Desert Companion

All things activism: The trash whisperer

Oh, this could be one of those boring recycling stories. Oh, it could be about keeping cans, bottles, paper and other recyclable goodies out of the landfill. Yes, it could be about businesses and government saving money and resources thanks to “thinking green.” Yes, it could be about yet another “green business.”

But then comes the hook and some juicy statistics: How this small local company SimpleESG has since 2008 diverted more than 67 million cubic feet of trash from the landfill and saved businesses and taxpayers $3.5 million. All by poking around in the garbage.

“The thing with trash is, most people don’t think to even pay attention to it,” says Danielle Basson, director of operations for SimpleESG. “If a business owner is looking at their general ledger, the trash bill is just a figure they pay for every month. It’s the last thing they pay attention to. But any business, at a minimum, should have 50 percent recycling and 50 percent trash. But most businesses are more like 90 percent (trash) and 10 percent (recycling).” Basson’s job is almost painfully straightforward: Her team studies what you’re throwing away — and then teaches you how to throw it away better. What’s not common is their scrutiny, which studies how trash flows from the cubicle trash can to the dumpster out back. When SimpleESG performs an audit — a process that can take weeks, even months — everyone gets in on the dialogue, from bosses to rank-and-filers.

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“The thing with recycling is that you’re changing habits, so it takes 30 to 60 days to change that,” Basson says. “With clients, we go to door-to-door at shopping centers, do PowerPoints at managers’ meetings, whatever it takes.” She laughs. “We really babysit the process. That’s why our program works — we don’t leave.”

Case study: The City of Las Vegas, which hired SimpleESG last year to improve its recycling rate, largely by making recycling bins more easily accessible in city parks, offices and other facilities.

[HEAR MORE: Can music be recycled? As easy as a song. Hear how on "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]

“They helped us rightsize our trash service,” says Tom Perrigo, the city’s director of sustainability. That recycling revolution translated into fewer garbage pickups and fewer trash bins to pay for. Because of that, this fiscal year, the city expects to shave $300,000 off its annual trash bill, which is usually about $821,000. Another sweet stat: Since hiring SimpleESG, the city has gone from recycling 20 percent of its trash to 53 percent.

Bottom lines like that are great, but Basson sees something else you can’t plug into a spreadsheet. “When we were trying to get clients five years ago, they would always ask, ‘How much can you save us?’ Now they hire us not just because of the savings, but because it’s the right thing to do.”


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