Waste marketplaces: turning trash to cash

From trading unused materials to the future of circular models, there are plenty of ways that businesses can utilize waste products with the help of new platforms on the scene.
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When Amorpol Huvanandana and Amm Virodchaiyan started researching textile waste in Thailand, they came across a startling number: ‘50 million tonnes of [textile] waste happens in factories, before we’ve even consumed a product. In comparison, only 27 million tonnes is classified as post-consumer waste.’ Yet these days, so much of the onus is still on consumers to reduce waste. Amorpol and Amm felt it was time businesses took their share of responsibility, and started Moreloop, a marketplace that helps businesses find homes for their waste.

Marketplaces like Moreloop help businesses explore how they could earn additional revenue from unused or wasted resources – whether it’s material scraps or underutilized machinery. Trading waste with other businesses is one of the ways that a circular economy – where there is no waste at all – can start to take shape. And that’s not it: government legislation is also likely going to favor circular business models in the future, says Lisa Roolant, founder of sustainable community platform Circularity Club. So, businesses need to be ready to evolve – and these business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces can help them get there.  

Start with tech

When Stephanie Benedetto first started looking into the issue, she felt like the priorities were in the wrong place: ‘There was a lot of work going on in the consumer and peer-to-peer spaces, but none on the B2B side.’ She quickly realized that, to have a tangible impact, she’d have to build something that was scaled up from the get-go: ‘This problem is much bigger than just one T-shirt.’

Her waste textiles marketplace, Queen of Raw, operates globally, but can only work at this scale thanks to artificial intelligence and blockchain technology. ‘When we first started, we had barely any supply, while demand was huge. We know the supply is out there sitting in warehouses, and tech helps us find and track the waste in complex supply chains.’ 

That’s also where good, clean and transparent data comes in, adds Ben Findlay, founder of spare parts marketplace Machine Compare. But there’s no minimum standard for what good data looks like, and each organization records data differently – making the process of trading in a marketplace even more challenging. ‘On average, only about 7% of any organization’s data is clean,’ Ben says. ‘And there is very little analysis done on it.’

Bringing business on board 

Of course, businesses want to work towards reducing their waste and making the most of their resources. But for most – where waste seems like an unavoidable part of the production process – it can be challenging to shift to an entirely circular model. For those running B2B marketplaces, they’ve found themselves also taking on the role of consultants, helping businesses make this change. 

Every garment production factory in Thailand that Amorpol and Amm spoke to had the same problem: they had to over-order fabric to account for defect products, but the leftovers had piled up over the years. And yet, communicating to businesses that they could both minimize waste and make money from it proved a challenge. ‘We realized we couldn’t just ask them to change,’ Amorpol says. ‘We have to make it as easy as possible and service them. Someone else needs to push that wheel.’

But once businesses started seeing the value that Moreloop could bring, they pushed others to get on board, too. Katy Barfield, who built the wholesale fresh-food marketplace Yume, also found that there was a big educational hurdle to overcome with corporate players: ‘Food suppliers would worry about the impact on their brands, and they even saw us as a threat,’ she says. ‘It can be hard to get them to listen. But we’ve taken a pretty opaque system and made it more transparent. And as we’ve delivered results to businesses, we’ve seen people wanting to know more.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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