Posts by Joe Weppler

Billing Errors Aren’t Going Anywhere

According to Canada’s telecom and TV services ombudsman in April, incorrect billing charges accounted for 16.5 percent of all issues raised in 9,831 complaints to the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services over a six-month period. In fact, billing errors were the top issue for almost every type of service.

 

The second most common sore point? Misleading and undisclosed contract terms. Overall, complaints increased by 68 percent from last year’s mid-year report.

 

Studies have shown over 80 percent of telecommunications bills contain errors. Clerical errors, tax errors, contract discrepancies, double-metering… there are plenty of different ways you can incur billing errors – and you can bet they won’t be fixed unless you notice them and make a point of it.

 

Most professionals simply don’t have the time to do a thorough audit of their telecom bills. Instead, they employ the weigh it and pay it method – if the number is similar to the one from the previous year, they sign off. But what happens when that number has been wrong from the beginning? Or you’re just so busy you don’t notice a change? Here are a few of the most common errors to look for on your bill:

 

Charges for services you’ve never had:

 

It’s not uncommon to be billed for services you’ve never used. Maybe you’re paying for extra lines or voicemails when you don’t have enough phones to use them. Maybe it’s cloud services, call filtering or ring-back tones. Maybe you have an older plan that is charging you extra for North American roaming, despite calling in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico being included in your regular service package. While usually not hyper-expensive on their own, these services are billed every single month, which can add up quick!

 

Charges for services you used to have:

 

Being billed for disconnected services is another common source of billing errors. You’d think cancelling a service is a fairly cut-and-dry process, especially when you’re provided with a stop-billing date. Unfortunately, according to studies, at least 25 percent of cancelled orders continue to bill the client after the stop-billing date.

 

Incorrect rates:

 

Do you sometimes wonder why billing errors almost always go in favour of the provider as opposed to the client? While we might like to think the big bad telcos intend to take our money without providing the services we need, it’s not so simple. In reality, there are plenty of billing errors in favour of the client – but the providers are extremely vigilant when it comes to watching their profitability and correcting their mistakes. Unfortunately for us, they aren’t watching our bottom lines, so errors in their favour rarely get noticed. These errors usually go hand in hand with contract renewals and the installation of new services. It’s often a simple case of an error in the entry of your new rates.



There are tons of other places you might find billing errors – services not under contract, usage in excess of your plan, obsolete and outdated services, multi-account billing by the same vendor… the list goes on. Keeping an eye on your bills to make sure you’re paying the right price and getting proper credits for billing errors can feel like a full-time job, but it needs to be done if you’re hoping to maximize your bottom line! 

Taking Stock of Your Personal Telecom Network

We’ve all had a similar experience you get a bill in the mail, scan down to the bottom of the letter for the cost, and your eyes bulge. More than you expected? We know the feeling.

We also know that keeping your expenses down while maintaining the speeds and data you need to operate can be a delicate balance. With so many different options, how can you be sure you’re getting a great deal, as opposed to a raw one? Here are some tips for managing your own personal network to ensure you’re getting what you need without breaking the bank.

1: Assess your bills

You need to make sure you understand exactly what you are paying each month and what you’re getting for those payments. Are you paying full price? Are you paying for services you don’t need or want? How about services you don’t even realize you have access to? Are you signed up for a minimum-term contract with penalties for breaking it? If you don’t understand any aspect of your bill or service arrangement, call customer service and have them explain it to you!

This information is important not only for your own records, but also for your negotiations. If you know exactly what you’re paying for, you’ll know exactly how to bargain for better prices. Ensure that you review your account information, billing information and contract so you have a thorough understanding of where your money is going.

2: Know what you need

It’s very important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes you see a deal that sounds too good to pass up, but you need to remember that a deal is only valuable if it’s something you’re actually going to use! Why pay for a great deal on a home phone and cable bundle if you only use your cell phone and stream Netflix? Even if you’re paying a reduced price, if you’re not using the product, it’s not worth your money.

3: Pay on time, in full

Phone and internet providers want your business as long as you’re paying for it. As soon as you’re not making timely payments, your business is no longer a priority. Write down your payment dates and pay them in full, on time, every month. As long as you keep consistent and you’re always paying on time, you have leverage to use in your service negotiations.  After all, the company wants to keep you as a customer! You can use that to bargain down prices.

