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Beyond the ‘Uber of Trash’: The Platform Economy and New Life for Old Businesses

You can’t tell from the company’s name, but Rubicon Global could become the Uber of trash.

It doesn’t match drivers with people who want rides but is a platform for haulers of commercial waste; it manages routing such haulers to commercial generators of waste, saving driver time and customer money. The platform strengthens competition relative to the one or two dominant haulers in North America while breathing new life into the independent hauling industry.

But that’s not the only thing that makes this company stand out. Once it gets the waste, it works with recyclers that have sophisticated systems to sort the waste and then bundle and sell the recyclable portion in bulk. Rubicon shares the revenues with the commercial waste generators, providing another source of monetary savings to customers.

By finding much greater efficiencies in waste management, Rubicon is reducing the need for landfills, which not only are eyesores that people don’t want to live near but also growing too large for many cities to support.

Investors seem to like what they see: The company raised $50 million in venture funding last fall. That money will help Rubicon Global expand, eventually into the residential waste business. If and when it does, the savings to the economy and to the environment would be magnified.

Disruptive technologies are all over the economy. Look at Etsy, a platform on which all kinds of customized products are for sale. It has breathed life into a burgeoning “Maker” movement that is giving all sorts of skilled, creative people new opportunities to market their wares. Amazon and Google, of course, offer much larger platforms for a wider range of businesses, becoming in effect e-commerce malls with a global customer base.

With interest growing in socially responsible enterprises, particularly among millennials, one might expect growth in opportunities to marry Internet-based platforms with older businesses to generate economic wins all around. Rubicon Global has found synergy between an older business–trash removal–and recycling, which is good for the environment. What’s next in the platform economy that is also good for the planet?