In today’s episode of Hardware to Save a Planet, Dylan talks to Jeff Satwicz about the waste management industry, its limitations, evolution, and approaches. They discuss the importance of technology and data in the waste management business and how leveraging it may significantly enhance waste management processes.
As Vice President of Product Strategy and Innovation, Jeff uses his extensive experience as a Bigbelly founder, hardware engineer, and a Smart Waste industry pioneer to lead the way in developing world-class products.
Waste management, according to Jeff, has always entailed collecting trash bins and transporting them in a large truck to a location where they are burned, disposed of, or recycled, necessitating the use of technology and data for efficiency.
Green technology has allowed waste management to protect the environment and human health while also processing complex materials, improving recycling, generating energy, and, in some cases, virtually eliminating landfills. In addition to effective recycling, sorting facilities, and incinerators with nearly zero hazardous emissions (except CO2), technology allows for a new step-change in waste management efficiency.
Massive amounts of data are being generated by technology, allowing us to better understand not only the movement of waste but also the movement of people, including how they behave and what products and materials they buy and discard.
If you want to discover more about The Waste Management Industry, check the key takeaways of this episode or the transcript below.
- 02:41 – 06:15 – Starting with Solar Trash Compactors – Trash compactors powered by the sun are used to increase bin capacity, increase collection efficiency, and reduce trips to the landfill. These devices compress waste as it accumulates, allowing them to hold up to five times as much garbage as traditional trash cans.
- 12:55 – 17:17 – Developing New Collection and Disposal Systems – Technology is revolutionizing the waste management industry in many ways. It’s turning trash into energy, coming up with new ways to recycle precious metals, and speeding up the development of new collection and disposal systems.
- 17:03 – 17:40 – Evolving The Waste Industry To A Circular System – The digital transformation of the waste management sector should be coordinated with efforts to increase the use of digital technology in the development of a circular economy that effectively collects and sorts waste.
- 20:14 – 20;34 – tIncentivizing Behavioral Change to Waste Disposal – Trash containers in public places are an important aspect of the waste system’s visibility. When people make the decision to do the right thing in public places, it reinforces good behavior at their workplace and at home. Waste recyclers are increasingly matching the deployment of our systems in the public arena to what behavior they’re trying to promote in their customers’ homes. Putting the right things at the right places through public service messaging.
- 27:41 – 31:22 – tProviding value through Data Collected by the Solar-powered, Sustainable, Cloud-connected Bins – The smart, cloud-connected Bigbelly intelligently gathers, consolidates, and analyzes data from connected waste and recycling units to provide a complete waste management solution that provides real-time data access to hundreds of its stations to eliminate the guesswork of knowing which bins need emptying and beautifies public spaces while increasing operational efficiency by educating the size of trucks that will be sent for pickup and how the trip impacts the environment.
Dylan Garrett: Hardware to Save a Planet explores the technical innovations that are giving us hope in the fight against climate change. Each episode focuses on a specific climate challenge and explores an emerging physical technology solution with the person bringing it into reality. I’m your host, Dylan Garrett. Hello, and welcome to Hardware to Save a Planet. I’m super excited today to have my very good friend, Jeff Satwicz, on the show. We’re going to be talking about the waste management industry, and what Jeff and his company, Bigbelly, are doing to tackle some of the big inefficiencies there.
I’m really glad to be talking about that problem specifically, I think it’s a really important piece of this big climate change puzzle. Just a couple data points, garbage trucks have an average fuel economy of 2.5 miles per gallon, it’s mind-blowing. They’re one of the bigger contributors to municipal greenhouse gas emissions. Bigbelly systems, Jeff’s company, Bigbelly, their systems when deployed at scale reduced waste truck mileage by 80%. That’s a pretty big impact on a big problem.
Jeff and I met in college. Just to introduce Jeff, he’s a very incredibly talented engineer. I remember in school while I was struggling to pass my physics exams and reading textbooks about how engines work, Jeff was literally building an engine, and a car in his garage, and acing those same physics exams. He’s also the definition of a well-rounded engineer. He’s athletic. Although, I think I could probably beat him at ping pong. He’s a great chef. He’s always texting me pictures of gourmet meals he’s making with his wife who, by the way, also find to be an excellent person who I admire very much. Not to get too bromance here, but he’s very good-looking as well.
Jeff, welcome to the show. Good to have you. Thank you very much for making the time.