4: Haggle

So now you’ve assessed your payments, you’ve trimmed the fat and gotten rid of the things you don’t need and you’ve paid your bills in full and on time. Your service provider wants to keep you around! Now is the time to haggle.

Don’t accept the posted price. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! If you can’t get a deal from the person you’re talking to, escalate the call and ask for the retention department. Come prepared with alternative options and services if they try to call your bluff – with the amount of competition, you can squeeze even the large companies to give you a discount.

Finally, remember to be polite and professional. Sometimes, discounts are discretionary – which means an employee can decide whether or not to offer them to a customer. If you’re rude and aggressive, you’re much less likely to be offered the discount.

Managing Your Personal Plastic Footprint

Plastic vs. Carbon

You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint” before in reference to how much your lifestyle contributes to creating the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. In the same vein, your plastic footprint is the metric used to judge how much plastic you will contribute to the global trash pile.

Obviously, the two go hand-in-hand. In fact, one of the best ways to start reducing your carbon footprint is by diminishing your plastic use. That’s because plastic production is one of the most significant sources of carbon dioxide production on the planet. But plastic’s effect on your carbon footprint is just the beginning.

On average, a regular PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle takes 450 years to degrade. Other types of plastics can take up to 1000 years. In other words, not only does our plastic consumption contribute to climate change, but our bottles, straws and bags will also outlive us several times over.

While our individual efforts often seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the production and pollution of large corporations, avoiding single-use plastics is a step everyone can take. Here are some methods to help reduce your plastic footprint on a personal level.

Reusable utensils with takeout:

Humans are creatures of convenience, and takeout is one of our ultimate creations in that regard. Unfortunately, takeout is usually packaged in plastic, carried in plastic, and consumed with plastic.

By turning down the single-use cutlery offered with your meal and instead using reusable forks, spoons and chopsticks, you can help cut down on your waste. If you want to take it a step further, bring a reusable container with you the next time you go out to dinner and ask to pack any leftovers in that instead of a single-use Styrofoam box.

Reusable bags:

Plastic bags clog sewers and storm drains, litter streets and contaminate our oceans, where they’re eaten by fish and suffocate seabirds. Keep reusable bags in your home, car and at work to cut back on your footprint – specifically, your plastic footprint

Experts still argue whether or not plastic bag bans and the focus on reusable bags are actually better for the environment, greenhouse gases-wise. After all, plastic bags are small, light and easy to transport whereas shipping an equivalent number of reusable bags takes a lot more fuel, space and energy.

Be Toiletry Aware:

Toothbrushes! Everyone has one, and they’re almost universally disposable. Instead of buying a pack of plastic toothbrushes and tossing them out after you’re done with them, look into a bamboo or electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are more efficient and produce less waste than regular plastic, while bamboo toothbrushes are compostable (though you may have to trim off the bristles!)

Safety razors are a great alternative to disposable razors and razor heads. Hold on to the dull blades after switching them out, and when you have enough to fill a small glass jar, take them off to be recycled!

Cotton swabs – the eponymous Q-Tips – often end up polluting the environment after being used to clean ears or apply creams or ointments. Next time you’re buying a box, look for the ones with paper sticks instead of plastic. They’re much quicker to degrade and work just as well.

Raise Your Reusable Goblet:

Humans drink a lot. Whether its coffee, water or something in between, the combination of a reusable mug and reusable water bottle can help you drastically reduce your plastic footprint. Bring your own mug to Starbucks or Tim Hortons and ask them to fill it for you. Keep a water bottle handy at your desk to fill at the cooler. You can even pick up a stainless steel or glass straw for those hot days when you’re opting for iced coffee.


Reducing your plastic use isn’t too difficult – but it can be frustrating when comparing your impact to that of corporations and governments. Despite this, by swapping out a few single-use plastics for reusable options, you can significantly reduce your personal plastic footprint and encourage others to do the same. The more that do, the more pressure can be put on the powers that be to do the same.

Where are the commercial delivery drones we were promised?

Picture this: It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and you’re getting ready to grill up some burgers in the backyard. You’ve sliced up some onion and tomato, pulled the cheese and lettuce out of the fridge, and ground up your very own blend of 70/30 lean-to-fat beef. Finally, you reach for your favorite brioche buns when you see it: the speckles of blue and green mold.

