Out-of-control waste weakens us as a nation. Here is a solution.

I cannot remember a single day in the last decade where I did not get up in the morning excited about the work ahead and the opportunity to disrupt an industry that is badly in need of transformation.

I am on a mission to end waste, in all of its forms.

Today, waste is a clear and present danger to our environment, economy, security, and health. The collection, burial, and burning of waste is an environmental disaster, creating poisons and toxins that may be with us for centuries.

Every generation leaves behind a legacy. Ancient Rome left behind engineering marvels including the first major forms of urban sanitation. We risk making our own legacy a thick layer of garbage and waste, covering vast spaces of both land and ocean, choking life out of the soil, water and air. Is that what we want?

I want to leave a positive mark on history through environmental innovation, industrial transformation, and market-oriented solutions – all targeting the problem of waste. Together, we must do everything in our power to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, to create far greater incentives to recycle, to build and deploy systems to make it far easier to recycle, and to create a truly circular, free market economy. 

If we get this right, we may not solve all of the globe’s environmental problems, but we will solve one of the biggest and most costly ones. And we will demonstrate that the United States can and will lead on this issue.

For most of early human history, waste was an afterthought. Waste existed, but humankind often reused or recycled as much of it as possible. Most people lived in a circular economy, wasting little and squeezing value out of their resources. They usually could not afford to waste a thing. 

The Industrial Age changed that approach to consumption. Today, along with vast growth in prosperity and living standards, we have an industrial-scale level of waste creation and waste disposal. We have been dealing with waste the same way for roughly 300 years of global industrial activity. It is ripe for disruption and ready for new approaches.

Today, with digital tools and platforms, we can accelerate the return to a circular economy, promoting recycling and producing the economic benefits associated with waste reduction, all while using free market-based approaches and solutions.

There are currently two ways to make money from waste. One is by setting up the equivalent of a utility, where big corporations and big government agree to a one-size-fits-all approach, charging businesses and households to haul away their waste and bury it. That is how most waste management companies make a profit.

The other is a free market-based, dynamic approach: cooperate with others and innovate to help people reduce or reuse more of their waste -- and inspire a new generation to build on our progress to bring about the end of waste as we know it.

This approach is going to require educating and informing customers about how to improve recycling. Smaller haulers will be incentivized to reduce landfill use. Digital platform and Internet of Things-enabled waste systems will be deployed to help city governments and other municipalities to manage their own waste streams. In all these approaches, we shift the focus from making money from the collection and burial of waste to reducing waste, increasing recycling and using less landfill space. 

Waste on an industrial scale is not going to be eliminated by recycling on an artisanal scale. As a society, we have to solve the problem of a surplus of recycling materials and weak demand for those materials. We have to figure out how to pay for the infrastructure, write the rules of the market, and build the systems. We have to solve the problem of who bears the burden of cost for collecting and processing recycling materials -- and who gains the value.

For too long, these ideas were dismissed as dreams. But today, people across the ideological spectrum agree that waste deserves more than a utility-based, one-size-fits-all approach.

The United States is a leader in virtually every dimension of technological progress. But on the environment, we are more of a follower – and that does not have to be. When China told us it would no longer take our recyclable materials, that was a wake-up call. 

Out-of-control waste weakens us as a nation. We may all create waste, but only some of us bear the weight of waste’s ill-effects. Our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable members are most exposed to pollution from waste. Therefore, reducing that impact, and ridding our world of waste, is to me, an act of fairness and moral justice.

We are a nation that knows how to solve big problems when we set our minds to it. Waste is a big problem, and we should not wait for someone else to try to solve it. We should do that work, we should use innovation and free markets to drive transformation, and we should build a stronger, more resilient economy in the process.

I am proud to lead a company that is innovating in this space. Rubicon recently published an Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) report, Toward a Future Without Waste. I encourage you to download and read more about what we are doing to transform the entire category of waste and recycling.

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