Jeff Satwicz: Thank you, Dylan. I appreciate the glowing introduction there and I don’t live up to most of those things, but I appreciate your attempt.
Dylan: I’m excited to talk about Bigbelly and hear more about the tech there, I think it’s really cool. Before we get into that, I was hoping to just hit a little bit about your background. You and I met when we were in college. I know that’s when the Bigbelly story started, but I’d love to hear what led you to that point? Did you always want to tackle climate change? Did you just think trash compactors were cool? How did you get into this?
Jeff: Yes. My origin story is a little bit of all of that. The college we went to, Olin College, was a startup in and of itself, and so this notion of doing something new, and novel, and trying to make a better world through taking stuff on, that was different and new and uncomfortable was something that I think all of us in that school subscribe to. That then translates to a lot of our classmates being part of companies and being part of really tackling world-changing type events. It’s a wonderful community to be part of.
As far as starting what became Bigbelly, a large part of it was I was really excited about being part of a startup company. It felt really good to think about trying to start a company that was trying to help make the world a cleaner, greener space, it happened to be with the idea of a trash compactor, which was pretty cool, I will admit that and something I enjoyed working on. I’m a hardware guy at heart. You talked about how I like restoring Roth cars and things like that. I’m one of those old-school people that, in the world of social networks and metaverse, I like physical, tangible things that are going to help the world going forward in that sort of sense. That’s where my background came from.
As we’ve thought about Bigbelly going forward, our goal is really to try to help the world out and make the products that will make the world a more beautiful space. Our focus is in the waste management partners. There’s wonderful companies all over the world that are doing this, both in the waste industry and others. If we all do our part, I think we will end up with a cleaner, greener world.
Dylan: It’s awesome. Speaking of doing your part, can you describe the specific solution that Bigbelly has?
Jeff: Sure. The Bigbelly company, most folks listening to this podcast have probably seen or interacted with our products in some way, probably without even knowing it. We are, to a large extent, a solar compactor company. Things that look like a mailbox and work like a mailbox with a solar panel on top, those devices you found in cities, universities, airports, et cetera, around your life probably were a product from our company, Bigbelly. Those ones that you saw are generally going to be a solar compactor. It’s an automated waste compactor out in public spaces that gathers the energy to do its waste compaction by a solar panel and will hold 5 to 10 times the amount of waste a traditional bin might hold.
That, therefore, translates directly into a reduced number of collections that the waste group would need to do to collect that waste, which is really the primary environmental benefit of the product that we develop. We’re about taking the trucks off the streets, if we can, and making a better world and a better environment, both in the big picture and in the small picture. A lot of what we are talking about now is really how the environment around Bigbelly and the local environment gets better with the products we deploy with our customers.
They’re a fully enclosed waste system, so because there’s a compactor inside, we keep the waste hidden and protected from the outside world. The side benefit of that is that it’s also protected from pests like birds, rats, and other animals, so we’re about beautifying in a more broad way. We’re about beautifying the space in that the bins occupy the local area around the bin, less litter, less clutter, more beautiful place to be, or we’re about beautifying the community, cluttering the streets causing congestion, which then is a side benefit of greenhouse gas emissions.
Then in the big picture world side of it, fewer emissions from those vehicles producing greenhouse gasses, these are a lot of the waste collection vehicles are diesel operated, which also then produce NOx, and SOx and other particulate matter, which is different from greenhouse gasses. It’s more about air quality and stuff like that in the local environment.
Dylan: Cool. I’m glad you bring that stuff up. I think it’s really easy to forget, especially myself, as an engineer, thinking about all the technical solutions to address climate change, but a lot of this, at the end of the day, is about making human lives better as well. Like you said, reducing the other particular matter, beautifying streets, and reducing congestion stuff just has a positive impact on people directly.
Jeff: Absolutely. I feel like we’re part of the waste industry. Our company is a piece of this massive industry that is the waste industry. It’s an industry that is dirty in nature. It’s about dealing with trash and things that people don’t want anymore. I think, as a result of that, it’s viewed as this industry that’s this non-environmentally friendly part of the world, but everything about the industry now is really about transforming it from being what it was to what it will be in the future. Everything that I see and hear at trade shows, conferences, et cetera, publications, is really all about how you make this industry part of the solution, not piece of the problem.
Dylan: Can you talk about how you came up with the idea? Was it always a solar-powered trash compactor? Did you start with a problem and think of the solution? What did that look like?
