Manufacturers, Startups and Nonprofits Driving Progress on Reuse and Recycling in Tennessee

Recycling and reuse market development requires a diverse ecosystem of material generators, aggregators, processors, consumers, and advocates. That ecosystem is on the cusp of flourishing in Tennessee; where a truly fascinating mix of startups, nonprofits and manufacturers are beginning to work together through the Tennessee Materials Marketplace to move the needle on landfill diversion and sustainable materials management.

Bob Zak and Daniel Kietzer with the Tennessee Materials Marketplace team zig-zagged from Memphis to Nashville to Morrison in early March ‘19 to meet with a handful of businesses and organizations working with the Materials Marketplace to hear firsthand about what’s working well and needs scale, and learn about challenges companies have today in leveraging materials reuse and recycling in their business. Here are a few highlights from the trip:

Clean Memphis and Urban Green Lab

Clean Memphis has been working in the Memphis community since 2008 - organizing cleanups, providing programming like Project Green Fork, and advocating for reuse and recycling in the region. Clean Memphis’ Executive Director, Janet Boscarino, was introduced to the Tennessee Materials Marketplace by Devin James at Refurban, and will be another important connector for the program in West Tennessee.

In the Nashville area, we met with Urban Green Lab, a nonprofit doing important work in the community to eliminate waste in classrooms, households, and workplaces. Urban Green Lab’s Sustainable Classrooms Program trains teachers on how to integrate sustainability into the classroom, and their Corporate Roundtable brings Nashville-area companies together to learn, network, foster new skills and policies, inform leadership, and exchange best practices to make sustainable workplaces a priority. We’re working with Urban Green Lab to integrate the Materials Marketplace into some of their programming and get the word out to Nashville businesses.

TDEC’s Small Business Environmental Assistance Program, and Office of Policy & Sustainable Practices

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has been a long-time leader in the circular economy at the state level. In addition to being an early supporter of the Materials Marketplace, TDEC programs and resources have long supported small businesses and large manufacturers alike to take steps to better manage materials. Daniel and Bob met with Dr. Ronne Adkins, Regional Director of External Affairs in TDEC’s Memphis Field Office and Director of TDEC’s Small Business Environmental Assistance Program to align our efforts. SBEAP stands out as an especially useful program for small businesses; working almost like a free, outsourced EHS department in a way. Definitely get in touch with them if you’re a small business and need assistance understanding and complying with environmental regulations.

Vaughn Cassidy (Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices) has worked closely with the Materials Marketplace since the beginning. OPSP conducts environmental policy research and analysis; and provides technical guidance to business, industry, and other public entities to promote environmental stewardship. Vaughn has worked with manufacturers all over the state, and has been an important conduit between TDEC, business and the Materials Marketplace resource.

Living Lands & Waters

Living Lands & Waters is a truly one-of-a-kind "industrial strength" river cleanup operation. Founder Chad Pregracke, the LL&W crew and an army of volunteers (over 110,000 to date) have removed over 10 million pounds of waste from US rivers, including riverbank areas in and near Memphis. Chad happened to be in Memphis with over 100 volunteers for their annual Alternative Spring Break while we were in town, and we had a few minutes to jump on a boat and meet him on the LL&W barge. In addition to these clean up activities, manufacturers are also working with LL&W to find new homes for the waste they remove from the river. We learned that many of the materials recovered from this particular operation will be destined for some really cool recycling applications - follow them on online to find out more.

Large Manufacturers

We also had meetings and site visits with companies including Fedex, Dal Tile, Cascades/IFC Disposables and others to get a look at some specific manufacturing by-products, materials sourcing, and challenges with reuse and recycling in today’s market. All of these manufacturers are engaged in the conversation as a part of both operational and/or sustainability goals to reduce cost, drive value, and create positive environmental impact. Keep an eye on the Materials Marketplace in the coming weeks to get a look at some really interesting (and high value) materials streams from a few of these companies.

Insights from these companies on some high-level barriers - including data/waste audit gaps, true cost accounting for waste disposal, and others - may also open some additional program services in the coming months. Stay tuned!

TheCO - Driving Innovation

TheCO in Jackson, TN was one of our favorite stops during this trip through Tennessee. Coworking + makerspace. Entrepreneur community. Technology education leader. Economic development catalyst. All made in Jackson. Check out their website and some of their projects to learn more about what they do - it really is incredible. We’re hoping we can get some Materials Marketplace materials into the hands of their creative entrepreneur community!

Green Solutions: Small Business Expo in Warren County

To wrap up our trip, on March 8th we joined Bridgestone and the Warren County Discard Discussion group at their first Green Solutions Small Business Expo. The Discard Discussion group has had quite a bit of success over the last two years helping local businesses in the area find ways to save money on waste disposal and material acquisition, and we’re keen to combine the technology capabilities of the Materials Marketplace with their engaged local network to push their impact even higher.

How you can Get Engaged

If you haven’t created an account yet on the Materials Marketplace, we encourage you to hit this link and get engaged with our growing network today. Whether you’re on the supply side, demand side, a material processor, an entrepreneur, or reuse advocate - there’s an important role for you to play in building out Tennessee’s circular economy ecosystem.

Daniel Kietzer