With customers and stakeholders putting companies increasingly under the sustainability microscope, more businesses are realizing that waste is not a nuisance, but an opportunity to create revenue during uncertain economic times. Many companies, of course, have a revenue model solely based on waste management and recycling. Milorganite, for example, has been in business for over 85 years, turning Milwaukee’s sewage into organic fertilizer.
But other companies are finding that dealing with waste smartly can add to their business portfolio and generate new revenue streams. What was once thrown away can now even become transformed into a consulting business. The following are eight companies that find profit in trash, either from collecting or incorporating recycled and upcycled materials into their products.
Within its Envirosolutions division in the United Kingdom, DHL not only makes money accumulating and recycling waste, but also advises companies on how they can more effectively and sustainably package their products.
Customers can access DHL’s packaging knowledge database and gain details on more than 4 million different types of packaging. But Envirosolutions also works closely with a bevy of clients from a large British pub chain (hauling away recyclables) to British Airways (reprocessing food waste). The company is also a master of efficiency: trucks that make deliveries to clients do not leave empty, but instead carry away used cardboard and shrink wrap to recycling facilities.
Give eBay credit for its aggressive electronics recycling program. Long known as the company that helps you empty your closets and find treasures in your basement, its Instant Sale program tackles the problem of tangled electronic waste supply chains. Users can mail in that unwanted iPhone or laptop and rest assured that any forgotten naughty texts or pictures will be erased before resale.
EBay also makes its fair share of revenues from all the used packaging, equipment and yes, even horse manure for your garden. Its breadth of waste management solutions, dare we say, give the company Waste Management a run for its money.
From its base in Motor City, Ford Motor Company works with partners like REPREVE to divert items like plastic bottles from landfills. The fabrics that REPREVE manufactures from these bottles will end up in the electric model of the Ford Focus.
As many as 2 million bottles will be collected at two large trade shows in January and will be combined with other post-industrial waste to create polyester. An average of 22 PET bottles will end up in each Focus Electric that will soon roll off the company’s assembly lines. With the American auto industry revitalized, look for other companies to take Ford’s lead in making money from having parts and interiors manufactured from recycled materials.
While Ford boasts about using recycled materials, GM shines as an avid recycling machine. The once-again world’s largest automaker makes $20,000 a month off of cardboard recycling, a pittance on its balance sheet but impressive nonetheless.
A much bigger number is the $1 billion per year that GM generates from selling scrap. Its 92 percent recycling rate is not a liability, but a profitable asset.
5. Ingram Micro
The world’s largest technology distributor with operations on six continents, this $36 billion company is now starting to tackle the mounting problem of e-waste. Partnering with a major information technology recycler, Ingram Micro just launched a program that will help clients throughout its distribution networks dispose of obsolete technology safely and prevent it from entering landfills.
The largest steel producer in North America has its origins in building small furnaces near junkyards across the United States and now stakes a claim as one of the world’s largest scrap recyclers. About one ton of steel per second are recycled at Nucor facilities, including 9 million cars annually.
The 3,300 UPS stores across the United States offer a one-stop repair service for customers who want their damaged laptops repaired. Unwanted laptops are refurbished and resold; the rest are sold to e-waste recyclers.
The motor oil giant, part of a $7 billion conglomerate, is dependent on other companies for its petroleum supplies and is therefore susceptible to price fluctuations. To that end, the company is revamping its supply chain and last year rolled out its new NextGen motor oil product that is 50 percent recycled.
With this NextGen’s acceptance taking hold at huge racing events like NASCAR, watch for more recycled motor oil and similar automotive products to enter the market.