Jeff: Yes. The origins of the product itself, the company started as a product and the product was a solar power trash compactor to keep the waste related to collecting waste in public spaces down. As we’ve grown and evolved as a company and from a product into a system, into a solution, that original origin product is still part of what we do, but as I described earlier, waste is something that nobody wants to see or deal with or anything. When I’m done with an object, the ideal way is that it just vanishes in my hand and that I don’t have to see it again.
A lot of the innovation going on right now is, but what do you do with it after that? What do you do with it once it’s been picked up and grabbed into the system, how do you make that a greener, cleaner process? Our product is really on the front end. How do you make the initial disposal of the waste more efficient, more effective, and more clean for the environment?
Dylan: Then it’s about sorting, and recycling, or composting and doing whatever it is to get to retain as much energy out of it or whatever is possible.
Jeff: Yes. I feel like I should probably know some of these major milestones in the waste industry better than I do, given that I’ve lived it for my entire professional career, but humans have always gotten, at some point, you’re done with whatever thing you have and you get rid of it. As we started with early humans, those things were not necessarily manmade objects that were problems that might have been the stick that you were using that day and use cast it aside, no big deal.
As we’ve evolved as a society, the type of waste we’ve created and the amount of waste we’ve created feel like has grown in both percentage by person, and then in the longevity, and the durability of that waste, and the fact that it’s no longer made natural substances, it’s made of stuff that needs to be dealt with in a more sensitive way. Historically, the way we started to, unless you just bury it or toss it aside. You hide it.
I think the challenge is twofold. Number one, we’re running out of places to bury it. Nobody wants a place to bury waste in your backyard. I think the industry has figured out that that’s not a long-term sustainable method. There’s also a lot of valuable materials still in there. The idea of recycling is both a good thing from an environmental standpoint and a good business model if you can do it efficiently. There’s real money in the raw materials that are being discarded to be then made into new products and new ideas.
I feel like the old status quo of the waste industry of we’ll pick it up from you and we’ll bury it has been shifting over the last number of decades into something that is really becoming pretty sophisticated and is growing more sophisticated and technologically based every day. On the sorting side of things, there are things called MRFs, so material recovery facilities, where when your waste gets picked up from your house or one of the big value systems in a public space, chances are it goes to one of these facilities prior to going into a landfill. That sole goal is to extract useful materials in there, metals, papers, cardboard, plastics, stuff like that, that can be reused into new products and new ideas.
In pulling that out of the waste stream, it’s got this two-sided effect. Number one, you get new raw materials that you don’t have to go mine and find in some other way and you’re reducing the amount of waste that does end up needing to go into a landfill or some other disposal means. Then the people producing the stuff that becomes waste, there’s some interesting work going on right now to try to make some laws around that. There’s really no burden on a company to produce stuff that can then be effectively reused. The simple idea of some of the plastic bottles and things that we think are really recyclable are often less recyclable than we think because they’re a mix of different materials.
Those companies are making those choices on the materials for their own purposes on product development costs and other things without necessarily thinking about the implications of reusing that bottle down the road. If it was one material, it’d be really easy to process. If it’s a mix of materials, now it’s a less valuable commodity for reuse down the stream.
Dylan: That stuff is fascinating. It’d be fun to do a show on the sorting side of waste management. I learned the other day, just as an example, that those compostable plastic bags people using their kitchen scraps compost bins, when they get to the sorting center, at least in California at Recology, those actually get pulled out because their systems can distinguish them from non-compostable plastic bags. It’s just as good as using a totally piece of trash, a piece of plastic. At the collection point or the point of disposal, you don’t think about what’s happening in the back end often.
How does that trend of more interest in reclaiming these materials on the back end, how does that impact what Bigbelly is doing on the front end?
Jeff: When our company started back in 2003, we really only made a trash collection receptacle. Since then, we now have five different streams of waste collection receptacles that we offer out to the market, trash or the stuff that you didn’t intend to go to a landfill, single-stream recycling. This is a commingled sort that most of us are familiar with may be in our household or residential recycling systems where there’s paper, plastics, glass, all in one system. We have paper-only, we have plastics and bottles and cans only. Then we have compostable materials as a third way stream.
