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Title:  Mining for Golden Business Ideas, published in the Sustainable Santa Fe Resource Guide, EarthCare International, 2009.

Summary:  Our landfills will be the mines of the future. How can we start new businesses from diverted wastes? Economic Development = Zero Waste = Reduced Taxes = More Jobs... etc.

Imagine a day in your lifetime… in Northern New Mexico where there no more landfills… where everything that we used to throw away is turned into products we buy from thriving, profitable small businesses that are owned by our neighbors. 

And now imagine that the “stuff” we used to throw away into landfills is becoming so valuable, that we are now mining our old landfills to get the materials out! 

Businesses are now paying for what’s coming out of the landfills – the raw materials for what they are now selling!  Some businesses are even separating out their trash, and are able to sell what they used to call “trash” and are now calling “raw materials” to each other. 

Imagine… it’s kind of like a modern alchemy… where people are turning “lead into gold”.  We’re not LITERALLY turning materials like lead into gold like the scientists of old were trying to do.  But we’re turning wastes into money… into profits.


Not only are we a wealthier community… we have more creative, local businesses… we also have lower taxes because we don’t have to pay for landfills… and we are leaving our children and their children a cleaner environment.

And now imagine that TODAY you have some influence or control to make that happen NOW!  And that you could actually be one of those who make money while making a better future for us all.

Think about how much we throw away now in our communities.  Think of the aluminum soda cans, the newspapers, the mixed paper, the glass, and other things we are encouraged to separate for recycling now.  Think of things we don’t recycle.  Justin Stockdale, our former recycling coordinator, told a group of us while touring the landfill, that we could pay for the recycling center and the recycling program every year by just selling the recyclables that aren’t getting separated and are going into the landfill.  Think of it! Together, we are throwing away enough valuable materials RIGHT NOW, that we could reduce our taxes by millions of dollars.  According to Justin Stockdale, Santa Fe buried about $5 million of recyclables in 2003! New Mexico buried over $50 million worth of recyclables in 2003!

Santa Fe has been recognized worldwide as an especially creative community.  When I think of creativity, I think of imagining something new… something “value-added”.  In business terms, “value-added” is what businesses sell… what they make a profit on.  So imagine that we can make profits on our creativity of turning wastes into a business.

Last fall, dreams began to come true for a number of Northern New Mexicans when they attended a workshop called “Mining for Golden Business Ideas”.  With the guidance of Justin Stockdale, we toured both the Santa Fe landfill and the recycling center known as BuRRT (Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station). 

We studied nature to see how we might think more creatively about what could actually be possible.  When you stop and think about it, it makes sense… there are five kingdoms in nature:  animals, plants, algae, bacteria and fungi.  What is a toxin for one - is neutral or a nutrient for at least one other species in another kingdom.  We “eat” each others’ wastes… or life on the planet could not thrive!  So how can we apply what we learn from nature to help us think of creative new business ideas?  What is waste for one business is a nutrient for another!  We noticed what we were buying during the holiday season, we researched other businesses that are already making a profit on materials diverted from the landfill, and we brainstormed new ideas.  There may be a new business near you that is using materials from landfills right now.

The dynamic array of co-sponsors of the event that teamed up were folks who provide support for small businesses like yours… or your idea.  Supporters included The Santa Fe Alliance; Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency; Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute; Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce; City of Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Division, and Land Use Department; The New Mexico Small Business Development Center – with assistance from the Santa Fe, Espanola and Los Alamos SBDC’s; Recycle Santa Art Festival; Santa Fe Design Week – Fringe Event; EarthCare International, Whole Foods Market; and assistance from the Center for Community Sustainability at SF Community College.

Now imagine how many businesses have already started using what used to be “trash” to start new businesses.  They didn’t need a government program to do it, or someone telling them what to do. They just figured it out and started making money!

What business might YOU start?  Look around for business ideas that use materials that are being separated in curbside recycling… What might YOU make from them?  What business might YOU start? 

And, if you’re interested in assistance from another workshop like the one I’m describing, let me know… Maybe I’ll organize another one!   

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