You could yell for the kids to get out of the pool and get changed so you can head to the grocery store and pick up some buns. You could make an order on a food delivery app and pray they get the right kind to you in a timely manner. Or, you can grab your cell phone, tap a few buttons, and head out to the yard.

You’ve laid out all your ingredients in a perfect assembly line, seasoned your patties, and pressed them on the grill with a satisfying sizzle. And just as you pull your burgers off the heat at a perfect medium-rare, you hear a faint buzzing noise above you. You look up to see a large rectangle adorned with six sets of spinning blades surrounding a sturdy plastic case. It hovers above you for a moment before slowly descending towards an empty section of grass in the yard. It lands and the blades come to a halt. You walk over, click open the plastic case, and retrieve a fresh bag of brioche buns from inside. You close the case, take a few steps back, and the rectangle comes to life, blades whirring, and flies off once more into the sky.

Though it may still sound like sci-fi, this was the future promised to us by countless tech CEOs a few years ago, chief among them being Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Back in December of 2013, Bezos announced that Amazon would be flying delivery drones to customers within five years. That deadline has since passed – but not because of the technology. Instead, it’s the regulation and logistics that are holding back the tide.

Alphabet (the parent company of Google) has a startup called Wing, which became the first drone delivery company to gain the FAA’s approval to make commercial deliveries in the United States in April. Other companies are still waiting for their status to be greenlit, such as Amazon Air, Uber Eats, and most recently, UPS.

The shipping giant has formed a new subsidiary called UPS Flight Forward Inc. and applied for their certification with the ultimate goal of running one of the first commercial drone delivery programs in the United States.

In March, UPS partnered with drone startup Matternet to transport medical samples via drone across a WakeMed hospital system in Raleigh, N.C., which became the first FAA sanctioned use of a drone for routine, revenue producing flights under a contractual delivery agreement.

Just last month, Amazon announced its new commercial delivery drone, promising that it would be delivering packages to customers within months. Of course, Amazon doesn’t have a great track record for meeting their deadlines in the air-delivery space. Amazon’s drone design has seen more than 20 iterations since its announcement in 2013, yet it remains the stringent regulatory restrictions holding back the rollout of their delivery program.

In the U.S., the major piece of regulation you’d need to operate a drone delivery service is called Part 135 certification under the Federal Aviation Administration, which applies to “air carriers and operators.” Drones are considered under the same umbrella as airplanes under federal law, and they’re subject to the same certification processes. The Part 135 certification allows for approved drones to fly at night, over people, and outside the operator’s direct line of sight.

Another factor to consider is public perception. In 2017, a PEW Research Center survey showed that 54 percent of Americans polled disapproved of drones flying near residential areas at all.

Whether or not this opinion has remained the same in the past two years, it hasn’t stopped these companies from continuing their preparation for the future. With UPS joining the fray, Wing receiving their Part 135 certification, and Amazon announcing – again – that Prime Air will be up and running soon, the future of a sky filled with delivery drones doesn’t seem all that far off.

Payment Processing: Innovation, Security, Threats

As the number of electronic transactions grow, so do the opportunities for cybercriminals to steal money. As a merchant, you need to provide the best payment security possible, so your customers don’t have to worry about their data. As a customer, you need to be aware of the threats against you – and the technological advances that help combat them.

From the cardboard and celluloid cards pre-1958 to the biometrics, geolocation and tokenization security of today, the merchant services industry has been evolving in the security department since the very beginning. Here are some of the important aspects of payment security and how they’ve developed over the years.

PCI Compliance

PCI Compliance refers to the security standards established by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council in 2006, and they’re an important indicator of security status today. These standards were created to ensure that anyone who processes, transmits or maintains payment data has proper security in place. PCI standards are frequently adapted, and they differentiate security measures for merchants based on both the volume and type of transactions they process. In other words, PCI compliance is both very important, and very confusing.

Card Tech

In 1958, the first plastic payment card was created. By the 1970s, we’d seen the addition of tamper-resistant signature panels, microprint security, and card embossing designed to protect card carriers from nefarious counterfeiters.

