‘Waste Not Want Not’: Zero Percent Waste, 100 Percent Profit


Cheyenne Johnson
Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy
Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics

Waste management is not the usual place to look for environmentally sustainable policies, but David Steiner, the president and CEO of Waste Management Inc., a comprehensive waste and environmental services company, believes that’s exactly why his company’s succeeding. Steiner collects the waste from companies including Walmart and proceeds to recycle the materials, selling it and thus turning a profit.

“About five years ago we looked at all the stuff that we took and put in the landfills,” said Steiner. “What would that be worth if we could sort it out and sell it?”

By taking what was once put in a landfill and instead recycling it, Steiner has transformed his waste disposal company without changing much of the business’s profile and general makeup. Steiner did this by using sorting technology and educating the companies that use his services.

“We taught Walmart how to take those materials that used to go into a dumpster and separate them so we can sell them,” said Steiner. “We’ve had this change thrust upon us…The beauty of it is we’re going to go into a new business model where we make more money.”

The venture has become so profitable that Steiner is investing in recycling containers to be placed at locations like gas stations and convenience stores. Solar compactors similar to the ones found on the University of California Santa Barbara campus are also key components of Steiner’s plans for the company though he admits there have been troubles with the plan.

“We don’t see enough of our recycling machines,” said Steiner “because we haven’t quite found the business model that makes sense for everybody.”

Steiner insisted that education and ease of access would increase the demand of recycling technology.

“How do we make it easier?” said Steiner. “If you make it easier, you’ll see those [recycling] rates go up.”

As his business and the environmental movement continue forward, Steiner believes there are three components that dictate whether or not a policy takes hold.

“Government regulation on its own wont do the trick…It’s got to be a three legged stool,” said Steiner. “Consumers willing to do it, government willing to support it, and businesses that can make money off of it.”

With the interconnectedness of those in the economy standing at the forefront of his discussion, Steiner said there’s the potential for capitalism and sustainability to work together.

“The things that we can do to save the environment are the exact same things we can do to increase profitability.”