We see our customers mix and match those, as they see fit. One of the interesting things about how people deploy Bigbelly is public space waste represents a very small overall segment of the grander waste market. Most waste is developed either on the commercial side or the residential side. This is the stuff that’s coming from businesses, from industrial segments, from schools, hospitals, et cetera, and then from people’s houses. That’s where the majority of the volume of waste comes from.
On the visibility side, public space waste bins are a huge part of the visibility of the waste system. It’s what you see, what you encounter as you’re shopping, as you’re traveling to and from work, et cetera. What options you have, what decisions you’re making on that side of things, starts to make an impression on what you’re going to do in your own life. If you see that, “Oh, there’s just a waste bin out here and I throw everything in it, why would I be as incentivized to recycle in my own home setting?” Versus if you’re met with the decision to do the right thing out in the public spaces, it’s reinforcing good behavior at your workplace, at your home, et cetera.
We see a lot of our customers really try to match their deployment of our systems in the public space to meet the behavior they’re trying to drive in their customers if you will, the residents or whatnot of the city and so they’ll often do some public service messaging on the bins to talk about the right things to put in the right places. Yes, part of that is about what to put in the Bigbelly system but also part of it is what to put in your own bins at home and how to be a good steward for your waste beyond that.
Dylan: I haven’t thought about that. It scales beyond the impact in the public spaces then it’s about educating and influencing behavior.
Jeff: Yes. I feel like we all grew up in a world, at least our generation, we’re now elder and millennials or whatever you might call us these days but we grew up in a world where recycling, at least in the home place was something that you just did when you were done with a soda bottle, you didn’t just throw it away, you did something with it. I lived in a state where that was worth a nickel. Maybe you collected them together and you went down to the local store and you got five bucks back or something like that and that was pretty cool as a kid.
You could go buy something fun. If you’re then out in your city and you have that same soda can in your hand and all you have as an option is to throw it away, it starts to challenge those values systems that you develop.
Dylan: It’s really interesting. You talked about how it’s important that you’re making the trash problem go away from a very visible perspective to residents in these public spaces but at the same time, that visibility of it is part of its power. I was curious along those lines, I know that, I think for the last 10 years you told me Bigbelly systems are connected. I can only guess that part of the power of having that IoT ecosystem is about understanding the data. The trash goes away from the residence standpoint, but that data is available for city operators to be thinking about how much trash were you getting? What different types of trash?
I’m curious, I’d love to hear what sorts of value people are getting from that.
Jeff: It’s been really interesting to see the waste industry as a whole start to embrace technology and data more deeply than I feel like they did before. Now, we have a more integrated data system as those systems and communication technologies have evolved. It’s been really interesting, just even over the life of Bigbelly, to see the transformation of municipalities, haulers, et cetera, from being stuck behind the times and the technology side to really catching up and being at the forefront of some of the trends and technology that are going on.
Dylan: In my day job, we’ve worked with companies to collect data a bunch. One of the hard things always is what do you do with that data? I’m curious if you’ve seen, it sounds like there’s a lot of insights you can get. Have you seen cities make any changes or do anything differently based on what they’re learning?
Jeff: Our data is, a lot of it’s around the collection patterns of public space waste bins. We’re directly enabling cities to make some decisions around their public space waste collection. I think some of the interesting things I’ve seen is, what types of vehicles do they need to use? What types of collection crews do they need to use? If you’re changing your system from the competition as I talk about is generally the status quo, the waste bucket that existed out in public spaces before and those waste buckets that don’t have technology associated with them and don’t have the compassion capability and some of the other stuff we provide from an overall capacity standpoint.
Let’s take a busy city center. I think a lot of people don’t realize that a lot of those bins might need to be collected multiple times per day. If we think in our own lives about our decisions we make about when we might want to drive into a busy city center, we think about the time of day that we might want to go into a city and there’s some times where you’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to go into downtown, fill in the blank.” It’s really busy then. If you know or if you believe that there are probably overflowing trash bins right now and your job is the waste collector, you have no choice but to go into that area at that time.
We give our customers the flexibility to think about the time of day that they want to go address the bins so we see a lot of our customers who may switch to either early morning or overnight type collections where they’re not out there with the collection vehicles during the congested hours of the day. The intelligence we provide, the data that’s provided through that smart connected system, and capacity lets them actually do that.
