The Material Formerly Known as “Waste”

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Tim Cole, owner of Eco Partners, doesn’t like to use the word “waste.”

“I always think of a waste as a mis-managed resource. That’s the way I look at it,” he says.

“Waste” is an old word, an old concept, based in an old way of doing things. “In a lot of respects, the waste industry is rather archaic. They’re doing the same stuff that they did 80, 100 years ago, probably. There really hasn’t been much innovation.”

Eco Partners doesn’t help companies get rid of waste, they help find solutions for a company’s mis-managed resources.

“If there’s a need for a client, we’ll figure out a way to do it even if it hasn’t been done,” Cole says. “We try to do that with every customer, whether it’s a customer who generates one truck a week, or a customer who generates multiple truckloads in a day. They all have the same need, they want a solution, they want an answer.”

One example of an old problem for Eco Partners’ clients: Industrial waters. “In some cases they were taking it to a facility for solidification, and landfilled it. Which is just a shame that we do this today.”

Tanks-worth of fluid is mixed with a solid, enough to pass a filter test. If no fluid drips out, “you could bury it in a hole in the ground,” and hope that it won’t contaminate the groundwater.

“If you take a liquid and mix it with a solid, you have more volume than what you started with, right?” Cole laughs. “But that’s what they do!”

There is an Eco Partners customer who produces a water-soluble glue, like that used in elementary schools, so safe a kid could eat it. Between batches they clean their equipment with water.

That dirty — but non-toxic — water used to have to go for solidification and landfill. “Which is just absurd,” Cole says. Then the company turned to incineration of the solidified waste water. “To burn water? Really?!?”

Eco Partners looked into the science behind breaking down the waste water into reusable products through the process of farm lagoon management and anaerobic digesters, “so it will be used as a micronutrient.”

Well, it was not exactly “waste water.” Cole clarifies that it was “formerly-managed as a waste, now no longer thought of as a waste.” It’s now a product. “So this product is now a component or raw ingredient for somebody to make their product.”