Electronic security found its stride in the mid-80s with the development of risk scoring and real-time electronic authorization designed to protect against fraud. In the 90s, we saw the addition of the CVV security code for magnetic stripes, and the first inklings of EMV chip card technology. EMV chips were added into payment cards because of the greater payment security it offers, plus its resilience against “skim” scams compared to magnetic strips. Chip technology also uses encryption and tokenization to further protect against theft. In fact, the Department of Justice estimates that 86 percent of identity theft cases originate with existing account information. This information is protected by EMV chips in the case of a breach.

Speaking of breaches – some major ones took place in the 2000s. In 2003, it was the DPI data breach that saw eight million card accounts compromised. In 2005, CardSystems Solutions was breached; 40 million cards were compromised. In 2010, ALDI debit card accounts and pins were stolen from nearly 1,100 grocery stores, and the following year Michaels was breached for the first of three times in three years, potentially compromising PINs and three million payment card accounts. In 2013, Target was breached with 40 million payment card accounts stolen and an estimated industry cost of $248 million.

This is all to say that, as security tech advances, so do the threats they protect against. This digital arms race continues today, as we shift away from static solutions to dynamic, more resilient technology.

The Future of Payment Security

The payment card industry projected $31.3 billion in global card losses to security threats in 2018. Another study found that retailers stand to lose some $130 billion in fraud between 2018 and 2023. No matter which way you look at it, financial institutions across the globe must push to be more innovative than the fraudsters if they want to keep their – and your – money safe.

Some of those innovations include tokenization, biometric data, geolocation, improved chip tech, and an ever-increasing base of data analytics. In fact, the technology is becoming so impressive that tech-wizard hackers are no longer the only major threat in day-to-day fraud. Instead, it’s the social hackers using card-not-present scams that have begun to take advantage of less tech-savvy audiences – and retailers are ill-prepared to fight it.

Conclusion

The faster we connect, digitize, and innovate our daily transactions, the more risks are introduced. The payment security landscape is akin to the Wild West, and it is more important today than ever before to make sure your electronic payment processing environment is as secure as it can be.

Thankfully, security is a deterrent to fraudsters in itself. Hackers tend to search for low-risk, high-reward options. Much like keeping your Point-of-Sale terminal under lock and key when it’s not in use, adequate payment processing security is usually enough to make your accounts unattractive targets. After all, you can’t get breached if no one is willing to try!

What Can The World Do With Its Plastic Waste?

plastic earth wasteOn December 31, 2017, China barred the import of most residential recyclables. After importing nearly half of the world’s plastic waste for 30 years, global waste plastic exports to China ground to a trickle overnight. In February 2017, China imported 581,000 metric tons of plastic waste. One year later, that number had dropped to 23,900 metric tons.

Researchers at the University of Georgia looked at how much plastic waste China imported from 1988 to 2016. Using that information they concluded that, by 2030, the ban may leave 111 million metric tons of plastic waste with nowhere to go. So what can be done about it? Many developed countries across the world have put a halt on domestic recycling programs until that question is answered.

On Bornholm Island in the Baltic Sea, the local government is adopting a new system. Bornholm officials say that by 2032, all waste on Bornholm will be treated as resources. They hope that, by using new technologies and methods of garbage sorting, recycling and minimizing waste in general, they can turn Bornholm into one of the first garbage-free communities in the world.

Of course, this requires alterations to the very way of life of people on Bornholm – new technologies aren’t enough on their own.  According to Jens Hjul-Nielsen, the CEO of the island’s waste management company, “How we get to that point is an exciting process, because there is so much we don’t know yet. We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

How about burning? Many within the trash industry think that burning plastic waste is the solution to the problem, but waste-to-energy projects pose their own very real risks to the environment. The EU already burns 42 percent of its waste. The U.S. burns 12.5 percent. China itself has over 300 waste-to-energy plants in operation, with the plans for several hundred more in the works.

It sounds sensible after all – incinerators burn plastic and other municipal waste, produce heat and steam to turn turbines and generate power for the local grid. But no one wants to live next to a plant filled with garbage, so finding locations to set up is difficult. They’re also more expensive to operate – so they generally charge more than landfills do. And studies have even shown that recycling plastic waste saves more energy than burning it by reducing the need to extract fossil fuel and process it into new plastic.

