How Green Companies Fuel Our Economy While Solving the Waste Problem

There’s a simple principle that explains why going green is good for the economy. It’s the principle of harnessing waste, reimagining it as a revenue stream or a new source of raw materials. This creates a “closed loop” where instead of producing something and then throwing it out as waste, we keep it cycling around or at least get one more use out of it before it is discarded.

The waste in question can be anything from scraps produced during manufacturing, spent packaging, products at the end of their lifespan, or even intangibles such as heat. Here are four examples to show how a little ingenuity can reduce our negative environmental impact while “pumping up” the economy, as Schwarzenegger says.

We can continue to grow our economy if we reduce, reuse, recover materials.

1. Using Heat from Cloud Computing Servers to Keep Houses Warm

Nerdalize is a brilliant Dutch start-up that is killing at least two birds with one well-aimed stone. Which problems are they solving? The first is that currently, mega-servers are housed in huge data centers where companies like Amazon keep their big computers for running big websites and doing huge computations. These computers generate a lot of heat, and up to 40% of the cost of operating the data center is spent on cooling the computers back down. In other words, they spend money and energy on throwing out that heat.

Meanwhile, problem #2 is that grannies everywhere are freezing their buns off in their sad little computerless households. Heck, I’m sitting on my couch with this MacBook on my lap, and even I’m feeling a bit chilly this December evening. Enter Nerdalize! They provide computing power to companies and researchers who need it, but instead of building data centers, they put servers in people’s homes, where the heat can be used to generate hot water for showers and taps, saving granny from having to spend her pinched pennies on a hot-water heater. She doesn’t know how to hack into the computer and neither do I, so it’s totally safe!

2. Harnessing kinetic energy to go further on a tank of gas

After driving our new hybrid car for a while, it started to feel really wasteful to drive our other car at the time – a regular gas kind – up and down big hills. In the hybrid, I generate electricity on my way down the hill to pre-school. Keeping my foot lightly on the brake turns the electric motor into a generator that is run by the turning of the wheels as gravity pulls me quickly downhill. This is called regenerative braking. I love the little icon that shows that this is happening on my dash. Dopamine hit? Check.

The electricity I just generated gets me back up the hill after dropping off my kid. Net zero energy. Contrast that with the gas car, which flies down the hill with its engine basically idling, creating heat if I use my brakes. Then it burns fuel, losing most of the resultant energy to yet more heat, as it pulls me back up the hill. Dock one point for the Earth and charge me for the gas. Much as I loved the shape and functionality of my Honda Fit, its gas engine had become a turn-off.

3. Turning biodegradable garbage into soil

I’m talking here about composting. Whenever I leave my liberal Seattle bubble, I’m irritated that most places I go, people are still throwing food scraps in their garbage and sending it to landfill. Those veggie peels and egg shells can easily make great, new soil for the garden or yard! I’ve posted about the many ways of doing this at home or hiring a hippie on a bike to do it for you. Awesome young eco-preneurs are making a living collecting food waste door-to-door and turning it into compost, a commodity. With this kind of mindset, anyone can make a living reducing waste and generating in-demand commodities with little to no investment.

4. Actual, effective recycling

Hungarian-American entrepreneur Tom Szaky did just that when he approached big companies about helping them close the loop on their products and save money in manufacturing. HIs company Terracycle has become a successful for-profit business that collects clean, sorted waste streams and sells them to companies who want to incorporate post-consumer plastic and other materials into their manufacturing processes. With the problems traditional single-stream recycling is facing in the US, this is a great alternative.

Soon, Terracycle plans to develop a platform to help companies transition from disposable packaging to ultra-durable containers that are just collected, cleaned and refilled. The grungy genius explains here:

The great news about Terracycle is that it’s opening up to investment from individuals with shares priced at only $100! Shares of this visionary company could make great holiday gifts…

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