Trash. The New El Dorado

The world generates more than 2 billion tonnes of trash each year. One third of it never goes to a landfill or gets recycled – that garbage pollutes our lives.

Even if we remove all the trash in our parks, neighborhoods, and oceans and put it into landfills we still have a massive problem – we are overwhelming the planet with trash. While it is the best thing we can do at the moment, sending trash to a landfill is just pushing the problem into the future. At some point we have to deal with the fact that we are generating an excessive amount of trash.

Markets to the Rescue

The markets we use to buy and sell the things we use every day are the solution to our trash problem. A market is a farmers’ market, showroom of new cars, or a bike share.

Why do we throw something away? When it no longer has value. We get rid of furniture, clothes, and uneaten food because they no longer have purpose to us.

There are only two solutions to our trash problem. First: consume less. Second: turn trash into things that have value so people want to buy and use them.

Markets are how people can be incentivized to innovate new products from trash. If an entrepreneur creates a useful product, he or she will make money when someone buys it. Without a market, there is no opportunity to sell the product (thereby making money) that was once trash. The ability to make a profit is the only way we quickly turn trillions of pieces of trash into things that have a use.

As a wrote in my book, Transformative Markets:

The ability of markets to spur innovation and solutions is limitless. In fact, I believe markets allow for a “Virtuous Cycle of Innovation” where an opportunity to solve a human challenge (such as too much trash) leads to innovative ideas moving into production of products that create lasting value for society.

robert (bob) ludke

A great example of an entrepreneur who saw a problem and developed an innovative solution to fix it – all while running a profitable and successful business – is Stephanie Benedetto of Queen of Raw (we interviewed her here).

Queen of Raw is an online marketplace to quickly and easily buy unused fabrics. If not put to use, these materials end up burned or buried – making even more trash.

As Stephanie often says, “We’re here to rescue them. Making these sustainable materials available to you, at any time, from any place, is our mission.”

Even better, for every yard of fabric purchased, 700 gallons of water is saved as the production of fabric is a hugely water-intense process.

The Solution to our Trash: The Circular Economy

To get rid of the trash polluting our lives we must embrace the vision of the MacArthur Foundation:

“A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”

Stephanie and Queen of Raw proves a circular economy is possible. Instead of allowing unused and no longer needed fabrics to end up as trash, she has created a market where people can put them to use in making products that have value to people all over the world.

Take inspiration from innovators like Adidas turning fish nets into running shoes. Or Ikea committing to using only renewable and recycled materials for its furniture. Even better, try to reuse and rehab instead of throwing away.

Perhaps even more inspiring are the words Telmo Pievani recently said to me. Telmo is a professor at the University of Padua (Italy) and he has a lovely way of explaining things:

Two generations ago, scientists could never have imagined or predicted that we would have discovered things like gene editing. In the same way we cannot predict what our grandchildren will discover. I put my hopes in human creativity, our intelligence, our philosophy, and the wonderful serendipity of the human brain.

telmo pievani

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