Then we’ve seen given that we’re having them collect fewer bins in any given collection trip, sometimes go from a bigger, higher polluting, you talked about the miles per gallon of waste vehicle at the start of this podcast to something more like a pickup truck or something like that, because they’re collecting your bins and it’s compacted and it’s less fluffy so you can maybe do the same thing, pickup truck, that you might have needed to do in a compact and refuse vehicle before.
We see people making those decisions that have a real impact on the environment, both in the broader scale as far as overall emissions of the vehicle, and then in a more local scale on what it’s like to just exist and be part of that environment.
Dylan: That data is a really, really critical part of the whole system and value proposition.
Jeff: Yes. There’s a lot of other companies that are in our related space, trying to make the waste industry more efficient and more effective. Here in the US, we’re probably a decade or so behind what’s happening over in Europe. The challenges over there are a little bit more extreme because they generally have denser cities, they have less of the wide-open spaces that we do to just bury stuff. They’ve been having to grapple with some of these challenges long before us and they have a much more sophisticated, particularly residential collection system that is really focused on data.
How much waste do you produce, Dylan, versus how much waste do I produce and comparing us in the same way that you might get a comparison on your electrical bill, you might get a comparison on your waste bill because they’re measuring the amount of waste that they’re picking up from your house. They know that you only recycle 40% of your waste weight, and I recycle 60% of my waste weight. Maybe I get a credit as a result of that, and you get a demerit. There’s lots of really cool stuff going on, well outside of Bigbelly, related to the data and insights that you can get from the waste that’s generated, and it’s really going to be fun to see where this going forward.
I really do feel like it’s an industry that is– even with those innovations it’s still pretty far behind the technological advancements in some other areas, but it’s a big part of the overall climate change, green initiative, type puzzle. I think technology can play a huge role there.
Dylan: Just the thought of measuring my waste is a little bit scary, two kids in diapers, and I don’t think we want–
Jeff: For the more sophisticated things, you could say, “Look, hey guys, I get a reprieve. I get more waste volume there.” Then you have interesting companies, they’re working on compostable diapers and other things like that. They’re trying to solve that problem. The cool news is that there’s a lot of really neat companies, people with ideas that are trying to solve all those little pieces of the puzzle.
Dylan: It’s really cool talking to you about this because a lot of the people I talk to in the climate tech space, their solutions are amazing and have the potential to really change the world, but they’re in the lab today, or they’ve done one deployment thing. These stories you’re telling are from experience over the last– How long have we been out of school? Whatever, 16, 17 years.
Jeff: Yes, 16 years now.
Dylan: You’ve really seen the impact and been able to learn from that and grow the company as a result, which is really cool. I’m curious that you’re global. I’ve seen Bigbelly systems in New Zealand and Europe. I think I read 50 countries and all 50 states.
Jeff: I think we’ve crossed the 60-
Dylan: 60 countries.
Jeff: -60 margin now. We’re over 60 countries now.
Dylan: Did you ever imagine that you’d have this kind of reach when you were tinkering on this back in the college days?
Jeff: If I said yes, I’d be lying to you. I think that the idea of where we’ve been able to expand to and the types of places that folks have seen the value in the product we’ve made and wanting to deploy our system is humbling, and it’s really wonderful. It’s been really interesting to see the types of places people see the value in it. We started out thinking that we’re about busy city centers in the places that really generate a lot of waste.
That still remains a large part of our customer base but we see stuff in historic areas that are really more about hiding the waste. Keeping it within, we see things in remote areas where it’s just really hard to get there to pick up the waste, so it really spans the whole gamut. It’s been really neat to see examples of how people envision using our system and how we can help them achieve their goals. That’s really what we and our partners in deployments are here to do is to understand what people’s goals are and how the products that we make might help them achieve those goals, and mixing and matching the types of services that they get from us to meet their needs as an organization.
Dylan: It’s really cool. I was thinking about those remote locations when I read that stat about mileage for trash trucks and just like if I throw a piece of trash away at a trailhead, the miles of road that that piece of trash has to travel, you don’t think about that. Reducing the number of trips that trash has to take is pretty impactful, probably.
Jeff: You think about the trailhead side of things, a lot of places have gone to the carrying carry out, not necessarily because it’s environmentally friendly, it’s the same trash, but I think more so because they don’t want to deal with the pain of having to deal with waste bins in those areas. Whereas technology can help solve that problem. If a trailhead wants a waste bin there and a regular waste bin means that some person from the park service needs to go there every day to check on that waste bin to see if it’s full, that’s a misuse of park resources. That person can probably be doing a much more valuable task.
