“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” says author K.B. Keilbach of Global Warming i$ Good for Business: How Savvy Entrepreneurs, Large Corporations, and Others Are Making Money While Saving The Planet. The saying is not hers, she readily repeats, but neither is the concept; for generations, people have been thinking about the state of our planet and what to do about it. “The idea of reusing, reducing, recycling and now upcycling is not a new concept. It’s something our grandparents used a lot, especially during the Great Depression,” Keilbach says. But, recycling isn’t just about trash cans and recycling bins anymore, according to Keilbach, who has seen some very interesting social shifts happen in California. Though she lives in Orange County, she concedes that Southern California is behind the curb when compared to Northern California. On her last trip to San Francisco, for example, she noted that the city seems to be set up for trash, recycling and composting. Incorporating recycling into everyday life is easier than ever, and even though the general public may be behind the curb when compared to that level of environmental consciousness, entrepreneurs have taken notice. “You see companies that are taking other people’s waste and turning it into something that has value, and everyone wins on that one,” Keilbach says. The biggest current trend of note? Upcycling. Keilbach explains that upcycling simply takes something, cleans it and uses it for something else. As opposed to recycling, which tears down the product to make it part of something else, upcycling gives new life to the product. One such company is TerraCycle. Created in the fall of 2001 in a Princeton University dorm room, it has made its money from reusing waste. Its mission statement is as simple as its solid business plan: “The idea was simple: take waste, process it, and turn it into a useful product.” One of TerraCycle’s popular projects involves school kids. From Skittles wrappers to Capri Sun pouches, TerraCycle takes what would otherwise be wasted every day in cafeterias across the country and uses it to make merchandise. Offering items such as the “I used to be a plastic bag” and the Oreo-themed “waste wrapper notebook,” TerraCycle is finding increased popularity in schools. “They found a way to benefit school groups by taking somebody else’s idea of waste,” Keilbach says, adding that it also helps the businesses whose products they reuse. “They do this with a number of things, and they really are cute and fun (items).” When asked what would be the most sustainable way to dispose of waste on a larger scale, Keilbach is adamant that no matter what it turns out to be, it needs to be something other than our current system of throwing things away. “What’s not sustainable is the waste that we’re dumping into our landfills,” Keilbach says. “I think, from a business standpoint, businesses are looking for new ways to get revenue or reduce cost. But, for all of us, the questions we need to ask are, ‘How can we reduce our costs?’ and ‘How can we reduce our reliance?’” Is the answer converting fossil fuels? Or setting up solar panels? Keilbach named a few leaders in those fields, including a University of California – Davis program using anaerobic digesters to turn food into fuel, and Prism Solar. UC – Davis is breaking down exactly what it would take to convert common wastes (i.e., bacteria, enzymes) into gas and biochemicals (i.e., methane, sugars). It is making major breakthroughs, according to the study synopsis on the UC – Davis site, which explains the program’s goals. But potential impact on the earth isn’t anything to take lightly, according to Keilbach, who is excited to see which of these studies spurs change in the long run. Keilbach made a comparison to the emerging computer technologies of the 1970s. “I don’t know if the compact computer is going to make it, or HP, or wait — who is this Apple guy? That’s where we are today,” Keilbach said, referring to the atmosphere of the time, and continuing that their work is even more monumental than the introduction of computers was. “It’s beyond a fad, because we need to reach a point in terms of our ability to sustain population on the planet; we’ve got to find ways to use less energy and develop energies that allow us to stay productive without greenhouse [gas] and pollution.”
Upcycling is the New Recycling — OC-Based Author Spots Trends and California’s Loose Ends
The biggest current trend of in reuse? Upcycling, according to author K.B. Keilbach. Upcycling simply takes something, cleans it and uses it for something else.