society's natural resource flows.

Whether our efforts will be able to eliminate waste entirely from a process remains doubtful, but one thing is certain. Whereas traditional activities were fixed on the front end of resource management – inputs and gate fees – future enterprise will be glued to the back end of these processes, the outputs.

And the higher the value of that output, the more bankable it will be. These exit values will be dependent on feedstock security, site location, market demand for that output, but also on the type of extraction technology used.

Those who are developing sophisticated treatment technologies, clean-tech engineering solutions which have the potential to maximise this scrap carbon and turn it into profit – be it secondary materials or gigajoules of energy – will be onto a winner.

Zero waste still has a valuable role to play at the front end, but I feel that will be more around trying to design it out of a process or supply chain. And where you can't design it out, you look to capture it instead.

Businesses are now mapping their operations to figure out where waste can be eliminated before it's created, while finding new uses and markets for everything else. Take Walmart for instance – back in 2009, it tracked 30 waste streams. Now it tracks 138.  

What will be interesting is to see how traditional waste companies evolve to take advantage of this shift in resource management. Ultimately, we may be on the cusp of a hijack.

Big corporates and energy companies are already circling in an opportunistic way. When Tesco rolls out its own in-store takeback scheme for electrical goods linked to reward points, you can bet they will take ownership of that material stream too.

For some, zero waste is a perfect brand opportunity. It's there to be exploited and fought over, especially if it will boost the bottom line.

maxine perella

Topics: edie
Tags: | gate fees | resource management | supply chain | technology | tesco | walmart | zero waste
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