Tom Manimanakis Reveals His Dumpster Diving Adventures For Ethos Assets

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Meet Tom Manimanakis, founder and CEO of the social purpose resource development program Ethos Assets. His mission involves diving deep into dumpsters and finding reusable waste and refurbishing it for social good. 

So, tell me a bit about your previous work.

I came from the commercial finance world originally, where I worked with organizations that manage assets, products, materials, and even recover them. Some of them were bailiffs, repo men. 

After that, I started doing evaluations for restaurants, for manufacturing facilities, and so on. For example, in an office, there are all these bookcases, tables, chairs. It was my job to give them a value in different ways, what it would liquidate for. Ten cents on the dollar. One of the things I noticed when I was doing that and also working with auctioneers -- all they wanted was cash. And if it didn’t sell, they would throw the stuff away.

How did Ethos Assets come about?

Well, I was at a re-store and then I met somebody that I’ve known there for a while and he said “Hey Tom! Let’s take a walk.” So, I walked to the back area and these boxes fall over -- he had them stacked up there. I’m looking through them and there are a wide variety of plastic cups and some other plastic holders. They said, “We took it in as a donation but we just don’t know what to do with it.” So, it kind of gave me an idea. There’s a lot of stuff out there that they want but they just don’t know what to do. That’s when Ethos Assets kind of became created. I want to minimize the carbon-footprint to make a more sustainable environment.

You call yourself a ‘dumpster diver’ - can you tell us what that’s about?

I’m managing stuff in a responsible way for social good. Primarily we focus on donations because there is a lot of stuff -- but retailers, manufacturers, other businesses, they don’t want to donate because they want to protect four simple things. Brand integrity -- they don’t want it to get out of the marketplace as a result of the millions of dollars that they spend. They also want to limit their liability. The third thing is ten cents on the dollar. Cash is always king. Still getting ten cents on the dollar is more beneficial when they sell it in bulk to somebody else than a donation receipt because they’ve lost money so they want to try to gain some of it back. And, the fourth thing which is just typical -- the land of the law. Throwing away stuff is not illegal in most areas. The only thing that’s challenging when you throw it away is the public outcry getting caught by doing it. CBC Marketplace said a great thing last year where they caught a major retailer, Wal-Mart, throwing away a lot of food. It created a public outcry, hence Wal-Mart had to go in and change their strategy.

And, this is my whole dumpster diving stuff. When I got involved in the auction liquidation world I started seeing all this stuff being thrown away. But, I couldn’t do it while I was working there. So, after hours I would go back into the dumpsters and there was a lot of stuff. I like the dumpster diving because it’s a little bit fun but now it’s gotten really challenging because a lot of the dumpsters are locked up.

Where did your passion for sustainability come from?

My principles are based on my parents' ideology. They were born and raised in occupied Greece during World War II and also a socially oppressed environment. So, they lived in poverty and they suffered. They taught me to be grateful for everything you have. So, that ideology still lies with me.

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Numbers-wise, it’s estimated that we waste about $792 billion worth of product. But, when I was doing some statistics a couple years ago about redundancy and unwanted equipment, we found out, by country, and then globally, that there’s an estimated 1.84 trillion dollars worth of idle redundant unwanted stuff just lying around.

I kind of promoted to some people -- I said “Well, why not sell it off or let us manage it so we convert it, help you monetize but also turn that partly into a donation to help support a social purpose program you can better in the community.” As inspiring as it might sound, you’d figure more people would want to do it.

Do you feel like consumption is a problem? Like, we always need more stuff?

Thank you for saying that, because now you’re seeing the problem in terms of supply chain. This is what the circular economy ideology is all about. About designing to reduce waste.

I once approached the organization “Hey we’ve got a lot of youth programs and we need socks. Would you be interested in diverting that?” When I contacted some of these organizations they said, “Can you please submit an application in terms of what you need and then we’ll work with it.” And, that’s a process that they have. But, they review all these applications because they want to determine which will be the greatest impact for their brand integrity.

Do you find you’re the only one in your field doing this kind of work?

Right now, I’m the only person I know of that’s doing this work. My focus has been all about social good. Making sure this stuff gets managed responsibly. Ethos started off focused on donations and we still focus on donations but lately, I’ve had to rework things. So, it’s more about managing resources. People still want to monetize from it but they also want to be sustainable or seem sustainable so I will go and do what I can.

Why are people making this stuff if no one would want it? The question of the age, I guess.

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You know the circle economy, its primary focus is obviously design and also to extend life and also recycling. Waste is a resource. This will help us as a society. I’m kind of on the tail end of it. I’m not a design individual. I’m looking at a finished resource and trying to put it back as a resource that can be either utilized or extend its life for the benefit of somebody else or something else.

What type of stuff do you mainly collect from these dumpsters and facilities?

Plastic bags. Plastic packaging. Everything is made out of plastic. At a retail location, equipment was lying in the back of their facility. All metal, all shelving, all product. Some of it they might reuse but some of it, no. Most of these organizations are pretty efficient at making sure it gets recycled or destroyed properly.

Thank you so much for your time, Tom. Any final words?

This is what I do. Doing something better in this world. First helping people. People and planet. It’s been challenging but it’s been a lot of fun. I find solutions from possible problems and then I kind of put them into place. The next phase of Ethos is actually the next phase in terms of what I’m going to be doing. You know, the digital platform of putting this all together so we can be more impactful. Online is the way forward.

Learn more about Ethos Assets on their website. 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.