Perhaps the most egregious of these issues is the toxic emissions of acid gases, dioxins and heavy metals. While modern plants can scrub and filter these toxins if they are well-maintained and properly operated, experts worry that countries lacking strong environmental laws or enforcement may cut corners and try to save money on emissions. This is all not to mention the production of greenhouse gases. In 2016, waste incineration in the U.S. alone resulted in the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide generated – over half of which came from plastics.

“We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

One promising new technology is called pyrolysis – plastics are shredded down and melted at low temperatures in oxygen-deprived chambers. The heat breaks the plastic down into hydrocarbons, which can be turned into diesel fuel. Pyrolysis produces very few pollutants, but it is still much cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than from waste plastic. However, as the technology ages and more research is done, it could be a promising method of plastic waste disposal in the future.

In terms of methodology, the Canadian West Coast remains unaffected by China’s plastic import ban. Under British Columbia’s 2014 program, plastics are processed within the province, and producers pay for it. Retailers, manufacturers, restaurants – they all pay fees to Recycle BC, and those fees are used to run a province-wide system to process plastic.

Elsewhere in Canada, municipalities are struggling so much to find places to send their recyclables after the ban that those who do find markets for the material are keeping them a secret. The city of Halifax, which was formerly shipping 80 percent of its plastic recyclables to China, refuses to name its facilities out of fear of being outbid.

The best option, of course, is to reduce the world’s reliance on plastic. It’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference by avoiding single-use straws and cups while mega-corporations dump tonnes of plastic into rivers across the planet, but when millions of people start to reuse bottles and bags, the plastic trash produced every year begins to diminish.

Until then, we can only hope that continued research into plastic waste reduction and recycling can keep our collective heads above water.

Four things you didn’t know your smartphone could do

According to a report by Canalys, smartphone shipments in North America fell 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019 to a five year low of 36.4 million units. That is down from a record high of 44.4 million in the first quarter of 2018.

So why is the demand for smartphones decreasing in North America when it seems like practically everyone has one in their pocket?

Well – that could be precisely the reason. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of adults in the United States own a smartphone. Paired with reduced innovation from cell phone manufacturers in 2019, the fact that the majority of adults have a phone that they’re content with means they aren’t purchasing upgrades.

Whether you’re happy with your device as it is or you’re waiting for the next big innovation to upgrade – we’re willing to bet that you’re underestimating the capabilities of your smartphone.

Here are some cool things that you might not realize your phone can do.

Identify flying objects:

Powered by Wolfram Alpha, Siri can help you identify any airplanes you might hear or see flying above you. Simply activate Siri and say “What planes are overhead?” In just moments, Siri will give you a chart that shows you the airline, flight number, altitude and degrees off the horizon of all the airplanes in your area. It can even tell you how far away the plane is from you and in which direction.

Now, Siri isn’t actually tracking the planes. Instead, your phone is checking the projection of where the plane should be located based on its flight plan. So while you may not always be able to locate a plane directly using Siri, you can usually get pretty close!

Customize your vibes:

Some texts are just more important than others. And most of us don’t want to seem like we’re always attached to our phones. While individualized ringtones are common, for those of us that like to keep our phones on silent, you can customize your phone’s vibrations! That way, you can tell who is contacting you without even taking your phone out of your pocket – even while it’s muted!

On your iPhone, you can open your contacts app, choose the contact you want to assign a certain vibration pattern to, tap edit, then text tone, then vibration. You can choose from various standard options from Apple or create your own pattern.

Android phones don’t have contact-specific vibration settings by default, but there are several different apps you can download to achieve the same effect. Check out Good Vibrations or WhoIsIt!

Selfie while you Vlog:

Nearly all smartphones have a camera, but did you know that you can actually take pictures and record video at the same time? That way, when you’re filming a video and find that perfect angle, you can take some snapshots without even stopping your recording.

While you’re recording with an iPhone, a circular white button appears in the corner of the screen. Simply tap that white button and you’ll take a photo without interrupting your recording.

On Android, the process is just as simple. While recording a video, just tap the “camera” icon. The photo will be saved to your gallery instantly.

One thing to note: Any photos you take while recording video will be at a lower resolution than if you just took them normally. The resolution is still more than enough for everyday use, but if you’re a stickler for quality, make sure you stop your recording before you start taking snapshots.

