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4 Smart Businesses Turning Trash Into Cash

The next million dollar business could be lurking in the trash can

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BY Annabel Acton - 02 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There's big money to be made if you're game enough to look in the places no-one else is looking. Especially if that place is trash cans, wastelands or other areas most entrepreneurs choose to avoid. But there is a gold mine waiting to be found in the gutter. And not only is it better for the planet and infinitely sustainable, it's also scalable. Not to mention, consumers care about strong environmental practices with more intensity than ever before. Here are some of the businesses, big and small, that are finding clever ways to cash in on our waste.

Create Value Through Story, Not Just Product

Imperfect Produce is a business that sells the fruit and vegetables tossed aside by the big supermarket chains who deemed them too unsightly. Not only is this good for the environment, it's a cost saving for the consumer who pays 30-50% less than supermarket prices. Rather than apologize for the produce's unsightliness, Imperfect Produce hero the wonky and disfigured items and proudly call them 'Ugly Produce'. Similarly, supermarket chain Intermarch ran a similar campaign called 'Inglorious Vegetables' that featured the failed lemon, the grotesque apple and the ridiculous potato.

Turn Waste Into Something Useful

One third of all food is wasted in food production and consumption systems. Entocycle are on a mission to solve this. By upcycling food waste back into the food chain. They do this by collecting organic waste from big industrial breweries, who produce large amounts of spent grain as a byproduct of beer making. They also collect waste from food producers who toss misshapen fruit and vegetables. The insects then eat the waste and quickly become fat, juicy larvae full of omega fats and protein. Then just before they become insects, they are processed into pellets and sold to farmers to feed their livestock. Currently, the standard livestock feed is soyameal or fish meal; both require huge amounts of both water and land mass and are a strain on the environment. Insects, on the other hand, cost the environment very little and carry a strong nutritional protein punch.

Clean Up After Big Companies

One of the biggest culprits of excess waste are large companies. They buy in bulk, buy in excess and are often left with more than they need. Re-Plate identified this problem, specifically with companies that cater meals for their employees. Each day, excessive amounts of food are left over, ready to go to waste. Armed with this insight, Re-Plate created a service to collect the surplus and distribute it to communities in need. This solved a real need for the businesses, who otherwise had to identify how to dispose of the food - a disproportionately cumbersome undertaking in light of complex health regulations. Re-plate charge the companies that they pick up the food from, who can right it off as a tax deduction.

See Opportunity In Waste Products

While wandering around food markets in China, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was mesmerized by the rows and rows of plucked and strung chickens. He then made an enquiry into what happened to the feathers, only to discover that the farmers paid someone to come and remove and burn them once the chickens had been plucked. Kamprad swooped in and offered to take the feathers off the farmer's hands for free. Of course, the farmers were delighted, but so was he as he could now offer feather duvets and pillows for a fraction of the cost. By investigating a waste product, Kamprad managed to source the key material for one of his best selling items for free.