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Trash to Treasure: Creating a platform to enable circular economy for materials in commercial and industrial processes

The Goal: Using end-of-life materials and by-products as raw materials for complementary, but unrelated resource transformation processes.

Photo of Stephanie Glazer
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Trash to Treasure (T2T) Platform: Circular Economy for Industrial and Commercial Materials. 

The Idea:  Create an on-line information-sharing platform for “closing the loop” on open-ended resource transformation processes.  Users of materials can list the materials they need for their process, while producers of by-products and other wastestreams can list the contents of their waste stream.  The areas of overlap are identified and prioritized based on geographic parameters and/or logistical constraints.  The scope includes any inputs needed or wastes produced in industrial and commercial operations.  For example, a restaurant may list its organic wastes from kitchen operations, which could be an attractive feed source for a local pig farmer.  The platform would match up nearby operations where one entity’s waste is another entity’s valued raw material.    

The Goal:  Using end-of-life materials and by-products as the raw materials for complementary, but unrelated processes within a reasonable geographic radius to enable materials sharing.  The producer (of the waste) saves on disposal costs, and the user (of the “waste” as raw material) saves on materials procurement costs.

Environmental Benefit:  By avoiding unnecessary disposal of materials, GHG emissions from decomposition of waste in are reduced; and by beneficially reusing these materials, the energy and material inputs to create already-existing raw materials are avoided.

Unintended Consequence to be Managed:  The concept of “closing the loop” through identification of off-site complementary operations does imply some amount of energy to be used for materials transportation; however, absent this mechanism, transportation would be needed to procure new raw materials from a different source.  Accordingly, impact from transportation of the reused materials can be considered a replacement for the transportation of new materials, provided this is managed at a reasonable scale in terms of distance and logistical efficiency (e.g. compare relative revenue ton-miles of materials obtained through the T2T platform with those procured from a different supplier).  In either case, transportation should be optimized for efficiency to minimize environmental and financial impact.

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Photo of Stephanie Glazer

Here is a timely webinar hosted by GreenBiz: Achieving a Circular Economy: How the Private Sector is Re-imagining the Future of Business, on November 17, 2015 at 1pm (ET).
Register here:

Photo of Kévin MASSE

Thanks for sharing this!

Photo of Lyn Evans

Hi Stephanie,
I like your idea! Your example re: food waste and pig farm is a perfect example. Another is what often happens with building sites, when someone has excavated and wants to get rid of their soil, and somebody else needs clean fill. This works well, but can you give further examples to see if there is a strong enough model to pursue?
I was also thinking about moving house and the need for sturdy cardboard cartons, but I found that last time I moved,I had to purchase cartons from the removalist because a lot of products now come in thick cling wrap (plastic) rather than boxes, and many retailers were unwilling or unable to supply cartons. Some just rip them up for recycling.

Photo of Stephanie Glazer

Hi Lyn, Thanks for your post! Excavated clean fill is a great example. In the case of cardboard cartons, I could see a match between local businesses that receive regular shipments and local food pantries that need boxes. One key feature for establishing a partnership is that the materials ("wastes" or inputs) are recurring. To achieve greater efficiency and to avoid purchase of new materials, I would think that an on-going partnership would be more attractive than a one-time use. That said, if there is interest in one-time match-ups that could be an added feature.

Photo of Matthew Ridenour

Thanks for your post! Very interesting (and beautiful!) Is this your project? Are you already working on it, or is it more an idea right now? If you are working on it, how can OpenIDEO best support your efforts?

Photo of Stephanie Glazer

Thanks! This is just an idea for now. I'd be quite happy if OpenIDEO and/or its community members decided to run with it. A simple concept, but one which needs the technology and programming expertise to make it happen. The key components I envision are an open platform that (a) maintains a database of regular/recurring "waste streams" that are available, and regular/recurring process inputs that are needed, and (b) runs a matching algorithm of available products to product needs, using geography, quantity, and quality to determine best fit. Target users of the system are those that have regular/recurring products flows (either as waste products or as inputs needed), so that on-going partnerships be created within local districts.

Photo of Imelda Yunianti

I live in Sydney, Australia and there is a place called Reverse Garbage which has a similar idea of selling something that people did not want anymore. These items can be bought by other people to make something else.

Photo of Stephanie Glazer

Thanks for the post! I am aware of several entities that facilitate circular economy by warehousing physical items. What I envision here is more of an information clearinghouse and "matchmaker" based on best fit and close geographic proximity to enable users/producers to directly exchange the waste items as raw material. Ideally, the users/producers are engaged in on-going operations that will enable a regular, steady supply of the materials produced as output of one operation and used as inputs to another operation.