Although 2021 has already started with a bang, the waste industry has proven that it can handle the punches. Provided we collectively prioritize our people and planet, the profits will continue to flow, and innovation will rise to the occasion.
By John Defenbaugh

Toter-stacked-cartsThere will forever be a COVID-19 asterisk next to 2020. The impact of the pandemic wreaked havoc across the world. At the beginning of the year, our forecasted economic trends for the industry projected growth for all areas of our business. Then, stay-at-home orders were put into place. Companies’ commercial business nearly ceased, and the industry witnessed a continuous uptick for residential pickups throughout Q2 and into Q3.

The shift from commercial to residential impacted the industry far greater than the general public realized. Haulers experienced at least a 5 percent increase in residential waste streams being collected due to the downturn driven by the stay-at-home orders that nearly ceased altogether from schools, public venues, businesses, restaurants and airports.

Being equipped to handle a volume change is expected in the waste industry. From recessions to crises, there are plans in place to keep disruptions at a minimum. And, in the case of the pandemic, the industry stepped up. Employers delivered safe workplaces for their employees, from cleaning protocols to some installing plastic barriers in cabs. And, employees came to work, running their routes and processing waste as if it were business as usual. However, business was not as usual.

Impacted Operations
The focus shifting to a higher residential pickup was more than just a facet of reallocating resources. Haulers needed to park particular trucks and mobilize others. On top of pivoting on which vehicles were needed, there was a routing and logistical challenge, along with the reallocation of labor. For example, a commercial front-loader driver needed to move to an automated side-loader for residential use.
The shift from commercial to residential pickups also impacted demand for carts and containers, requiring manufacturers to pivot quickly. Capacity for steel products, that were more focused on commercial and industrial waste streams, had to be adjusted, while production capacity was expanded for plastic containers that primarily serve the residential stream.

As waste and recyclables that were previously brought to work or discarded at a venue decreased and shifted to residential waste, municipalities and private haulers saw the need to have additional waste and recycling carts and containers to handle the load from residences.

Shifting Waste Streams
If 2020 taught us anything, it would be to not ignore maintaining inventory. Containers and carts are the gateways to revenue and having them available to serve the customer is critical. In 2021, COVID impacts will lessen throughout the first half with pre-pandemic normalization by the second half of 2021. Shifts between waste streams have lessened in severity since the initial stay-at-home orders were put into place, but there will be lingering effects.

Individuals’ waste streams, no matter their location, are what we are keeping an eye on, especially as it relates to remote work arrangements and consumers re-entry to public venues and activities. Haulers will need to quickly adjust and remain flexible while continuing to provide solutions as the economy recovers.

Markets that are healing and recovering nicely from COVID-19 have a broad range of waste equipment needs. Being a single-solutions provider opens the opportunity to provide the equipment to collect, transport (through collection vehicles), and dispose (landfill, recycling center).

Aligning with a single organization affords a project management partner with expertise across multiple product lines, allowing haulers to stay focused on collection and disposal activities. Additionally, this will enable comprehensive geographic coverage with manufacturing, distribution, and service and parts locations, as well as the ability to bundle (and potentially finance) all equipment for a project, are key considerations when investing in equipment.

Picture this: A Hauler is awarded a new route, and they begin planning for everything they need from site location, labor, equipment, startup, etc. Haulers need to go to an individual cart, chassis, and collection vehicle provider, ensuring each is ordered, on track, and in place in time for the contract start. Using a single-source provider simplifies the load by working with one company to provide and partner through all steps.

amrep-photo-ASLAdvancing Sustainability
Moving into the new year, corporate responsibility is going to continue to grow and take precedence within standard operations. These changes will be seen not only through how we as providers service our customers, but also through the products we offer. 2021 is not the beginning of the focus on sustainability, but will undoubtedly offer monumental advancement with current initiatives in place.

Growing expectation surrounding sustainability in the waste and recycling industry have become mainstream dialogue, and companies are placing a large emphasis on research and waste stream sustainability. ESG reporting is no longer reserved for just public companies. Wastequip is leading the charge on this topic through its Corporate Responsibility (CORE) program. Two of Wastequip’s largest customers in the industry have articulated their goals for the planet and there is clarity around what they are measuring. Trends like this will continue to be seen throughout companies nationwide and providers will need to serve as an integral cog in helping them measure, hit their benchmarks, and provide products that are better for the environment.

Although 2021 has already started with a bang, the waste industry has proven that it can handle the punches. Provided we collectively prioritize our people and planet, the profits will continue to flow, and innovation will rise to the occasion. | WA

In his role as Commercial President for Wastequip, John Defenbaugh oversees sales and customer service for Wastequip (Charlotte, NC) steel products, Toter carts and containers, Galbreath and Amrep mobile products, Wastequip WRX service centers and intermodal containers. His responsibilities include setting business strategy and providing leadership to business unit teams in the execution of sales, marketing, and customer support. John has played a pivotal role in driving sales, strengthening and expanding the Wastequip and Galbreath dealer networks and enhancing customer satisfaction. John can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit