A quick look around the Earth Technologies HQ in Torrance, California quickens the pulse. Put simply, there’s junk everywhere. Barrels stuffed full of discarded resin, garbage, and heaps of items that look like trash are strewn about a maze of shaping bays and drying racks. It’s Marie Kondo’s nightmare. But each barrel has a tidy little label. One reads: Stir Sticks. After a more studied look at the factory floor, it’s apparent that the chaos is intentional. There’s a method to the madness, and each of these barrels full of trash has a destiny. While some might confuse Ryan Harris, creator of Earth Technologies and eco-surfboard pioneer, for a compulsive hoarder, he’s actually a man with a clear vision to eliminate the footprint of his enterprise, and by extension, his industry on the planet.
“Every single one of those bags has a waste stream,” marvels Harris. “Once we figured out how to do it, I wouldn’t put anything in the dumpster.”
Nope, it’s all bound for the shredder, an industrial-grade piece of equipment Harris acquired to make sure his scraps are put to use.
In some regard, the mess at the HQ is a window into Harris’ mind. He’s a mad scientist of eco-surfboards. Ryan Harris opened up his first eco surfboard factory in Hawthorne, California in 2011. About a decade later he proudly announced that his factory had zero waste after employing the services of mealworms to eat away at the materials he wasn’t able to use. Yes, mealworms.
“I’ve been building boards for almost twenty years,” says Harris. “I’ve been doing eco boards for about half that. I wanted to make eco-boards even better. The way to make eco boards better was to manage the waste, somehow. What was a pipe dream at first has now become a reality, and we’re the only zero-waste surfboard and SUP production facility on the planet.”
“This is something that many industries can totally get behind, because every product that is made has a waste stream, so it’s about putting an endcap on that and upcycling it back into the product. It’s that simple. It’s not that crazy of an idea that I had. I just didn’t know how to do it.”
Harris has since qualified his assertion on operating with zero-waste, but any walk-back seems to fit within an acceptable margin for error. It’s simply not in his DNA to allow any scraps to hit the landfill.
“I started figuring out everything we make, and what can we scale up to use even more of our waste? Right now, we just started doing planters.”
The excess resin and scraps from his boards have now found their way into one-of-a-kind wax combs, coasters, and succulent planters. If you look closely enough at them, you might recognize ground up stir sticks, squeegees, and resin.
That’s the beauty of upcycling. It just requires a simple shift in mindset.
“Being eco is more than just science and facts,” says Harris. “It’s a change of attitude. Picking up trash at the beach every day. Why do we have to have a beach cleanup? It’s just changing your whole ethos with regard to how we want to leave this planet, because it’s in bad shape. I’ve always thought, ‘How can I leave my industry better than when I came into it?’ And this is how.”