Eco-Capitalism - How to make money from garbage

By Xin Lu on 28 August 2008 (Updated 26 April 2010) 9 comments

Most of us probably have sold a few bottles and cans and got a couple dollars, but could you believe that some people have made millions or even billions of dollars from trash? Here are some stories of these innovative and garbage loving entrepreneurs.

Alchemy Goods - Eli Reich is the founder of this Seattle business where old bicycle innertubes are stitched together into messenger bags. According to BusinessWeek, he made his first bike inner tube bag after his messenger bag was stolen. The mechanical engineer soon received requests for his sturdy innertube bag and launched Alchemy Goods. Now he has a few employees and a whole line of products made out of old innertubes, seatbelts, and outdoor ad banners.

TerraCycle - I read about the story of Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer a few years ago and it was hard to forget. These two young men built a multi-million dollar company out of garbage through a lot of hard work and crazy experiments with barf inducing worms and solid waste. Their main product is a plant food made out of earthworm poop packaged in used soda bottles collected by kids all over North America. Their website still lists their main product as "worm poop fertilizer" and states that "TerraCycle Plant Food is the first mass-produced consumer product to have a negative environmental footprint".

Energy from garbage - Turning garbage into energy is not a new concept. Hundreds of garbage dumps across the country already capture the natural methane gas generated by the mountainous piles of solid waste. The City of San Francisco actually has a program that collects dog poop and turns it into energy through a anaerobic digester. Some cities sell the methane gas they produce from their garbage to energy companies and some others use the energy to power buildings, and many private companies are getting in on the garbage energy business. One company named Solena Group actually plans to build a plant in Gilroy, California to produce jet fuel from garbage .

Nine Dragons Paper - You probably have never heard of Zhang Yin, but this Queen of Trash from China is probably richer than every other woman in the world. She has a personal wealth of more than $1.5 billion and she got it all through recycling and manufacturing paper. She moved to America from Hong Kong in the 1990s and she remembered that China does not have many trees for manufacturing paper. So she scoured the garbage dumps of America with her husband and exported all of the paper she could get to China. Eventually her company Nine Dragons Paper made deals with American scrap yards and shipped huge amounts of paper back to China. Her company went public in 2006 and it is still growing because China has a insatiable demand for paper products.

The bottom line is that garbage is big business and some people are even risking fines and jailtime to collect it . Besides these examples in this article, there are thousands of companies and people around the world that deal with the processing, disposal, and transportation of garbage. Even so, the EPA estimates that only 32% of the United States' solid waste is recycled. Could there be a business opportunity for you in the millions of tons of trash we throw away every year?

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Guest's picture

our planet is just one big neighborhood.

http://www.recyclebank.com

Guest's picture

This was a really interesting post! I had heard about the worm poop on The Good Human just recently, but many years ago when I was a teenager I had one of those tire messenger bags, only mine was from a car tire. The only problem was when it was full of stuff the strap was *very* bouncy. Very, very bouncy! I eventually had to get rid of it because of that.

There is a company that makes bags from seat belts. I think in the beginning the seat belts were actually taken from cars, but now they are taken from scraps leftover from car manufacturers, I think.

Guest's picture

I read with interest once about a man in Las Vegas who would collect up all the unwanted cuddly toys, was them and then sell them to coach parties coming to town. Supposedly he made a million dollars!

Guest's picture
Shelle

When we moved into our current home,a couple of years ago, we were given 6 months free rent in exchange for cleaning up the house (the former tenants had trashed it), cleaning out a small outer building, and a barn next to the house. The buildings were full of old cages, airconditioners, appliances, etc. My hubby and another male friend spent two weekends cleaning and salvaging. They took three trailers of "trash"(wiring, metal, scrap, cans) to the salvage yard and made over $700. We are moving out of the house now, and my hubby offered to clean out a 2nd barn on the property, in exchange for the final month's rent payment. He made over $400 at the recycling place. I was just shocked how much money was in old appliances, air conditioners, and scrap wire and metal. Right now the prices are sky high.

SO, offering to clean out someone's barn or storage area can be very profitable to both parties involved. They get a clean building, and you get bucks. Just a thought.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Very interesting, especially the inner tube company and the paper exporting project. Posts like this really get my creative juices flowing.

Guest's picture
cretu

ma insscriu si eu

Guest's picture

GREAT Article!!!

My Cousin owns a highly successful major recycling business in Berkely, CA named Urban Ore.

If you have ever viewed the TV show "Mythbusters" his place is a source for much of the Odd things needed on "Mythbusters", like toilets, for example, just about anything you could need or want to buy new-it is there.

His is a fascinating modern-day tale of taking trash before people pay to place it in already overflowing Bay Area Landfills, and providing a source for those of us who can re-use and recycle what was to be landfill.

Of course, he has to charge for it, but that is business, and in my opinion, a business that is helping the world, right?

There are many articles about Urban Ore on the Web..including one on my little blog, 12th Child Musings.

Dan Knapp and his Urban Ore provides inspiration for any of us out there with the entrepreneurial spirit!
---12th Child, Nick

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Guest

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Guest's picture
Guest

very Interesting..
I am currently doing my Internship for the Summer and I am looking for company that the company that Am doing my Internship want/will like to sell their office recycling paper and also looking for grants for winds/solar panels. If anyone know any companies like that please leave a message.. thanks