As we celebrate Earth Day, consider these statistics: An estimated 1.3 million tons of wood pulp are used annually to make disposable diapers in the U.S., not to mention 75,000 metric tons of plastic. Unfortunately, a full diaper is the ultimate contaminated recyclable—much more of a challenge than, say, a used fast-food wrapper.
Turning waste streams into revenue streams is a hot topic as companies work toward “nil to landfill.” Recycler TerraCycle is determined to address the diaper disposal problem, which costs consumers an estimated $100 million or more each year. The company collects dirty diapers (using volunteers, who accrue points), sanitizes them and separates the plastic casing from the absorbent paper-based interior. The now-valuable plastic can be made into, of all things, park benches, and the paper goes into concrete or pet pee pads.
That’s just the beginning for repurposing waste: For a national pizza chain, innovative waste company Rubicon Global (which calls itself “asset light,” meaning no trucks or landfills) found a way to turn unused dough into ethanol. And if that isn’t enough, think of the Vermont dairy farmers running their operations on “cow power,” electricity generated from methane in their herds’ manure—otherwise a potent global warming aggravator.
As the innovative book Green to Gold makes clear, there’s profit ahead for entrepreneurs who realize that “garbage” is an outmoded concept.