See the invisible:

While not necessarily a hidden feature, you can actually use your smartphone to check whether the batteries in your remote controls are dead if they stop working.

The camera on your smartphone is sensitive to IR radiation, which means that the infrared beam emitted when you press a button on the remote can be seen in the viewfinder of your camera despite being invisible to the human eye. Go check it out yourself! Point your remote at your camera and press a button. You should see the sensor on the remote light up in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t, you might want to put some new batteries in that remote! (Or your remote doesn’t use common IR radiation.)

Your smartphone has plenty of other uses – especially when you start to delve into the world of apps. Download a bubble level app to help hang your photos straight. Monitor your heart rate, activate your smart home devices, measure height, distance and width using your camera – even start your car! You can raise your volume by tilting your head, find out what song is playing over the speakers in the coffee shop, or even let your friends track your every move if you’d like.

Before you get wooed by the next big innovation and unnecessarily upgrade your phone, make sure you do your research and learn about all the great things your current device can do!

Where Does Your Waste Go?

Waste disposal is one of the most important services a business needs to function. Every business generates waste, and without proper disposal services, we’d be quickly buried by it. But where does all our waste go when it’s taken away by our disposal provider? Here are a few of the different places where your waste ends up.

Transfer Stations and Material Recovery Facilities

Before your waste arrives at its final destination, it will likely run through a transfer station and/or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Transfer stations are a temporary destination for waste disposal vehicles to drop off their collections. At the transfer station, the waste is usually compacted, loaded into even larger trucks, then shipped off to its next destination. These stations help to reduce waste disposal costs and allow the regular garbage trucks to pick up trash more efficiently throughout the day.

Material Recovery Facilities are separate locations where trash is sorted, usually in order to recover useful materials from the MSW stream before it reaches its destination. MRFs use tons of different machines, methods and technologies to achieve this. Some of the methods include running the trash through powerful magnets to collect metals, massive shredders, and even eddy current separators that help separate non-ferrous metals from regular waste.

Landfills

North America is the top producer of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the entire world, generating about 301 million tons of trash every year. According to studies from the Environmental Protection Agency, anywhere from 52 to 55 percent of MSW winds up in landfills.

Unfortunately, landfills aren’t designed to break down waste. They’re designed to store it. Most landfills are built into the ground and lined with clay or plastic to isolate the trash from the environment. They’re often bisected with drains and pipes designed to collect leachate – the wastewater that drains from a landfill. Leachate has its own rules and regulations for collection and disposal and is a very important concern for any landfill operator.

When a layer of a landfill reaches its capacity, it is covered in plastic and topped with soil and plants. While the garbage will eventually decompose – it will take a very long time. Partially because a large portion of the waste that ends up in landfills is naturally slow to decompose, and partially because the decomposition process is slowed down in the oxygen-free environment underground.

Waste-To-Energy Plants

Most Waste-to-Energy plants are composed of massive, industrial furnaces known as trash incinerators, designed to burn MSW. Around 13 percent of MSW ends up in these incinerators – burned to ash in chambers that operate at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only does this process produce extra heat that can be used to heat and power our cities, but it also greatly reduces the volume of the waste, which in turn significantly reduces the landfill space it would otherwise occupy.

Some other methods of producing energy through waste include anaerobic generators that turn organic materials into energy through biological processes, and wastewater treatment plants that use similar microorganisms to contribute to the power grid.

Recycling Facilities 

According to the EPA, roughly 35 percent of MSW makes its way to a recycling facility. This also includes composting facilities, as they operate under the same basic premise – reuse waste to create new products. While recycling facilities primarily focus on items such as paper, glass, aluminum and plastics, composters use agricultural and food waste to create compost.

Recycling rates have been on the rise since the 1980s, and some of the largest cities in North America have extremely ambitious, large-scale recycling systems. In fact, the top five recycling cities in the United States divert 60 to 80 percent of their waste away from landfills and into recycling facilities.

Unfortunately, there are many types of waste that can’t be recycled and plenty of stresses regarding contamination. Recycling facility operators need to be extremely diligent with what they accept. For example, plastics must be clean to be recycled. A plastic container with food waste inside could contaminate thousands of pounds of otherwise perfectly reusable material. Some other items to keep out of your recycling bins include paper soiled by food, plastic bags, electronics, batteries and lightbulbs.

