Bill McDonough and Waste Management form innovation collaborative

Bill McDonough and Waste Management today announced a new partnership — the Waste Management-McDonough Sustainable Innovation Collaborative — aimed at advancing and improving recyclability and lessening the environmental impacts of products and packaging.

It's a bold move on the part of America's largest waste-hauling company, whose CEO, David Steiner, has long envisioned mining waste materials to create new value for Waste Management and its customers. The new collaborative aims to help producers, manufacturers, retailers and suppliers of packaged goods and products consider the recyclability as well as the ecological and human health impacts of materials, beginning with the design phase.

The catalyst for the partnership came barely a month ago, when McDonough and Steiner participated in a "sustainable solutions session" at Fortune Brainstorm Green, where participants explored the question, "How do we double America’s recycling rate in five years?" That session led McDonough and Steiner into a conversation about helping Waste Management’s manufacturing customers, especially consumer packaged goods companies, rethink their products and packaging from the perspective of their ultimate end-of-life disposition.

“David and I talked about the notion that it would be great if those at the end of the pipe could send signals back up the supply chain — that we could inform the whole system from the perspective of the people who are receiving complex and unrecyclable products,” McDonough told me.

The collaborative will serve primarily as a consultancy, something both Waste Management and McDonough — through McDonough Innovation, his design firm, as well as through McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, which provides Cradle to Cradle consulting — are already doing. Waste Management, for its part, has people in manufacturing plants “managing the sustainability of manufacturing facilities and helping them with their strategies and tracking and metrics to make sure they are getting the right waste-diversion rates,” explains Chip Smith, Vice President of Marketing at Waste Management.

The two parties together stand to improve each other’s game. “We’re already doing some of this work today,” says Smith. “With Bill’s team, it brings a new piece of the puzzle — that is, the toxicity of packaging — that we don’t currently consult on today.” Smith explained that Waste Management’s focus has been principally on diverting waste from landfills, but not necessarily on the constituency of the materials it is keeping in circulation.

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