Finding Treasure: The Trash Industry and Logistics

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February 16, 2014

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The Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit is represented every day by the brave men and women that engage in legal and beneficial activities to contribute to the economy and put food on their tables, none more so than 41 year old Rachel Mburu.

Ms Mburu, who resides in Nakuru, embodies the concept of being handed lemons by life, making lemonade, then selling the lemonade for profit: gathering waste plastics from the Gioto trash dump, she has established a business of converting them to particles for sale to plastic manufacturing companies.

Selling more than 14 tons of plastic a week, Ms Mburu sets an excellent entrepreneurial example that the logistics industry is only too pleased to follow by turning trash into a profitable treasure.

Transporting trash from the source to the point of disposal falls under the jurisdiction of logistics: where it is not a logistics firm providing this freighting service, it is a function that would not be possible without supply chain management. It takes keen logistics management skills to organize vehicles or fleets serving trash collection for a given area and prepare optimum routes to the dumping facility chosen that are comprehensive yet keep costs down.

This applies for disposal logistics which focus on bridging the gap between residential or corporate sites and local rubbish tips. In some extreme cases, supply chain managers may find themselves freighting trash to specialized disposal centers outside city limits or even outside the country. It is common knowledge online that Sweden, generating power from converting waste, has become so efficient at utilizing their own garbage that they now find themselves needing to import from external sources.

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This necessitates the involvement of import and export supply chain managers to facilitate transportation of international cargoes of trash, by selecting the most appropriate medium of transport and upholding any international hygiene standards, for instance.

Supply chain managers can also mint cash by offering storage facilities for garbage generally produced in large quantities. This becomes a necessary service where economies of scale apply: logistics firms can offer to store trash until it accumulates into cost-effective lots for transportation or other disposal method by the producing company or external contractors, e.g. providing paid storage for a company generating waste that can only be properly dealt with by incineration. Supply chain managers here provide customized storage containers where needed, and may also handle what happens after a suitable amount is reached, be it freighting or more specialized disposal.

Related to this is “packaging” of garbage. Supply chain managers can generate revenue by converting trash into forms more suitable for effective transport so as to be cost efficient. Unusable wood packaging, for example, produced by a warehouse, can be fed into a rolling press to compress it and ensure more effective use of space in transit. Similarly, plastic foils and cardboard boxes can be bundled for the same purpose, while metals and other waste can be compacted, even for ease in disposal.

Logistics firms can also offer specialized facilities for unusual waste products. Some supply chain management companies have carved out a niche for themselves by customizing their services to chemical or bio-hazardous waste. This includes garbage from industrial laboratories, hospitals, some factories and other such institutions that produce waste which is potentially harmful to those exposed.

Here, equipment for freighting, storage or even actual disposal need to be customized for the task at hand, both to protect employees working with the dangerous materials and prevent leaks that may damage the environment or infect innocent bystanders. This has the advantage of removing the legal headache of responsible disposal from the shoulders of the companies producing it and placing the onus upon supply chain managers to meet the requirements of the law.

While lucrative, such niche positioning therefore requires great care and commitment, not just to avoid lawsuits, but also to be accountable for keeping such material from damaging the environment, seeping into the soil or water sources or coming into contact with civilians.

Proving that one man’s trash can indeed be another man’s treasure, the logistics industry has done our part to generate revenue from an out of the box source; have you?


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