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Money in the Trash: Innovative Examples For Turning Waste into Revenue

Daniel Saunders

Chief Executive Officer

No one likes to talk about the dirty side of business. In fact, many companies choose to “pay the problem away” through waste disposal services or carbon offsets. But consumers today demand more impactful and sustainable practices; businesses must address the waste problem with much greater rigour and transparency, finding truly sustainable solutions rather than burying the problem in landfill. 

The circular economy, popularised in the 70s by Dr Walter Stahel, is replacing the linear consumption model. It requires us to rethink business models, designs, processes, operations, and materials to reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish and recycle. And this thinking applies to the entire production and consumption lifecycle. 

It’s not just a moral imperative driving the circular movement. There’s money to be made in waste for those who choose to think strategically and innovate. For example, 13% of Philips’ revenue in 2019 was generated from circular initiatives. 

A triple-bottom-line approach (used by General Electric, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, 3M, etc.) can help measure the impact of sustainable business practices on revenue. Companies that have adopted circular principles not only increased revenue but reduced costs, built stronger and longer customer relationships and got ahead of new laws.

Examples of businesses turning trash into revenue 

To illustrate how circular principles work, here are some novel examples of companies reducing, reusing and recycling waste for everyone’s benefit. 


The airline Jet2 and the UK government are investing in a new manufacturing plant to turn black bin bags into Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The black bags that would otherwise end up in a landfill will undergo gasification and the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert them into fuel. The new plant is estimated to generate 400+ million gallons of fuel to help decarbonise the aviation sector whilst also removing waste from landfill. 

Construction & Manufacturing  

Traditional cement production is responsible for around 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—meaning if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the US and China. 

Fabula Inc. developed a way to convert food waste into 100% biological and biodegradable “cement.” While traditional cement production is terrible for emissions, so too is disposing of food waste—which is why this innovation caught my eye—two birds with one stone.

Fabula’s new material is four times stronger than ordinary concrete and maintains the smell and colour of the original vegetable mixture made to produce it. It can also be mixed with spices and is edible. While its commercial use in constriction is a way off, the material could have other applications, such as a material for homeware or packaging.

Schneider Electric has a well-documented circular strategy. Their efforts sit across the entire lifecycle of their products;

  • Redesigning products to use fewer primary raw materials or making them easier to reuse.
  • Circular value propositions such as leasing or repair centres to extend the life of each product
  • Circular supply chains with take-back schemes when products reach end of life
  • Corporate governance and rewards for thousands of staff members based on hitting sustainability impact measures.

The above initiatives account for 12% of Schneider’s revenues and saved 100,000 metric tons of primary resources between 2018-2020. By 2025, the group aims to double the number of recycled plastics in its products. By 2030, the goal is for 100% of the electricity for its sites to come from renewable sources, 100% of the waste will be reused, and all packaging will be from recycled or certified sources.


After years of research, a team at the University of Leeds have developed a way to extract “resveratrol” from the outer skin of grapes. The extract is said to be an antioxidant with anti-ageing properties. 

Commercial ventures from the university partnered with Marks & Spencer to take the waste grape skins from the production of their English wine and use it to make a new product line, the “Pure Super Grape” skincare range. 


McDonald’s uses their old frying oil to power their delivery vehicles generating enough biodiesel to fuel more than half of their fleet. In the UK alone, Mcdonald’s has saved 11,700 tonnes of Co2 emissions by using biodiesel rather than other fuel.

Their renewable fuel partner, Olleco, also uses biodiesel to backhaul food waste from Mcdonald’s. That food waste is converted into gas and electricity, which powers Arla Dairy, a Mc Donalds supplier. 

How can you turn waste into revenue? 

Understanding how and where to introduce circular economy practices within your organisation requires a detailed review of processes at a micro level and a systems thinking approach considering the broader context outside of your corporation. 

Your analysis should highlight areas for improvement, but it’s not only a case of optimisation. Business models can be rethought, and products can be re-engineered.  

Any innovation or development in this area should focus on reducing energy, materials or labour while increasing durability, reusability and recyclability. 

Solutions to the above require research, testing and development before they are commercially viable. For many businesses, solutions often fall outside their expertise or capabilities. For this reason, running an innovation lab is a fast and efficient way to find and develop circular economy solutions with businesses that have already done the groundwork.

If you like to discuss how L Marks can assist you with running an innovation lab, please get in touch.