However, if you replace that task with technology, and say, “All right, we’re going to tell that person only when that trailhead waste bin needs to be collected.” For the rest of the time, they can do their other more valuable tasks. Then you can later on, perhaps compaction on top of that to hold it even more and reduce the number of times that that person needs to go collect that bin.
Dylan: This show is about hardware innovation, or we’re meant to be about engineering. I’m an engineer, you’re an engineer, I’d love to hear what one of the biggest technical challenges is that you’ve faced through this whole process in that context, or something you think is on the horizon for the future Bigbelly.
Jeff: Sure. We start off with my origin story, saying that I’m a hardware guy, I like doing technology and physical things. I love the idea that we have our systems out in a lot of different places in the world. It has been amazing to see, in some places, the amount of the abuse that public space waste systems take on the world. I think that the number one challenge we deal with, in some ways, is meeting that need with our customers and making something that stands up to the abuse in public areas. In some cases, that’s just wear and tear, but in other cases, it’s really active abuse over the value of the waste that– We talked about the value of recycling.
In bottle bill states, there are things that are worth a nickel or a dime inside the bin, and you add those up, and there’s real dollars inside there. Public space waste has this really interesting socio-economic piece of the world. In many cities, it’s a really challenging balance that they’re trying to strike. Sometimes our bins are almost at the forefront of that battle, if you will, it’s going on between dealing with people that are out and are trying to make their way and figure out how they’re going to make some money by collecting these redeemable bottles and cans, but not wanting them necessarily out in the spaces that they want to be in.
We find our products, sometimes, at the forefront of that tug of war there. I feel like from a hardware technology standpoint, the biggest challenge we deal with is one of the more fundamental ones, which is how do you make it just that much more durable to make sure that it withstands the needs of the public spaces that it’s going into.
Dylan: Human proof.
Jeff: Yes. Technology is easy. Communication to the cloud, people have figured that out. It’s pretty robust. It’s people, people are the problem,
Dylan: What’s the worst thing you can put in a Bigbelly, like a broomstick, or like a water balloon full of maple syrup, or [chuckles]
Jeff: That would be pretty sticky. I suppose that would be a challenging thing. I don’t know, we’ve tried to make the product deal with as much waste as we can. On the worst-case side of things, we try to limit the amount of residential waste that can go in there, so we prevent big bags from being put inside. Sometimes people try to shove that in there. They try to take their broken umbrella or their bag of household waste and jam it into it.
Dylan: With just the opening is only so big.
Jeff: Yes. We’ve designed it that way to prevent that kind of waste from being put in there. That stuff is meant to be deposited in other waste receptacles, not public space waste bins. Sometimes one bad apple ruins it for everyone else. If you jam up the system, then no one else can put what it’s intended to take in their lunch bag, their coffee cup, or the other stuff that they’re walking around with. That’s typically the worst thing that goes in there is something that just wasn’t meant to– You’re supposed to dispose of that in some other manner, and you’re using a public space bin for it instead.
Dylan: It’s cool. It’s amazing how robust they are. I imagine using solar power to power a compactor is not easy to get. You have to have a certain amount of power in order to crush all this stuff, and you can probably only do it a certain number of times a day and all that kind of stuff.
Jeff: The nice thing about the solar panel on it is that, number one, it’s a cool visible use of a green renewable technology. I think in this interest our bins are both a utility but also a communication vessel. They’re about communicating to the community in the world that green technology has a real place in what we’re doing here. Solar panels on the top of the building are oftentimes hidden. They’re not in front of our minds, so we’re an example of green technology right there in front of you. I think just in what that does in your subconsciousness about the role of green technology in green types of hardware and solar power devices in our life, I think is a good thing.
Dylan: Cool. I love talking about the tech side of it. I think just, I’m going to close us out with a few last questions.
Dylan: If you could wave your magic wand and change one thing about the waste problem, what would it be?
Jeff: Whew, that’s a good question, Dylan.
Dylan: Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: To me, I think it really stinks that we have to truly discard any of the waste that we make. If I were to be able to wave my magic wand, I feel like I would love to make it more of a circular system than it is right now and that more of our waste could be effectively collected in a way that lets it then be effectively sorted. That when you sort it, that’s more effectively reused into other new products, we’re the inflationary economy we’re dealing with right now, a large part of that has to do with raw material acquisition and other things that are going on and the challenges dealing with that.
