Business consultants working with companies to improve their operations often look at the trash flow as an easy fix when looking for money leaks. Amazingly, trash flow has a direct affect on cash flow it seems.
In years past, I took pride in the fact that my company was generating so much trash that it required adding dumpsters. “Show me a business generating trash and I’ll show you a business that is generating cash,” was my thinking. When I started seriously cutting the fat, I discovered a stinky little secret out back. Trash costs money. Today, I am proud to say we are a one-dumpster company instead of a three-dumpster company. My dream is to be a zero-dumpster company and thereby reduce our contribution to the local landfill.
I learned recently at a waste management seminar that my local landfill will be a landfull in 16 years. No more room. No more land to fill. The nearest site that our city fathers have found to replace it… is 200 miles away. Imagine the cost of transporting my trash 200 miles, and that’s not all.
Twenty years ago, dumps were quite literally a place to dump—a big hole in the ground outside of town, most likely close to a river. All of that changed when it was discovered that technology had progressed our society with its belief in “better living through chemicals,” but those chemicals had to go somewhere when we were through with them. Thus, dumping our more sophisticated trash into the dumps meant dumping chemicals into the river/water supply as well. This discovery brought about the closure of 70 percent of all dumps and a new era of sanitary landfills began.
Today the business of trash is the most highly controlled industry there is. Sanitary landfills require engineers to engineer a giant bowl in the ground complete with a lined bottom. Landfill space is a premium product, costing millions upon millions of dollars. When one fills up, it’s a monumental money pit to start another one. Garbage has become one of the most profitable industries in the world; or one of the most non-profitable sinkholes if you think about it from a paying-for-it standpoint.
In Waco, and around the country, we are all facing a huge problem that doesn’t just go away as we watch the tail lights of our trash truck fade into the distance. We can’t just put a lid on it, ignore it and make it go away. It has become the elephant in the room. For example, the largest manmade object on the face of the Earth is a landfill near New York. It’s larger than the Great Wall of China. The space shuttle astronauts can see it from space by looking out the window.
STOP THE WASTE
You might imagine that you know what’s in those landfills, but as I learned in my recent seminar, you probably don’t. Here are some trash facts.
Traditional recyclables such as plastic, aluminum and glass constitute only a very small percentage of waste products in landfills. Most of our recycling efforts to date are having a miniscule affect on the mass of landfills.
My mouth fell open when I learned that recycling has to be subsidized by tax dollars. “You mean when I recycle I am costing myself more money in the form of taxes?” As I learned, it costs money to promote it, and haul it, and sort it and process it into new products that would be cheaper to build from scratch. Millions upon millions of dollars have been poured into trying to do something about the smallest category of trash in landfills.
So what exactly is in the landfills? A whopping 70 percent is organic material such as paper, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings and food waste. All of which produce methane gas as they decompose.
And what about all those “disposable” diapers we keep hearing about? Tiny… a drop in the trash bucket. We can’t blame the babies, but we can blame industry. This is the astounding thing that I learned in the seminar: If every household in America produced no trash whatsoever, that would not solve the landfill problem. Two-thirds of all trash comes from industrial waste. So there’s no doubt that the window coverings industry produces our share of waste.
When we think about being green, it has to be more than just using recycled products in the design of our buildings. We have to figure out ways to reduce the waste that is recycled into these building products on the front end.
In next month’s article, I will explore ways to do just that.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the CEO and founder of Workroom Association of America LLC , a trade association dedicated specifically to the betterment of the workroom industry. Visit www.workroomassociation.com to learn more