Trash’s Little-Known Impact on Economic Freedom and National Security

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It is time to talk about improving the environment, economic freedom, and national security. Yes, it is time to talk about trash.

No one likes to talk about trash. It is never a subject at social gatherings, even at The Heritage Foundation, and it is easy to understand why. Waste is a dirty word. We hide it and bury it, but we all have it. People of all socioeconomic classes have waste. Even the president has trash (one of my company’s haulers manages the White House’s waste). 

Waste is an apolitical issue that transcends socioeconomic status and has remained essentially unchanged since the time of the Romans. For generations, we have buried our trash in the ground and our heads in the sand, unwilling to break from a broken business model or take a serious look at how our waste impacts the environment.

Technology is changing all of that, however. And my company, Rubicon, is one such example. With strict adherence to economic freedom principles, we are using technology to drive meaningful change and achieve environmental innovation. In particular, we create software solutions to help businesses, municipal governments, and waste haulers around the world reduce waste and create more sustainable solutions for waste disposal.

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Rubicon creates greater socioeconomic and environmental outcomes by working toward a circular economy—an economy where existing materials and products are reused, repaired, refurbished, and recycled as long as possible—thus reducing waste and providing better solutions for our customers.

Simply put: Reducing waste means doing good for the environment.

It can also mean saving money. Diverting recyclable materials away from the landfill sends those materials to recycling centers where they can be harvested for raw materials. Those raw materials are then sold as commodities. By improving the waste stream, waste can be turned from something you pay to have hauled away to something you get paid for.

Technology can also be used to help minimize the overall cost of managing waste, analyzing the waste stream so that customers only pay for what they use, not a monthly fee whether they have an empty dumpster or a full one. This saves customers money across the spectrum of their waste management. It also democratizes the industry by empowering smaller haulers to take larger contracts that had previously been the domain of the industry’s dominant players.

Reducing waste can also mean protecting our national security. Waste is every bit a national security threat as it is an environmental one. Landfills represent the ultimate opportunity for international criminal organizations to harvest individuals’ and organizations’ data and information. Improperly disposed of electronics present as much of a, if not a greater, threat than being hacked, with the Identity Theft Resource Center calculating that more than 50% of data attacks in 2020 resulted from improperly disposed of or stolen electronics.

We must also turn our eyes to the heavens, where the looming threat of space waste threatens our communications networks, the safety of our astronauts, the International Space Station, and valuable infrastructure we have all come to rely on. According to former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, one “tiny piece” of space waste could destroy a billion-dollar satellite.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of pieces of space waste orbiting the planet at speeds seven times faster than a bullet, thousands more pieces now than there were just last year, before Russia exploded one of its satellites with a ground-based missile.

We rely on space for our communications, cable television, GPS, and other tools that support our economy and way of life. The propagation of space waste puts all of this at risk. The corporate world, governments, and academia must work together to develop new ideas for clearing waste out of space.

Corporate citizenship is evolving, and corporations need to be accountable for their role in protecting their countries’ national security, and here in the United States, we need corporations to do more. Private sector leaders here in the U.S. must ensure they do everything they can to contribute to our security. This applies to the tech sector and, of course, to the vulnerabilities of our supply chain. 

Some CEOs are boldly standing up in this regard. The CEO of Palantir, for example, has called on his fellow CEOs to disclose and justify any business they conduct with adversaries of the United States. Doing this would cause a sea change in corporate reporting and represent a significant evolution for critical market-driven expectations. 

We must strive to move in this direction and we must ensure waste and recycling are highlighted and accounted for as much as emissions data. We must ensure that companies work to address how global practices in this regard enhance national security.

The late Boone Pickens underscored this point as only he could in his particular field of energy: “I do not believe it is wise for America to substitute dependence on foreign oil for dependence on Chinese batteries.”

Technology represents the most significant entrepreneurial opportunity in human history, and the United States of America is the epicenter of everything possible. Technology today has made being an entrepreneur arguably cheaper than ever before, and our country must continue to be the leader in innovation. Let us all utilize the power of economic freedom to achieve the American dream.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation. 

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