In Memory of Garbage Cans

August 18, 2014

Before moving to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt, I lived in DC, where one of my favorite spots was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. This sprawling cave of a building contains fantastic relics of our country’s history -- like the adding machine, the telegraph, and other items that were once so ubiquitous it would have been hard to imagine a world without them. One could spend days, even weeks, exploring this treasure trove of things gone by.

 Wandering this great building once, I wondered what highly common item used today in society might appear here one day?

I am betting on the garbage can.
Why? Because in the future, people will no longer throw anything away.

We won’t  deal with materials in a linear fashion from “useful” to “junk,” but rather in a circular manner from one use to another. 

I am convinced that the funeral bells for garbage cans are already ringing because industries that have historically generated a large amount of waste are already well on the path to a no-waste state though no-waste design, no-waste operations and product end-of-life protocol. No-waste certifications are emerging to set higher standards for waste reduction, and where certifications don’t yet exist, large companies are leading their industries by setting their own lofty goals for waste reduction.

No-Waste Design –
The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Standard is administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Material Reutilization is one of five quality categories in which a product must excel in order to become certified. This category encourages companies to design products in ways that eliminate the concept of “waste” and with materials that can be perpetually cycled. In achieving this certification for its line of biodegradable products, athletic wear manufacturer Puma had to rethink several elements, including zippers, thread and dye so that every item in the new line could be returned for composting or recycling, 

No-Waste Operations -
UL’s Zero Waste certifications include three levels that a company can achieve in the landfill waste diversion claim validation offered through UL Environment.  Companies that achieve a diversion rate of 80 percent or greater qualify for a Landfill Waste Diversion validation. North American roofing manufacturer GAF is the first company to achieve the Landfill Waste Diversion standard. Companies that achieve a diversion rate of 98 percent or greater qualify for the Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill validation. Companies that achieve a landfill diversion rate of 100 percent qualify for the Zero Waste to Landfill validation. Bridgestone Americas‘ Wilson, NC, tire manufacturing plant is the first location to achieve the Zero Waste to Landfill validation.*

End of Life Protocol for Products-
No generally accepted standard exists, and a review of data in shows that no Fortune 500 company has set a goal to capture and reuse 100% of end-of-life products. However, locally based Bridgestone Americas, a subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, as part of its Tires4ward Program, has set the goal to capture and reuse 100% of tires produced in the US. This goal was reached in 2012 and 2013 at Bridgestone's network of Firestone Complete Auto Care Stores.*
Leading standards and companies like these three are showing that big achievements are possible when you intelligently challenge assumptions.  And one day in the not too distant future, when all environment costs are internalized, we will likely find the garbage can relegated to its rightful place -- the museum.

* The author discloses that he assists Bridgestone Americas on this project.




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