Types of Waste

landfillWaste is something most people don’t want to think about. For the majority, waste is a by-product of what we do want to talk about. It’s something we’d rather not handle, think about, and certainly not smell – but it’s a necessary evil.

Few people have the time to monitor the associated costs on an ongoing basis, and it’s not an easy job if you aren’t familiar with the industry. For our purposes as waste disposal and expense reduction experts, waste is separated into 12 different categories. Below are the types of waste and how they’re typically collected.

Garbage:

Garbage is what most of us think about when we hear the term waste. Regular trashcan garbage created by one or multiple people is known as Municipal Solid Waste, or MSW. Pre-consumer waste is known as Non-Municipal Solid Waste (NMSW) and is generated in the production of products.

Liquid wastes such as wastewater, fats, oil and grease, used oil, gases, sludges, or hazardous substances like cleaning fluids or pesticides also count as garbage, and they are typically collected and taken to a materials processing facility, transfer station or landfill disposal site.

Recycling:

Most people understand the basic concept of recycling – the conversion of waste materials into new materials and objects. Recycling benefits the world by preventing the waste of potentially useful items and reducing our overall consumption of raw materials.

Most cities across North America have recycling programs, and some major recyclable items include paper, cardboard, glass, bottles, jars, tin cans, aluminium foil, and certain plastics.

Compost:

In basic terms, compost is organic matter gathered to allow to decompose in a relatively contained environment. It has many great benefits as a soil conditioner, and it’s very rich in nutrients for plant life.

Compost includes fruits and vegetables, meat (including bones) bread, flowers, leaves, coffee and tea, dairy, hair, egg shells and food-soiled paper towels. Some things that aren’t included are liquids, bio-plastics, sawdust, wood, grass clippings with herbicide, or dead animals.

Many cities have Green Bin programs that keep food waste out of our landfills. Instead, it’s used to help growth in our gardens and parks.

Metal:

Unlike a lot of the others on this list, metal has monetary value, especially recovered metals that can be melted down and reused. Many major metal manufacturers end up selling their leftover scrap metal to recyclers who know the market value and will pay to take it off their hands.

Many places across North America also require scrappers to carry a scrap metal license before they can handle scrap professionally.

Electronics:

Electronic or e-waste is mainly comprised of discarded electrical or electronic devices. Some examples include appliances, light bulbs, TVs, computers, screens, phones, alarm clocks, and watches.

While these items also have monetary value, they are also intrinsically more dangerous to handle and dispose of than your average metal waste. Potentially harmful substances like lead, beryllium and cadmium are often used in electronics, and great care must be taken by those who handle e-waste in order to avoid unsafe exposure.

Shredding:

Most businesses shred files for safety reasons. Unfortunately, paper shreds cannot be placed in the recycle bin with the rest of your paper waste. Most recycling centers don’t accept small strips of paper because the large scale recycling facilities use very large screens to dry recycled paper, and the small shreds tend to fall through the screens.

Alternatives to office shredding include professional shredding services, which are available for around $1 per pound of paper. Professionals shred on a large enough scale that the shreds can be combined and recycled.

Wood:

Wood is a solid waste, and while it can be disposed of in a landfill, there are better options. While you can reuse and recycle wood, there are also options such as biomass-to-energy and wood processing facilities. Burning wood is fairly clean compared to most fossil fuels (though it still does result in emissions!) and taking your wood to a processing facility will often cost less than simply disposing it in a landfill!

Hazardous:

Corrosive, explosive, poisonous, flammable – hazardous waste is, well, hazardous.

Some examples include paints, chemicals, tires, batteries, light bulbs, appliances, aerosol cans, fertilizers and freon.

Most cities and towns have dedicated acceptance days for hazardous materials – check your cities website for dates. When transporting hazardous materials, they should be tightly sealed in their original containers and never allowed to mix. Trained professionals should be available to accept these materials on those assigned days, and they will be ready to package, transport and store these materials safely.

Toxic:

While all toxic waste is hazardous, not all hazardous waste is toxic. In waste terms, “toxic” is used to describe waste that, when ingested or absorbed, is harmful or fatal to living organisms. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to designate any waste hazardous as they deem fit, and many toxic wastes would fall under that general umbrella, they also have another law for mitigating harm to the public caused by specifically toxic wastes.

