Turn a Waste Stream into a Profit Stream

Using the Power of the Crowd to transition to a circular economy


The push towards the adoption of a circular economy is increasing.  But even the most efficient processes create waste streams. All businesses struggle with how to manage them.  Some companies pay to dispose of waste or convert it into low-value products. Others find a way to repurpose their waste streams to create valuable products that open up new market opportunities and bring in new revenue streams.  It can be difficult to identify high-value ways of using your waste stream. In this article, we look at how crowdsourcing can be used to help you turn your waste stream into a profit stream.

Turn to the Crowd

You have a process that efficiently and reliably produces large quantities of both your desired product and a waste stream.  You are sure there is value in that waste stream, but you can’t figure out how to capture it. Internal brain-storming produces some ideas, yet they are mostly variations on what you currently do.  How can you get some fresh insight into the problem? In addition to your internal consultations, you can turn to the crowd.


Many companies worry that using crowdsourcing for this type of project is risky since it might allow proprietary information to leak to competitors, or it might result in receiving ideas that not a good fit for your business, of poor quality, or not actionable.  Good project design manages these risks, by setting well-defined submission parameters and controlling when and how proprietary information is released. A crowdsourcing project to identify new high value uses for your waste stream could look like this:

Round One - Ideation

  1. Open Call - This is like a Request for Proposal (RFP), where you outline the project’s objectives and set clear specifications for what the end result should deliver.  For this Ideation round, you describe the waste stream: its composition, available volume, and other salient characteristics. You do not share how the waste stream is generated, such as the products or process associated with the waste stream.  

  2. Response - Anyone who meets your open call criteria can submit a response for your review. In this first round, you ask for an abstract that outlines the idea, why it is compelling, who is the target demographic, an estimate of value/market, etc

  3. Round One Winner - After reviewing all your submissions, you select 5 of the most compelling submissions as Round One winners of the ideation phase. Each winner receives funds and resources to perform the preliminary development of their ideas. 


Round One allows you to see the breadth of ideas and select the ones that are the most compelling, or the most in line with your business goals or objectives.  Careful selection of both submission requirements and evaluation criteria ensures that the open call will result in high-quality submissions. Whether the selected submissions represent ideas that allow you to break into new markets, or that are aligned with your current product strategy, or are simply the most innovative ideas, you award each of the 5 most compelling submissions development funds.  Additionally, after signing an NDA, each group is assigned internal resources from within your company to work with them to further develop the idea so that it becomes fleshed out enough to build a business case around it, or so that some proof of concept validation can occur. 


Round Two - Idea Development  

  1. Development - In this round, your 5 Round One winners collaborate with your internal resources to further develop their ideas.  The goal is to advance the idea to the early proof of concept stage, with a small demonstration of the new product or process that uses your waste material and a business case to support it. 

  2. Presentation - At the end of the development period, each group presents their idea and business case.  This could be an internal, symposium-type event with all stakeholders present, or it could be a series of private sessions where each group presents to the evaluation panel.

  3. Final Winner - The winner is selected and awarded a development grant to further develop and/or commercialize the approach, or is awarded a significant cash prize (that is commensurate with the level of effort).


By the end of Round 2, you will be able to see how the different ideas matured and developed.  Because you’ve been working with each group through the development phase, you will also have insight into how good a fit these groups might be as potential long-term collaborators or business partners.  Depending on how the projects progress and on internal interest levels, the development period could end with an event where each Round 2 participant presents their work to all stakeholders and other internal attendees.  Alternatively, each group could privately present their work to the evaluation panel. Round 2 ends with the selection of a final winner, who could either receive additional development funds to further develop the approach with a long-term goal of commercialization or broad deployment or receive a significant cash prize if there is no compelling business case to pursue the winning approach.

Using the Crowd Benefits Everyone


Crowdsourcing can not only help you find new ideas, but it can also help you see which ones evolve into something worth pursuing.  The design of the project outlined here is just an example and could be adjusted in almost infinite ways to meet your specific needs.  Regardless of your constraints, there is almost always a way to create a crowdsourcing project that will produce meaningful results. Everyone benefits from these types of interactions.  


For you and your company:

  • Several interesting ideas can be followed simultaneously to see which one has the most potential.  Even ideas that are not advanced to Round 2 may become the seeds for new thought processes and new development directions.

  • The Round 2 development period allows you to see not just how different ideas move forward, but also how easy or challenging it is to work with the different groups.

  • Your company may discover the next big thing as a result of this project.

For the participants:

  • All respondents have an opportunity for their ideas to be reviewed by your company.

  • Round 2 participants get valuable exposure by working directly with one or more people from your company to ensure development is in alignment with company needs.

  • The winner has the potential for continued work to further develop the winning idea.

To learn more and to see examples of other types of problems that can be crowdsourced, visit our Resources page at www.crowdpiper.com.  If you have specific questions and would like to speak with an expert — email us at possibilities@herox.com


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Eloise Young

Crowdsourcing Specialist

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