Don't Dump It, Use It

Trash to Treasure

Viewing Waste as a Resource, Businesses Can Increase Profitability and Efficiency

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center today issued a new report detailing the value businesses can find in viewing waste as a resource and engaging in the circular economy.

The report, titled “Trash to Treasure: Changing Waste Streams to Profit Streams,” examines the weight and impact of waste on American business. It features business case studies that illustrate the power of the circular economy to increase efficiency and profitability. Businesses that understand, measure, and manage their waste and take action to eliminate, reduce, or reuse that waste can open up new revenue streams, optimize operations, and unleash innovation, the report concludes.

Jennifer Gerholdt“The circular economy offers a wealth of opportunity for the American business community,” said Jennifer Gerholdt, director of Environmental Initiatives for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center. “As companies confront the realities of today’s economic environment, it’s easy to overlook the value and the potential for growth that lies in ordinary, everyday waste. Our ‘Trash to Treasure’ research illustrates the business case for the circular economy, encouraging all enterprises to follow the lead of several businesses already putting this regenerative, restorative way of thinking to work.”

Trucost, experts in the environmental data and natural capital valuation, contributed data and analysis on the amounts, types, and flows of the waste produced by companies. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation contributed insights with broader strategies about how to capture that value and thematic support. 

Why This Report Matters

Waste production is a serious problem for all American companies and industries.

The largest 5,589 publically traded businesses in the United States sent 342 million metric tons of waste to landfills and incinerators in 2014. That is equivalent to sending almost 3 Empire State Buildings to the landfill every day.

Removing unwanted resources to landfills or incinerators is a costly proposition in the price of removal, in the value of the resources being destroyed, and in the social impacts of more waste. By not accurately estimating, measuring, and managing their waste streams, American companies of all sizes and types are throwing away significant opportunities for profit and increased efficiency.

By understanding the size and value of that waste, and how to monetize it, companies can reduce waste going to landfills.

Long-term solutions include incorporating more sustainable closed-loop manufacturing processes to limit waste or rethinking the system entirely, shifting to a circular economy in which waste is designed out entirely. Many have suggested “waste is a resource in the wrong place.” Trash to Treasure quantifies that statement and offers actionable ways to put waste in the right place.

Key Findings

  • The 5,589 largest publicly traded companies in the US sent 342 million metric tons of waste to landfills and incinerators in 2014.
  • On average, companies generate 7.81 metric tons of waste for every million dollars in revenue.
  • If the 5,589 companies in the study reduced paper waste by 1%, it would save them nearly $1 billion.
  • Overall, company waste is paper (37%), food/other organic materials (21%), plastic (17%), construction materials (11%), and metals (8%).
  • Wasting is becoming more expensive. In the past 15 years, food costs have increased 66%, paper 16%, metals and minerals 90%.
  • Many companies have already identified waste as an issue and are increasing their profits by changing production processes to reduce waste, educating their workforce, and engaging with consumers to recover or refurbish items.
  • One of the most comprehensive ways to eliminate waste is to adopt a circular economy model, where products and services are designed and manufactured to be refurbished and repaired throughout their lifecycle.