Some examples of toxic waste include lead-based paint, radon, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, pesticides and herbicides.

Biomedical:

Biomedical waste is any that includes blood or tissue from operating rooms, morgues, laboratories or any other medical facilities. It could also include anything used in treating a patient – from bedding to hospital gowns.

Biomedical is further separated into four categories (general medical waste, infectious medical waste, hazardous medical waste and radioactive medical waste) and has incredibly strict laws surrounding its handling and segregation.

Medical waste is handled by specifically trained, license-holding professionals.

Agricultural:

Produced as a result of various agricultural options, agricultural waste includes materials such as manure, poultry and slaughterhouse runoff, harvest waste, fertilizer runoff, and pesticides, salt and silt drained from fields.

It also includes general farm waste related to the growing of crops or raising of animals – vegetable waste, grape vines, fruit bearing trees and palm fronds.

Most agricultural waste, including animal carcasses, is handled directly by the farm owners and workers, but is still regulated by the government for safety.

Industrial:

Industrial waste is generally described as waste that was produced by an industrial activity, and includes materials that have been rendered useless during a manufacturing process. Factories, mills, mining operations and industries all produce industrial waste.

Dirt and gravel, solvents, chemicals, scrap lumber – these items can be hazardous or benign, and are often mixed with regular municipal waste.


Each of these categories are composed of sub-categories, all with different rules and regulations in regards to disposal, storage and care. At the end of the day – no matter how much we want to brush it under the rug – waste will be with humanity until its end. So it’s best that we keep it in mind.

Free shipping: Taking advantage of the demand

free shippingAccording to an investigation from Stitch Labs using data mined from more than 1 million US Shopify orders, small businesses are three times less likely to offer free shipping than their larger counterparts. However, the same study showed that customers avoid paying for shipping at all costs, with 44 percent of all ‘shopping cart abandonment’ being due to shipping costs.

Here are a few things to consider when attempting to take advantage of the overwhelming demand for free shipping – without it costing you too much revenue.

Shipping-Included

Obviously, one way or another, someone is paying the cost of shipping. But offering something for free can influence your customers into thinking they’re getting a better deal – even if, in the end, they’re paying the same price.

By using a shipping-included strategy, you avoid the gut check that online shoppers experience at the checkout screen. That jump in price when the shipping is calculated is when the majority of people will back out of the purchase. Shoppers are more likely to buy a 20 dollar item with free shipping than a 15 dollar item with a shipping fee of $4.99.

Free shipping increases your conversion rate at checkout – and you can bet that if your competitors offer free shipping, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not offering it as well. And don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers won’t shop around. According to AdWeek, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before purchasing.

Watching the Margins

When you’re competing with e-commerce titans like Amazon with their Prime offering – who are willing to do things like swallow a $7.2 billion loss on shipping costs in order to maintain their massive market share – you need to find a balance between your margins and your conversions.

Eating the cost of shipping will have a much bigger impact on the bottom line of a small business compared to a large one. For high-ticket items, it can be easier to offset that cost with markups because they’re less noticeable and you need to make fewer sales overall to cover the costs. For shops that sell less expensive items, markups are more noticeable and could lead to an overall decrease in sales – even if you’re offering free shipping.

Minimum Order Thresholds

For those businesses that can’t get away with markups, one way to help offset the cost of offering free shipping is by offering it for those who spend over a minimum dollar amount in total. Not only can this save you money overall, but it also encourages your customer to buy more then they initially intended.

The psychology behind the minimum threshold is clear – people want to take advantage of a deal if they can, and they’re more than willing to convince themselves that spending extra in order to qualify is the right move.

In fact, a study from Comscore and UPS came to the conclusion that 52 percent of American online shoppers purchased more than they intended just to hit a minimum threshold for free shipping.

Conclusion

Of course, there are several other options. Offering free shipping to qualifying members, free shipping only for specific items, free shipping if you buy within a certain period of time, or even free shipping to your nearest brick-and-mortar store for pickup. The best way to find out the offering that is right for you is by testing different methods and collecting the sales data.

Whether you’re offering free shipping on all purchases, a minimum purchase threshold, including shipping costs in your pricing, or some other method, one thing is clear: shoppers really love the word ‘free.’