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Data Sheet–On Earth Day, a Call for Recycling Innovation

22 Apr 2019

The following article was written by AARON PRESSMAN and was first published on the Fortune website. See the original story here.

It’s Earth Day but you may have read recently that there is a recycling crisis.

The problem is that over the past few decades, as cities and towns built up vast programs to collect recyclable materials and get them out of the trash stream, the market for those materials has crashed. Last year, China cracked down on importing used plastics and forced would-be recyclers to find other outlets. None paid what the Chinese used to pay and, unfortunately, that has often meant the end of recycling programs, with waste plastic being sent instead to landfills or incinerators.

Recycling is just the third step in the old environmental adage “reduce, reuse, recycle.” So some local governments have shifted to focus on steps one and two by moving to discourage the use of plastics, as you may have seen in ordinances taxing plastic packaging, banning plastic bags, and even prohibiting plastic straws. Problems with recycling are hardly new–it was more than 20 years when the New York Times Magazine declared: “Recycling Is Garbage.” But the new economic challenges have put more pressure on the effort than all the prior criticism ever did.

It sounds like an opportunity for innovation, though, doesn’t it? Pepsi introduced a new fizzy water dispensing machine on Monday designed to encourage customers to use their own reusable containers. And if you’ve thought up a more environmentally-friendly packaging material, maybe one that cost more than typical plastics, now is your chance to shine. Perhaps it’s new trash-handling equipment that cleans the used plastics of the contaminants that put China off importing our waste in the first place. Or maybe, as one of my kid’s First Lego League robotics teams researched a few years ago, it’s time to raise millions of plastic-eating worms?

Still, relying on future, as-yet-unproven innovations to solve an environmental crisis while we continue in our profligate ways sounds unwise. So bring your reusable coffee mug to Starbuckstoday–and definitely don’t use a straw.

NEWSWORTHY

The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Problems with failing screens on the Samsung Galaxy Fold remain a bit of a mystery, putting the April 26 launch date in question. Now Samsung has indefinitely delayed promotional events for the pioneering $2,000 device that had been scheduled to occur in Hong Kong and Shanghai this week.

Reaching cruising altitude. All that pressure from the U.S. government on Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei has yet to hit the company’s bottom line. Huawei said it brought inalmost $27 billion in sales in the first quarter, a 39% increase from a year earlier, with a net profit margin of 8%, slightly higher than last year.

In for a rough landing. Speaking of pressure, the Chinese government banned the famed camera brand name “Leica” from all social media posts last week, after the company released a promotional video retelling the story of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

In for a rough landing, again. A memory limitation in older routers connected to the Internetcould cause network outages in the next few weeks, ZDNet reports. A critical database listing Internet addresses is about to exceed 768K in size, larger than the available memory in some routers. A similar problem arose in 2014 when the listing first exceeded 512K.

Stealthy. Tennis star Serena Williams last week disclosed that she had set up an investing fund, dubbed Serena Ventures, five years ago that has since backed 30 startups in e-commerce, fashion, and other areas. Companies with Williams’ backing include online custom tee-shirt maker Teespring, organic baby food producer Littlespoon, and women’s health product maker Lola.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

On a college tour around California last week, my son and I couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of electric scooters scattered across the municipal landscapes we visited. The industry’s rapid rise has not been without controversy and resistance–who can forget the scooters tossed in the ocean? But venture capitalist Mark Suster, whose firm has invested in the industry, argues in a blog post that the future for scooter world is bright and getting brighter. A legal crackdown is helping deter the vandals. Meanwhile, hardware and software innovations are improving profitability:

Simply put — there is no viable business running on commodity consumer scooter hardware. You must have your own vehicle teams or access inventory by a supplier that knows how to produce for industrial usage. But what is unique about Bird is that with each generation of scooter platform we launch our unit economics get better and better. In the ride hailing market there is a competition for drivers and they eat a large part of the consumers’ fee for a ride. In the scooter market, the consumer is the driver. Their time is free and there is no “driver COGS” (costs of goods sold). While the ride-hailing market sees autonomous vehicles as nirvana due to no driver costs, the e-scooter market already has this built in.

 

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