Beyond Metal Straws: How to Make Real Change in Reducing Waste
Our conscious investments can communicate that reducing waste is good business and good for the planet.
There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when people want something: When they get it, they feel a rush. But after a little while, that good feeling wears off and then they want more. This feeling can happen with big-ticket items like a car, or small treats like a dessert. And once someone gets going, it can quickly spiral: They buy things, they get bored, and the cycle repeats. Feeling satisfied, or like they have enough, never lasts for long. Multiply this process across an entire population, and you’ve got a consumer economy. Keeping the cycle going ensures millions of people are always craving something new and shiny.
The problem? All the materials needed to create new products and their packaging, not to mention throwing away the old products, leads to a lot of waste.
How much waste? Well, according to the EPA, in 2015, the U.S. generated more than 262.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, which works out to 4.48 pounds per person per day.
As we continue to generate more waste, we’re also running into a space problem: According to a report from the Solid Waste Environmental Excellent Protocol (SWEEP), U.S. landfills are nearly at capacity, and are projected to be full in the next 8 to 15 years. So in the coming years, we could see increased pollution, litter, and debris nationwide because we’ll have a whole lot of trash and no place to put it. Additionally, with more waste out in the open, and more people exposed to it on a regular basis, we could be facing a major public health crisis as we come into increased contact with germs, rodents, and other waste-related hazards.
And it’s not just on land, because not all of our waste ends up in landfills. If you read the news, you may have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of trash between the coasts of California and Hawaii. Think of it like an island of garbage, out at sea. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and many smaller patches like it, are mounds of litter and debris, some spanning miles long, created when trash comes together after being caught in rotating ocean currents. Together, these patches have leached chemicals into our waters, harmed wildlife, and stressed already-fragile oceanic ecosystems. So whether we’re on land or at sea, our waste is a big problem, one that needs to be addressed immediately.
On an encouraging note, we’re already starting to see movements to reduce waste: Across the world, people are acknowledging we need to do more with less. The zero-waste movement, where people aim to produce no trash at all, has been gaining traction, and has even gotten city-wide acceptance in places like Oakland and San Francisco, which have goals to be zero waste by 2020. In Europe, France is leading the way in reducing food waste, requiring supermarkets to donate excess food to charities and assisting farmers on how to grow their crops sustainably, while also sharing their policies with other countries so they can do the same.
Companies, too, are being proactive in cutting back the waste they generate, whether it’s through recycling, being more efficient, or eliminating all waste entirely. Some even go one step further, with consumer education initiatives that focus on sustainability and reuse. Adidas, for example, has a program that recycles customers’ old shoes as alternative fuel sources, and Best Buy and Samsung started take-back programs where people can return their old hardware to be recycled and repurposed into new products. Additionally, businesses around the world continue to adopt circular economy practices, which focus on sustainable operations and zero landfill waste from process to product.
How You Can Help Reduce Waste
As we look to the future, it’s clear we need to change. At minimum, we need to reduce the amount of waste we produce. We can recycle. We can reuse. We can compost. We can try to change our own spending habits, to work toward stopping the buy-and-toss cycle in our own lives. We can tell companies we want more products that are built to last, as well as more recycling and repurposing programs, so we won’t be contributing to landfills and ocean trash patches in the years to come.
This is a meaningful start. Now, though, we can go one step further: Whether you’re new to investing or an experienced investor, you can now use your investment dollars to work toward reducing waste. Through conscious investing, you can invest your money in companies that are making real efforts to change. Like companies that aim to have zero landfill waste by 2025, for example, or those that have started take-back recycling programs so their old products don’t end up in landfills. Additionally, you can make sure your investments don’t go to companies that generate a lot of waste, or those that haven’t yet committed to cutting back on their waste.
By investing this way, you send a message to executive boards that reducing waste is important to you, and something you’re willing to put your money toward. Additionally, when other conscious investors like you invest the same way, together we communicate that reducing waste is good business and good for the planet. Company leadership then understands: By committing to reducing waste, they’ll keep investors happy and have a healthy bottom line. But if they continue their wasteful ways, they’ll turn off potential investors, which could hurt the business.
Which Companies are Committed to Reducing Waste?
When it comes to changing business practices to reduce waste, these companies are leading the way.
- Corning: Known for producing ceramics and glass (including Gorilla glass for your smartphone), this company recycles more than 70 million pounds of scrap glass annually from its manufacturing processes. The recycled scrap glass then gets reused in other applications across its supply chain.
- Intel: The Silicon Valley technology company has recycled more than 75% of its waste since 2008. They’ve also made reducing waste a shared responsibility across the business, with real accountability: Since 2013, Intel has tied a portion of employees’ compensation to its solid waste recycling goals.
- Sherwin-Williams: Their motto may be “cover the earth”, but in reality, this paint manufacturer has a company-wide reuse, rework, and recycle program to cut back on waste from cardboard, cleaning solvents, metal, paper, and plastic. They also maintain a global database to track and improve their recycling rates across all company facilities.
How Can I Get Started Investing to Reduce Waste?
If you want to learn more about how your investments can work to reduce waste, check out the COIN Reduce Waste Impact Area, which covers companies that drive revenue from recycling and waste reduction operations, for example, or those that use sustainable materials. Additionally, your investment dollars could go toward companies working to get to zero landfill or water waste in the coming years.
We all have a role to play in tackling our waste problem. Together, with both our actions and our investments, we can make a difference.