Fast-forward to nearly a century-and-a-half later and you’ll find Americans throw out 35 billion water bottles a year, as well as 1.25 billion pounds of trash every day (the weight of approximately 40,000 average school buses).
With such a steady, free and predictable supply, it’s hard not to see why entrepreneurs haven’t fully embraced the value of what resides in humanity’s refuse bin.
But they’re getting there, and here are just a few innovative investment ideas on companies that are changing the face of eco-friendly innovation.
Pulling Profit From Thin Air
California startup Newlight Technologies is taking steps to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint by drawing the gas directly out of the air and concentrating it into AirCarbon, a polypropylene-like material that will be used to make chairs, auto parts and even Tupperware.
The technology works by pulling carbon from methane gas that comes from cow farms, meaning that future cellphone you will be holding might have started at the business end of a bovine.
But Newlight Technologies is looking ahead (rather than behind), and plans to provide cellphone cases to Sprint Corporation(NYSE:S) prepaid companion Virgin Mobile in the near future, which has been threatening to go IPO since the beginning of 2012. If Newlight decides to break into the $63 billion phone accessory market, then more profits and partnerships will follow.
Turns out pigs aren’t just great for bacon – their urine is also an excellent source for urea, which can be converted into fuel cells for electrical power. According to the BBC, each human produces one to two liters of urine a day, or enough to propel a vehicle 2,700 kilometers every year.
Urine, it seems, is one of the most intriguing renewable fuel sources out there – even for charging everyday products like the phone handset in your hand. According to Time,Britain-based Bristol Robotics Laboratory has developed a revolutionary pee-powered charger for a cellphone from SAMSUNG ELECT LTD(F)(OTCMKTS:SSNLF).
Recycled pig urine has also been increasingly used as a cleaning and emissions control product – known as “diesel exhaust fluid” – in next-generation diesel engines from Ford Motor Company(NYSE:F).
Converting Plastic to Power
A slightly more practical (and less disgusting) approach to profiting from waste is being undertaken by Rockwell Automation(NYSE:ROK)-backed startup Vadxx Energy LLC. Vadxx just broke ground on an Akron, Ohio-based energy facility that should be able to turn 20,000 tons of previously unrecyclable plastic into liquid fuel similar to ethanol. What’s more, Akron welcomed the company to the community with open arms, and didn’t charge it for the five-acre parcel the plant is now located on (in exchange for a 1% stake in its profits).
Suiting Up for the Environment
Since 2009, Sears Holdings Corp(NASDAQ:SHLD) has sold a line of clothing separates made from 100% recycled polyester under the brand banner of “Covington Perfect.” Since then, the line has expanded and continues to be a viable innovation (even if department stores themselves aren’t – Sears has closed more than 100 stores since 2011 because of sales lost to the Internet).
Keep an eye out for scrappy startups to team up with big-name stock names to get their most innovative products funded and properly marketed. While recycled pants and a urine-powered phone might not be on your wish list, they may be on someone else’s.