Photo: Marina McCoy, founder of Waste Free Earth with an employee. Courtesy photo.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine At only 26 years of age, Waste Free Earth's Marina McCoy has seen enough highs and lows to last a lifetime.
Vermont's Young Entrepreneur of the Year, McCoy was raised in Vermont. She graduated Cum Laude from Sierra Nevada College in May 2016 with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainability and a BSBA in Ski Business and Resort Management.
She founded her business, with its Oh-so-desirable premise for a name, after going to an outdoor music festival covered in glitter, glow paint and glow sticks. According to a TEDx talk she gave in 2016, her favorite band played a song celebrating the earth, but she noticed that after the music was over, this earth-friendly crowd left behind them a mountain of plastic cups, beer cans and glow sticks — all damaging to the soil.
It started McCoy thinking. She calculated the amount of time people spent driving to the approximately 800 festivals and events held each year in the U.S., and figured out the amount of carbon their cars emitted. She realized something wasn't quite right.
“These events, which were creating community, were also destroying it,” she said.
Photo: Marina McCoy, founder of Waste Free Earth. Courtesy photo.
She created Waste Free Earth to help music festivals and like events eliminate single-use plastics and divert waste away from landfills. Last year, using staff and volunteers, her company's revenue moved into the six-figure range and since 2016, they’ve diverted 663,589 pounds out of the landfill.
Things were going well for McCoy and Waste Free Earth.
“I love doing this work,” McCoy said. “I had a van, and I was traveling across the country building up my client base. We would travel all over the country and set up waste-free recycling. We went from event to event.”
Festivals across the country appreciated her work. This summer she lined up contracts worth close to $300,000.
Then came the COVID-19 virus, and the contracts — all of them — vaporized in one day.
“In the second week of March I got awarded young entrepreneur of the year on Monday, then on that Friday I lost all my clients,” McCoy said. “We were on track to double our sales for this year and I was planning on hiring people full time. Then came the harsh realities of being in the event industry during a pandemic.”
McCoy took some time for mourning.
“When we realized it will be a while until events came back, we closed it out and mourned it,” she said, “It was hard for me to admit we had to close that side of the company. I built the company up for multiple years, it was going to be our biggest year yet. There was lots of emotion.”
But nothing seems to deter the energetic McCoy for too long. She did a quick pivot and turned Waste Free Earth into a consulting company that helps to create zero-waste strategies for business. Many of her current clients were sponsors of the events she was working with before the pandemic.
“Fortunately, I acted quickly and adapted my company to the changing world,” she said. “Because we acted so fast, and admitted that we had to turn off the event side of our business, that is why I believe our pivot has been so successful.”
Waste Free Earth currently has 16 clients. McCoy helps them build waste management plans for buildings and shows them how to curate a sustainable business culture. She consults on the true recyclability or compostability of products.
“We're even working with construction companies,” McCoy said. “We're virtually helping a construction company in Lake Tahoe make sure they are diverting as much waste from the landfill as possible. Again, a zero-waste project. We'll create social media campaigns, write blogs for companies that want to further their sustainability mission, write out and plan waste management plans for buildings, help companies cultivate a sustainable work culture. We help companies with the compostability of their products. We want to reduce waste on all levels before it gets produced.”
Right now McCoy's company only has three employees, herself and two part-timers. She is hoping to bring them on board full time soon.
“We are growing,” McCoy said. “Our 'why' hasn't changed. We are still on a mission to create a 'Waste-Free Earth.' The only thing that has changed is how we implement the strategies within different industries. This is a changing world. We have to adapt, and I think that's why our pivot has been so successful.”