How many of you have heard the phrase “separating wheat from chaff”? Those of you familiar with the term probably know it’s referring to sorting the valuable from the worthless, using the process of “winnowing” which was traditionally done by repeatedly tossing grain into the air of a light wind which would allow the heavier wheat seeds to fall back down and blow the lighter husk (the chaff) away.
The valuable wheat was then used as grain for food and cooking while the worthless chaff was disposed of (usually by burning).
Chaff couldn’t be digested by humans, so it was seen as a worthless byproduct of harvesting wheat, but then farmers realized that it could be used in feed for livestock or be used to help add nutrients to the soil by plowing it into the fields.
More recently, a Hungarian engineer named Laszlo Schremmer discovered that chaff-based water filters could be used to reduce the arsenic content in water in areas where potable water is extracted from underground aquifers.
Here is an example of something seemingly worthless being repurposed into a potentially lifesaving device.
What parts of your own ideas and concepts, or projects and processes are being deemed as worthless and being thrown away without an effort being made to see if there is value in the chaff?
One of the most successful examples of turning waste into a wonderful opportunity comes from the Ore-Idea company. When frozen foods was still in its infancy, the Ore-Idea company was profiting nicely from the sale of frozen french fries. Their machinery could slice whole potatoes into fries, but there was a problem separating the finished fries from the little irregular pieces of leftover potato slivers. They redesigned the machine to separate the slivers and then sold the spud “chaff” to farmers as feed for cattle and other livestock.
After realizing just how much of the potato was being wasted and sold for pennies as livestock feed, one of Ore-Ida’s founders got creative and molded the bits of potato together into a formed shape and froze them just like the fries for purchase and baking in the oven at home for family consumption — and by now you know what product I’m talking about… The Tater Tot.
How can you combine, compress, separate, repackage, etc. an item that gets tossed into something that gets treasured?