Recycling Innovation and Entrepreneurs

When does inspiration strike for recycling entrepreneurs?

The epiphany of innovation can occur at any time - while watching garbage trucks emptying urban trash containers, while working on a roof, or after year-long European travel.

Entrepreneur Makes Lightweight Footwear from Billboard Vinyl

Billboards sparked Jimmy Tomczak to think about scrap vinyl to create lightweight footwear.

Jimmy Tomczak utilizes scrap vinyl for his unique lightweight footwear. Truth be told, Jimmy preferred to be barefoot, but his gravel driveway made that a painful preference. He was intrigued by skimpy footwear, such as the Vibram's Fivefingers line, but his student finances didn't offer him the luxury of experiencing that semi-barefoot experience for a full term.

He experimented with various materials to make footwear, but none of them survived the length of his driveway. Then while working as a roofer, he watched billboards being updated. He arranged to utilize scrap vinyl from billboards as a substitute for costly tarps for the roofing job. And when the roofing project was done, the vinyl was still in good enough shape for to make into footwear. Many, many iterations later, he found success. Today his company produces paperfeet sandals.

A Glass Act

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After spending a year traveling in Europe, Ray DelMuro, a mechanical engineer by training, returned to his home in the U.S. He found that a bottle cutting kit had arrived in his absence - he had forgotten that he ordered it. After trying it, he decided that there must be a more efficient way to cut bottles. It turns out that there is. He launched a business dedicated to repurposing wine bottles, creating beautiful yet functional wine glasses out of empties. He collects empty wine bottles from restaurants and other locations in the Phoenix area, and while his overall process is proprietary, it does include washing, label removal, and a cutting torch. The finished product is dishwasher proof. His company is called Refresh Glass, and he sells through outlets such as Whole Foods and Skymall Magazine.

BigBelly Solar Reduces the Need for Collection

BigBelly Solar

In the company’s infancy, founder Jim Poss pursued new approaches to geothermal power plants and offshore wind energy. Then while observing a trash vehicle in action one day in Boston, Poss remarked upon the inefficiencies of the operation, including idling at the pickup pint, blocking traffic, and smoke billowing out of the exhaust pipe. He believed that there had to be a better approach.

In the course of his research, Poss discovered that garbage trucks consume over 1 billion gallons of diesel each year in the U.S. Averaging only 2.8 mpg, they are among the most expensive vehicles to operate. Drawing upon his experience in electric vehicle engineering and enthusiasm for environmental solutions, Poss formed a new company, BigBelly Solar, which was to develop the world’s first solar-powered compactor. The ability to compact trash or materials for recycling at a four or five-to-one ratio, combined with wireless communication to alert service providers when to schedule the pickup, provides a significant reduction in collection costs.