Dinosaurs and meteors
At the end of last year I attended Scotland’s pre-eminent waste conference. It was like stepping back into the 80s only with less hair. It was full of badly dressed people with shiny suits and garish ties. The main room had no natural light and a ghastly carpet that looked like it had received the main course of chicken jalfrezi in some kind of Pollockian food nightmare. There was no one under the age of 30, few women, and plenty of shiny pates. I met one person who was passionate about what he did and I’m now working with him on developing a food-waste collection business. Apart from that it felt like being trapped in a time-warp. I actually had a great time because I networked like a gigolo with a business card crush.
Afterwards in into the cold Glasgow air I reflected how in my previous business only one of the many hundreds of young entrepreneurs we worked with was involved in the waste industry. Everyone else was in trendy areas like mobile, or energy or fintech. Precisely because waste is not sexy and not cool is why I felt like there was a massive opportunity. And further understanding has strengthened this hunch. Most big biz in the industry are over 30 years old, some are over 100. In entrepreneurship years they are dinosaurs. And as such slow moving beast they are ripe for the proverbial meteor to strike. Just like MySpace, iTunes and Spotify did to music, AirBnB to hotels and Zopa/Funding Circle and TransferWise to finance so there is something lurking waiting to disrupt waste.
For a start the industry has its model completely back to front. It makes huge money from collecting bins full of waste yet there are massive pressures to cut back on waste production at a domestic and trade level. At present general waste is treated as a bulk item with no discrimination as to what is in it. It could be a ton of sawdust or a ton of gold. You pay for weight not the value of the actual material. Just by separating waste streams with a finer comb (like is already done with glass, metal etc) you can create new businesses. For example, air-dried bricks use vegetable oil to increase tensile strength by 30%.
With the field so wide open the challenge lies in selecting where to go and what to focus on.