Rubicon: Tapping an App to Dump

Independent haulers can be more efficient at finding alternatives to landfills such as recycling or composting. It has become a Silicon Valley cliché to describe companies as an “Uber” for their particular sector. But in the case of Rubicon, which bills itself as “Uber for Trash”, the epithet is not misplaced.

The Atlanta-based company offers commercial garbage pick-up at the tap of an app, and has former Uber executives as advisers.

The premise of Rubicon is that its app links commercial customers with independent waste haulers on demand, with the goal of cutting costs for customers and reducing landfill. This model upends the system of subscription-based services run by the biggest US waste companies, which are landfill owners that make money by filling up their own sites. Independent haulers can be more efficient at finding alternatives such as recycling or composting, and under Rubicon pickups occur only when needed.

Chief executive Nate Morris says Rubicon uses an incentive system to reward customers for keeping waste out of landfills. “We believe that the free markets should lead on the environment,” he says. Regulation plays a role too: if a city institutes a measure such as banning food waste from landfills, Rubicon becomes more profitable. After fundraising late last year – Rubicon’s diverse backers include Goldman Sachs, Henry Kravis and Leonardo DiCaprio – Mr. Morris is preparing to take Rubicon. Over the next two months, it will launch in 18 countries, in addition to current operations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.

As with Uber, there are powerful incumbents and regulatory barriers in the waste industry. But Mr. Morris is optimistic. “We believe we have an issue that can unite the country and the world,” he says. “The only people who are against what we are doing are the landfill companies.”

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