Guest Post: “Waste Is Our Greatest Resource”

This is an issue to which I’ve given a great deal of thought in recent years. Most of what we throw out can be used in so many ways. Think of it as the global version of the idiom “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The vision of a circular economy can become a reality if we act now. All that is required is the political will to make it happen, thorough planning, and competent execution. It is within the realm of possibility.

The experience and insights of Paul Olivier, who is the owner of a social enterprise called “Empowering the Poor thought Waste Transformation,” are worth considering and taking to heart.

On a related note, I recently finished writing an essay about Paul and his good work. It’s rare that I write about an individual but I felt compelled to do so. As is often the case, especially when I’m motivated, the article practically wrote itself; I was just the medium. My hope is that both the English and Vietnamese versions will be published. For obvious reasons, my primary target audience are Vietnamese.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Image: Conserve Energy Future 

Throughout my life, I have always seen waste as one of the most valuable resources anyone could ever possess. This might sound a bit unusual and startling to those who seldom think about waste, but most forms of waste are anything but waste.

Back in the ‘90’s, I designed a series of dense medium separators to extract non-ferrous metals from automobile and industrial shredder residue destined for landfill. Even though this waste had a non-ferrous metal content that averaged about 15%, year after year this residue was being discarded as worthless. Traditional separators were terribly inaccurate, whereas my separators allowed for the recovery of just about 99.99% of these valuable metals.

One complete set of my separators could process the non-ferrous residue of as many as 500 automobiles per hour. On a single site, my clients were able to recover about 40 tons an hour of non-ferrous metals. Magnesium, aluminum, copper, brass, lead and so forth, were separated from one another with incredible accuracy. At an average value at that time of $1,000 US dollars per ton, each of my clients had a revenue stream of about $40,000 US per hour. The largest recycling companies in Western Europe, – NV Galloo, CFF Recycling and GDE Guy Dauphin Environnement – all bought this unique dense medium process.

I later set up in 1997 a $25 million US dollar separation facility at Chaparral Steel in Midlothian, Texas. With this installation, Chaparral Steel was able to earn a yearly profit of over $300 million US dollars, a profit far greater than that generated by their steel mill. The waste they were throwing away had a greater value than the steel they were producing. Even the rubber, foam rubber and plastic isolated by my separators were free of PVC and could be used right across the road from the steel mill to power a cement kiln owned by the same company. This enabled the cement kiln to stop using fossil fuels to make cement.

But enough of making rich people extremely rich. After moving to Vietnam in 2006, I saw two things that immediately grabbed my attention: a lot of waste and a lot of poverty. So, I asked a simple question. Could the transformation of waste be the means that would enable poor farmers to acquire substantial wealth? I looked at every possible form of biodegradable waste, and nowhere could I find anything that could not be transformed into products of considerable value.

Paul Olivier (Dalat)

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