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 user 2007-01-02 at 11:58:00 am Views: 72
  • #16873

    From Garbage to Gold
    are creating companies that exploit the creative opportunities in other
    people’s junk, sparing the environment in the processTwo years ago, Eli
    Reich was a mechanical engineer consultant for a Seattle wind energy
    company when his messenger bag was stolen. The environmentally
    conscious Reich, who rode his bike to work every day, decided that
    instead of buying a new one, he would simply fashion another bag out of
    used bicycle-tire inner tubes that were lying around his house.Soon
    compliments on his sturdy black handmade messenger bag turned into
    requests. “That was the catalyst,” says Reich, who obtained a business
    license, gave up his day job, and quickly launched Alchemy Goods in the
    basement of his apartment building. The company’s motto: “Turning
    useless into useful.”For a slew of new entrepreneurs, garbage is not
    just a matter of personal opinion, it is, ahem, their business. In
    other words, they’re creating new companies out of other people’s junk.

    SOLO.  While innovation has always been the entrepreneur’s trademark, a
    growing interest in the green movement is propelling small business
    owners to create new products and services that also happen to be
    inventive recycling solutions for the country’s vast waste heaps (see
    BusinessWeek.com, 6/19/06, “Do You Need to Be Green?”. “The
    sustainability and restoring of our environment are providing
    opportunities in many fields of small business,” says John Stayton,
    co-founder and director of the Green MBA program at San Francisco’s New
    College of California.Reich’s Alchemy Goods grew quickly. At the
    outset, he worked solo, making about 5 to 10 bags a month. Now there
    are three employees. “In our first year, we probably made about 125
    bags,” he says, “since last year we’ve probably made another
    1,000.”Initially marketing consisted of word of mouth, and the products
    were sold on the company’s Web site. Today the bags can be found in
    retail outlets in Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, California,
    Montana, and two stores in Japan.

    SECOND LIFE.  And the
    products, made from materials found at local junkyards and bike shops,
    have grown, too. Alchemy now offers different styles. The classic
    messenger bag ($148) and the smaller Haversack bag ($88) are made from
    recycled inner tubes and seat belts. The Adbag, a $30 tote, is
    fashioned from old mesh outdoor advertising banners.Reich says he is
    looking to broaden his product line and expand his distribution
    channels. “After we started the company, I didn’t see a lot of other
    recycling [products],” he says. “I’ve learned quite a bit about
    companies taking similar innovative approaches to product design. It’s
    a niche now, but it’s a growing field. People are becoming more aware
    of what products are made of and where they go after they are done
    owning them.”It is estimated that America produces about 380 million
    tons of waste a year. This also generates a number of harmful gasses
    and emissions into the atmosphere and maintains the nation’s dependence
    on landfills. Entrepreneurs who have taken to creating businesses based
    on the trash of others are not only launching new livelihoods but
    giving a second life to discarded rubbish while helping the environment.

    RESULTS.  In 2001, outraged at seeing 26 trees marked for destruction
    in her Gardena (Calif.) neighborhood because their growth was damaging
    area sidewalks, Lindsay Smith, a Hollywood screenwriter, unwittingly
    became an activist and an entrepreneur, soon launching Rubbersidewalks.
    “These were healthy, mature trees that were being destroyed because the
    city couldn’t afford to repair the broken sidewalks,” she says. “We
    weren’t even given the opportunity to weigh in on the choice.”Smith
    went into action. “It turns out this was a really big problem,” she
    says. And not just in her neighborhood. According to Rubbersidewalks,
    330,000 miles of U.S. sidewalks are damaged annually. Moreover, many
    municipalities simply cut down the trees because it has become too
    costly to constantly repair the sidewalks.After doing some
    investigating, Smith got a grant from the state of California to do
    research on using rubber pavers as a substitute for concrete sidewalks.
    Smith spent two years in R&D, eventually coming up with a product
    made entirely of recycled rubber tires.

    PILING UP.  The
    pre-molded, prefabricated rubber squares are cut to fit and are
    installed over a layer of crushed granite. Interlocking dowels connect
    the pavers. For repairs, individual pavers can be unlocked and
    removed.Smith’s rubber sidewalks created a solution to four problems.
    First, they reduce the number of tires piling up in dumps—according to
    the Rubber Manufactures Assn., every year more than 250 million scrap
    tires are thrown out in the U.S.Second, using rubber pavers, which are
    unbreakable, reduces the cost of repairing sidewalks, as well as the
    number of lawsuits resulting from injuries sustained from people
    tripping on broken concrete. Rubber sidewalks also help preserve trees,
    and they don’t add to what’s called heat-island effect, the increase in
    urban air and surface temperatures due to pavement, asphalt, and
    building infrastructures.According to Smith, Rubbersidewalks have been
    installed in 60 cities across the country and Canada. She says she’s
    gotten requests from metropolitan centers in Asia, Europe, Australia,
    and New Zealand as well.Moreover, Smith says she has heard from senior
    citizen homes interested in installing rubber sidewalks because they
    are safer and easier on limbs. “We’ve had 1,000% growth this year,” she
    says. “We will have more growth next year—it has skyrocketed.”

    STREAM.  Four years ago, Dan White, a naturalist, decided that he
    wanted to start a company that helped the environment. He founded Rapid
    Refill Ink, in Springfield, Ore., which remanufactures and sells inkjet
    and laser toner cartridges at a 40% to 70% savings to consumers.”There
    are 1 billion cartridges in landfills,” he says. “We can refill one
    cartridge over 20 times— that’s a huge environmental savings.” Today
    the company has expanded to include 70 stores and an additional 300
    franchise contracts nationwide (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/28/05,
    “Upstarts Spread in the Ink Wars”).In addition to creating an
    environmentally friendly product, White went even further, making sure
    the stores themselves were made of repurposed materials. Rapid Refill’s
    walls are made of corn stalks, the marble-looking countertops are made
    of sunflower seed shells, and the carpets are composed of recycled
    materials like milk cartons.”There are so many products generated in
    our culture,” says the Green MBA’s Stayton. “Consumers are encouraged
    to purchase more and more, but what happens to all those products?
    Without being mindful of the final destination, we are going to end up
    with a world full of junk. We need companies that are creative and
    innovative and will take products out of the waste stream and turn them
    into something new.” In doing so, they prove that one man’s garbage can
    be an entrepreneur’s goldmine.