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My Circular World

Unless you grew up in the mob, I’m willing to bet that waste management wasn’t too high on your list of potential careers. While my own experience with the mob didn’t go much further than watching GoodFellas once or twice, I did have a strange fascination with trash as a child. I was jealous of the guys that got to hang off the back of a trash truck as it sped through town, I loved watching compactors gobble up everything that went inside them, and I was fascinated by the “mystery” of where all the trash went after it got eaten by the truck. The only birthday present I can remember from before the age of 12 was a mini trash can with my name on it and the chance to ride around my neighborhood in one of the trucks. Its weird, I know; but its true. But as my young mind matured, it grew weary of what other people thought of it; and eventually I was drawn away from my borderline obsession with crushing people’s garbage while hanging off the back of a mobile trash compactor as it raced through town.

My parents, understandably so, we're also always suggesting more palatable career options in an effort to steer my professional ambitions slightly higher than "trash man." Many of them were good, but none topped trash slinger until a fateful afternoon on a family vacation in the mountains of New Hampshire. In classic mid-1990's style, our Dodge Caravan cruised past a derelict ski resort and my mother suggested I buy it and turn it into my own resort. I didn't realize it at the time, but a seed had just been planted in my mind. While the suggestion didn’t turn me into the next great ski tycoon; it did lead to some great ski trips and more importantly, it flipped the proverbial light switch inside my mind. It was the first time I was able to comprehend that I have the ability to make my own future. Why limit myself to a career of someone else’s design if I’m lucky enough to live in a place where I can create my own business, and build my own career. I never looked back after that; I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew for sure it would be of my own making.

Black Snout Mountain c. 1990

In the years to follow, I went on to design my ski mountain in extensive detail; along with some restaurants, shopping malls, a luxury travel service and Trojan Palace Casino. While I was still a little too young to make these dreams a reality (except for the casino which did make a brief appearance in the basement before I got shut down by my parents) my entrepreneurial spirit did start to take shape in more practical ways. My friends and I cut, built and maintained “Triple DDD Bike Path” in the woods behind my house and charged neighborhood kids to use it; I turned my baseball card collection into an investment by renting tables at baseball card shows and selling "collectibles" instead of collecting them; and I grew my paper route (proud member of the last generation of bicycle-powered paperboys) from 14 houses to more than 50 in less than 6 months. I was hooked on entrepreneurship before I even knew what the word meant.

That spirit carried me into college where I studied business and entrepreneurship. I was never much of a student, but I did manage to graduate and expand my entrepreneurial portfolio while doing so. After a couple unsuccessful attempts with some less than wholesome ideas you might expect from a college kid in the early 2000’s, I got into something that provided a little more structure to my life. If you live near a college you’ve may have seen lawn signs for college kids that want to paint your house. These signs come from large companies that train entrepreneurial minded college kids to estimate and paint houses. Then send them out into the world to gather leads, sell paint jobs, hire painters and run a painting company for the summer. It wasn't for everyone but I found a way to make it work. When they asked me to come back the next year to train the next crop of would be college painters I thought, why?? Why do this for someone else now that I have everything I need to do it on my own. So I recruited some friends and we formed Big Brush Painters. We started small, taking any kind of work we could get our hands on and doing the majority of the painting ourselves. But after a year or 2 of knocking on doors and building our portfolio - growth came fast. By year three, I was the sole owner of the company and by year 6 I had 27 employees, crews working in 3 different states and one of the largest commercial painting outfits in Virginia. Things were good… I built a house, I had a dog, I got the girl. From the outside looking in, I had it all… but there was something missing.

Somewhere along the way my ambitions began to shift. I loved my company and I loved the people that were part of it but after 8 years of running it I had grown weary. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t creating anything new, or solving any kind of problem - I was just doing work that someone else would be doing if I hadn’t done a better job selling it. So I started looking for a purpose… and it didn’t take long for me to reconnect with a unique interest of mine from way back in the day.

The Big Brush Crew. Painting a parking deck in Richmond, VA

BBP did a lot of work on college campuses - dorm buildings in particular. College kids are dirty so universities typically repaint dorms every summer. These jobs were a big part of BBP’s business. We could turn out painted dorm rooms like they came off an assembly line, and we did as many as 5,000 every summer. As you can imagine, that takes A LOT of paint. Most of which comes in 5 gallon buckets made of High Density Polyethylene (one of the easiest kinds of plastic to recycle). But despite the volume and homogeneity of waste I was producing, recycling facilities wouldn’t take buckets that have any amount of paint left inside of them; and taking the time to clean out thousands of buckets when you have a matter of weeks to paint thousands of dorm rooms isn’t an option. So into the dumpster they went, along with everything else we used to do these jobs. Honestly, it was of little concern to me at the time because my mind was more focused on deadlines and budgets; but it was eye opening. Here I am with my relatively small company, in one particular industry, in one small corner of the world, producing this much waste. What was even more shocking (& coincidentally very convenient) to me was how easy it was to get rid of it all. Most universities provided dumpsters for us to use free of charge, and if they didn’t - all I had to do was find a nearby landfill or transfer station and pay about $30 per TON to get rid of anything I needed to. It was the first time I was able to not only conceptualize just how much we create; but also see how poorly it's managed.

So needless to say - I found my cause. But in a twist of irony, instead of fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a trash man - I embraced the role of eliminating the very reason for which the trash man exists - trash. And that is the true motivation behind this website and My Circular World. My hope for this site, is to enable the principles of a circular economy to flourish by providing a platform to connect consumers that want a less wasteful future with products and companies that embody circular values.


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