The future of garbage
Taking out the trash isn’t so easy now that we have more than 7 billion people on the planet.
In today’s Texas Inc., Waste Management CEO Jim Fish says he wants his company to be known more for applying technology than hauling trash. And Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. CEO Mark Lashier talks more about the problem of managing plastic waste (he also offered Texas Inc. readers a guest column on this topic last week).
Old landfills are filling up, new landfills are often so far away from major cities that the transportation costs are exorbitant, and then there’s the litter piling up on the land and in the sea from careless consumers.
The entire disposal process and everyone involved need reform, and the executives who run large organizations in global industries are the best positioned to help bring these changes.
“It’s known that the world is facing a huge problem with waste in general,” Lashier says. “Petrochemical companies … should take a strong role in identifying solutions that the world can use to address plastic waste getting into the environment where it doesn’t belong.”
Waste Management naturally wants to have a strong role as well.
“At some point down the road, someone will come up with a technology that replaces landfills,” Fish says. “I want to be that person. I don’t want one of these young Stanford MBA students to develop that technology and put my landfills out of business overnight.”
Of course, it’s the entire disposable society in which we all live that needs to change — and it has been changing. A few thoughts:
Products need to be designed for a longer life cycle, and they need to be more repairable, easy to take apart and fix when they break. Packaging needs to be lighter and more recyclable.
Consumers need to curtail food waste - something like half the food produced globally ends up not in the stomachs of starving children, but in the waste bin. We should at least be composting this waste or turning it into energy.
Materials of all kinds need to move in a circular path, not a linear one from the production line to the consumer to the landfill. The products of today should become the raw materials of tomorrow in everything we consume.
Houston can be more than the energy capital of the world. With companies like Waste Management and Chevron Phillips Chemical already at work on these problems, our city may be uniquely positioned to become a global center for new industries and technologies aimed at cleaning up our global mess.