I feel like that will continue to get bigger and we’re spending a lot of time and energy as a world collect, getting new raw materials, and then we’re using them for a relatively short period of time and then we’re disposing of them. Then having to go get new raw materials and repeat that whole cycle. I would love to see the waste industry get to the place where it could be much more circular than it is. The magic wand waved every bit of trash that we collect in a Bigbelly, or you put out in front of your home, gets reused and remade into some new thing that someone will appreciate and use and perhaps dispose of again themselves, but then that gets remade and remade and remade again.
Dylan: Well said. Who is one other person or company doing something to address climate change that is inspiring you?
Jeff: There’s at least in the waste industry. There’s a number of companies that I feel like are in our camp trying to do the things that we’re doing as well. I think we gain a lot of inspiration from each other. We’ve been working closely with a number of those companies. Honestly, the big waste haulers are grappling with this challenge, trying to get more stuff out of the waste stream and very less materials.
Companies like Rubicon, for example, are trying to add technology into the waste industry and modernize some of these older ways of thinking about things. I think those folks, the fact that we see people that are out there outside of our part of the world that are feeling the benefits here, trying to do the right thing. We’ve been recently dealing with a number of companies that do compost collection.
These are, on the compost side of things, it’s really interesting part of the waste world. We don’t think about it too much, but forget the number, the exact numbers, but by weight, about a third of the waste we get rid of is technically compostable. When you put that into a landfill, it starts breaking down anaerobically which creates methane, which then is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming, so there’s a lot of really neat companies that have sprung up trying to take that waste out of the waste stream.
There’s one here in the Boston area blacker. Now we’ve done a lot of work with that and talked with them a bunch and they’ve made this really neat company where they engage with citizens to collect their residential food scrap type material. They’ll come by, they’ll pick it up from your house. They’ll bring it to one of their facilities. They’ll put in a big pile, they’ll turn over and turn it over and turn into dirt. Those types of folks that are seeing a problem and finding a solution whether it’s technology or just good old-fashioned gumption to try and solve it are the folks that I personally draw a lot of inspiration from in our industry.
Dylan: Yes. That’s awesome. I will look up to those guys.
Dylan: This last question is for the younger version of me who was an engineer who wanted to help climate change, but didn’t know where to start. What advice do you have for someone like that earlier in their career?
Jeff: I think the thing that I feel is needed about the climate change problem is that there is so much opportunity as an engineer, as someone looking to develop new technology, to find new ways to solve problems. I feel like in human evolution, it’s really been a recent transformation in trying to think about how we do more with less and forever and ever, and ever.
It was about doing more and doing more and doing more. It’s only been recently that we’ve been seeing a shift into that. Well, how do I get that same enjoyment out of X, Y, and Z, but in a smarter way, in a more environmentally friendly way? I feel like we’re really just scratching the surface. The younger you probably has ideas, perspective, views in the world that old fogies like you and I don’t have and would probably bring a new line of thinking to the problem, maybe new technologies that you’re aware of, or you’re comfortable with that we’re not used to.
You’re thinking about a combination in a different way, how do you solve all of the different ways that we are contributing to global warming? It’s really all about use, it’s about excess, it’s about how much we’re consuming and the broader sense of it. The idea of how you get that same enjoyment in life and joy, whatever you’re getting out of that consumption by consuming less. I feel like there’s a lot of really interesting technology, examples of how you might get that, and look, Bigbelly’s an example of that. We are having the same problem, I have a coffee cup in my hand. I’d like to get rid of it and make that less of an environmental burden on the whole world.
What are other examples that some younger version of Dylan will come up with and look to solve?
Dylan: Awesome. That’s inspiring. Well, Jeff, thank you very much for sharing your time and your wisdom. I learned a lot today. I think it was really cool to hear about the ways Bigbelly’s having an impact in ways I hadn’t thought of like how the educational component of it being public in the public spaces. Also, thinking about how it’s just a piece of this bigger system and how it’s helping us get closer to that dream of a truly circular system. It’s pretty cool.
Jeff: Let’s hope. I think this really interesting podcast you’re putting together here because I love hardware problems. I love trying to solve stuff through technology and I love the community of folks that are trying to do that. This is all really cool.
Dylan: Awesome. Thank you for saying that. Thanks for your time and, that’s a wrap, talk to you soon.
- Rubicon’s official Website