Industry Trends

2012: Year in Review

A look back at the good, the bad and the changing.

Angelina Ruiz

The waste and recycling industries saw an interesting year—from acquisitions to recycling growth and issues like safety and flow control, there was a slew of transitioning areas that become front page news. Although some of them have yet to be fully tackled, there are others that are in the middle of making significant changes to what the industry professional now know. Some of the most important issues are discussed below as well as the outlook for 2013, which should be promising.

Waste and Recycling Changes

In 2012, the waste industry saw many of the smaller hauling companies go by the way of the larger ones. It seemed that every month, there was a new press release about a well-known player in the industry bowing out of the competitive arena. “Overall, the waste industry has remained the same except that there are fewer and fewer players, especially in the New York area,” says Sal Tagliavia,President of Sanitation Repairs (Brooklyn, NY). “Everything is going towards national companies and individual operators are finding it harder to afford to stay in business.”

On the other hand, the recycling industry saw even more growth than ever before this year. More than ever, communities are finding ways to move into single-stream or even curbside recycling programs in order to streamline their hauling process. Drew Weil, Account Representative for Sunbelt Hydraulics (Pompano Beach, FL), says, “In many cases, this move allows haulers to go from 18-gallon bins to 65 or 96-gallon carts, further reducing required collection days. This not only reduces the waste stream, but also has increased the set out rate and the household volumes, resulting in huge savings.”

In addition, Tagliavia and Bob Wallace, Principal and VP of Client Solutions at WIH Resource Group, point out that while cardboard and scrap metal have become valuable commodities, even resulting in theft in some cases, there has also been a greater demand for PET plastics and other formerly valueless commodities. Different non-traditional areas of recycling growth have become more prominent. Organic recycling and E-waste were two areas that were most talked about this year and will continue to grow as residences and businesses figure out what to do with leftover food waste as well as electronics that cannot be disposed of in traditional methods. “E-waste is the one thing that has really stood out this year in moving the industry forward. It is totally different in this industry,” says Tagliavia. “New York has opened its first E-waste recycling center operated by a private company and they are going to start taking on e-waste. I believe it is going to be a big part of the industry because it’s a way to dispose of computers, TVs, anything electronic, etc.”

Converting Vehicles to CNG

While the area of recycling saw tremendous growth in 2012, more companies tried out CNG vehicles or considered the transition. Those haulers that were interested but could not afford the cost of a whole new truck, experimented with rebodied trucks and diesel engines in order to avoid buying brand new as well as EPA requirements that increase the truck cost while reducing truck engine reliability. Some do believe that converting to CNG is worth the cost, especially since the price of diesel has gone up while the natural gas price per diesel gallon equivalent has come down. Says Weil, “CNG has proven thus far to be a savings over diesel depending on how you depreciate the vehicle’s additional $35,000 to $45,000 cost. I believe larger fleets will greatly help in normalizing the cost of the equipment and the infrastructure required.” However, infrastructure remains the number one concern as to why some areas have not begun to transition to this alternative fuel. In these places, there is no infrastructure in place for them to refuel trucks and therefore, it would cost more to drive the trucks a longer distance in order to refuel. In some of these cases, like New York City, they have been taking advantage of newer technologies that allow trucks to get better gas mileage. “Here in New York City, diesel engines are running unbelievably well and they are getting better gas mileage since technology has been very advanced with the new DES, etc.,” says Tagliavia. It will be interesting to see how what kind of progress CNG will have in the next year or two and whether hauling companies who are considering the change will decide that it is worth the investment in their area.

Safety

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some troubling information about the waste industry being the 4th most dangerous job in the country. While companies are going to great lengths to educate their employees to ensure that their jobs in the field and at the facilities are performed with the utmost care, there are still some issues that need to be dealt with in the industry. Says Wallace, “Safety is always a huge issue in the solid waste industry depending largely on the type of collection line of business—roll-off, front load and residential two- and three-man routes can lead to lots of challenges. Sometimes everyone is in a rush and impatient; this leads to accidents.” Weil agrees, “Unfortunately, I believe we are still in the curve for equipment meeting up with the safest collection methods. Old style rear-end collection still puts collection personal in harm’s way in the lanes of traffic between approaching motorist and the collection vehicle. This is an equation that leads to disaster daily. Through more modern collection vehicles like automation, you reduce the number of personal, exposure to the roadway, fatigue, and a long list of other items like moral that you can’t necessarily calculate the cost of.  It is still evolving.” He points out that another issue is economics. “The push for productivity has a great cost that haulers in an effort to remain competitive need to realize where those stats meet. There is a large price to pay for high productivity (safety).”  

An alternative opinion to this scenario is that rather than constantly re-educating employees who are well-trained in what to do and what not to do, is to concentrate on educating the public about the dangers of the trash truck. “You continuously have to train drivers and employees, but I also think we have to educate the population on how dangerous garbage trucks are,” says Tagliavia. “The biggest issues that vehicles have had in New York City is people running into garbage trucks or injured by garbage trucks because they are standing too close to the curb, they don’t want to move out of the way, they are busy texting and listening to their ipods or using their ipads and not paying attention to their surroundings. You are always going to have issues when you are picking up refuse but I think if you eliminate pedestrians taking that for granted that they think they can outrun a garbage truck or stand too close to the truck when it is trying to make a turn, you may see that the garbage industry is not as bad as they say it is.” So, instead of concentrating on just educating employees, Tagliavia believes that ordinary citizens need to be taught to be aware of their surroundings and that trash trucks can be dangerous by using visual aids—commercials, billboards, print ads, etc.

2013 Outlook

While the recycling industry has seen significant growth and the waste industry is in transition, waste conversion is an area that is still on the horizon with Waste-to-Energy as the first “popular” technology. Although, it is being talked about more as a real possibility at trade shows and conference, only a majority of larger companies and municipalities, like the City of Los Angeles, remain able to foot the cost of implementing this next step of waste diversion.

Another issue to watch is flow control. We have all seen the news about this concept being taken to court in some States saying it violates State and Federal constitutions, while others believe that it levels the playing field between the big players and the smaller haulers. Says Tagliavia, “People in the industry are either seriously for or against it. The pro is that the national companies compared to the smaller hauling companies have to dump everything at a particular location where everyone is going to have the same tipping fees so the competition level the same. However, if you are a company that owns a transfer station, you can’t bring your garbage to it. This is something that will be an ongoing issue and fought in courts. It’s going to be a long battle.”

Positive Changes

As smaller companies continue to work on leveling the playing field with regards to the bigger players, those who will continue to survive and grow will see some positive changes in the industry. “Next year, there will be continued diversification, improvement in recycling commodity recovery and waste diversion,” says Wallace. “For example, in 2020, the State of California increases its mandatory waste diversion or recycling rate to 75 percent and I expect other states will be begin to follow suit.” Whatever changes may come in 2013, there will be many things to watch as the waste and recycling industries transition to the next phase in all areas. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out; only time will tell.

Angelina Ruiz is the Editorial Director for Waste Advantage Magazine. She can be reached at angelina@wasteadvantagemag.com.

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