I was embarking on a long plane ride back to New York when I decided to rifle through the random literature available in the pocket in front of my seat whilst the stewardess engaged in the standard mime routine showing what might, but probably won’t, increase your luck in the event of some objectionable, airborne misfortune. As it were, however, luck was on my side just then. British Airways has a fun magazine called Business Life (eat it Delta!) that just so happened to have a story on one of the most weird-yet-innovative ideas I have seen in awhile: trading trash. So much was I intrigued that I decided I would have to dedicate one of this semester’s blog posts to the brilliant entrepreneur of other people’s rubbish: Brooke Farrell.
Farrell has a background in marketing and advertising and was a former waste management consultant in the US for years where she learned the ins and outs of the colossal amount of trash percolating its way into landfills and on unfortunate occasions, other parts of the earth not suitable to handle it. In an interview with Smart Planet, Farrell stated of her experience in the trash industry:
“I got a huge exposure to different angles on trash. The real learning there was the scale, the scope of how much stuff is generated both by communities of residents and also by business and industry. There’s just so much more than any of us can imagine. I calculated, based on the latest EPA estimates, that there was enough waste to fill trucks and wrap garbage trucks around the equator 600 times. That’s just what’s generated in the U.S. in one year”.
According to Farrell, only 30% of trash today is sent for recycling, a number she says is unacceptable. This means that the other 70% (usually) goes to landfills – those horrible smelly places where VCRs and cassette players go to die. As distressing as all of this may sound, for Farrell, it presented an opportunity – one that no one had ever thought of before.
In 2009, Farrell quit her job and together with her business partner/brother-in-law Chad Farrell started a company called RecycleMatch. What RecycleMatch does is similar to what eBay does, only it does it with trash. It is essentially “the E-Harmony for trash”, as Chad Farrell has described it – a web 2.0 platform that helps companies to maximize the value of their waste materials and lower disposal costs by matching them with another company who can make use of the waste. To start off, the pair located companies with different kinds of trash that was destined for a landfill and it would pitch those companies to list the trash on their website instead. It wasn’t that difficult; who wouldn’t want to make a few bucks on something they were about to pay a landfill to throw out? After the trash was listed, they set out to find a buyer – someone who could use the waste material for something else. Little by little, a market emerged.
Most of what is listed on the site is material waste and RecycleMatch also offers sustainability software on their website that “enables corporations to maximize the economic and environmental impact of their Zero Waste initiatives”. Since its inception, RecycleMatch has attracted thousands of buyers and sellers to its website and the rubbish trade has gotten off to a good start. Some examples of trades on RecycleMatch include food waste that was bought and converted to an energy source and damaged, non-recyclable glass that was bought, crushed and used to make counter tops and other materials for building.
RecycleMatch has been listed in a myriad of magazines, including Entrepreneur and Forbes, for its innovative idea and the success that it has seen as a result. As the company continues to grow I can only imagine that it will continue to expand both in content and in location and soon, more like it will appear. The future of cleaner trash disposal has arrived, landfill moguls be warned!
Nina Michael is in her senior year in the BS in Business program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. Nina has been all over the world and loves traveling; she currently lives between Italy and New York where she works as a professional English teacher and translator. She loves languages, food, coffee, wine and a good book; she is also a first-rate bartender.