In the Spotlight

Choice Environmental: Connected to the Environment and Its People

With a green fleet of collection vehicles, community connections and superior customer service, Choice Environmental is poised to significantly expand it operations.

Committing to providing cost-effective services, superior customer service and protecting Florida’s environment, Choice Environmental is an independent waste company based in Fort Lauderdale, FL giving residential, commercial and industrial solid waste and recycling services. Founded in 2004 by Glen Miller, CEO and Chairman of the Board, and Neil Rodrigue, president and CFO, Choice Environmental started as an acquisition between two companies based in Miami and St. Lucie County, FL. As a result of this transition, the company name was created to reflect the way the company was headed.

With six hauling operations, one CNG fueling station and three transfer and MRF facilities through southern Florida, Choice Environmental has also begun to expand into the central part of the state, opening an operational facility within the last few months. At its MRF, transfer and recycling facilities, Choice Environmental processes more than 120,000 tons of material annually. The company employs more than 320 people and owns over 150 collection vehicles which are out on the street everyday. Of these vehicles, about 10% use compressed natural gas (CNG). However, Choice Environmental also ensures that their diesel trucks run with the latest low-emission engines, and oil recycling systems, keeping up to date with current regulations.

A Fast-Growing Company

During the past few years, Choice Environmental has not been a stranger to the finicky economy, especially seeing it affect the commercial end of the business. “Because many of our customers have reduced services or gone out of business, we have had to adapt in our operations,” says Miller. One way the company has done this is to expand residential collection. “We’ve found a lot of opportunity in the residential sector because we can provide cost-efficient services to some of the municipalities that have very strapped budgets.”

In addition, Miller says that they have dealt with the challenges of a fast-growing company; however, with the team and people they have in place, the company has been able to hit them head on before becoming a problem. “We are a company built of garbage men. There are actually eight managers in this company that have owned their own garbage company. Our senior management has well over 100 years of garbage experience and our total management has even more,” says Miller. Peraino adds, “We do newsletters, company picnics and fundraisers together, so it’s a real hands-on operation, running from the bottom up.” Choice Environmental recruits new employees mainly through the industry—drivers could be recruited from other drivers; many of their managers have joined the company as past owners and stayed on. A great deal come from the private sector or are former public company employees. No matter where they are from, they all bring their own hands-on knowledge of the industry. Miller says, “The company employs highly trained and experienced professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and tools to provide superior customer service in a safe, efficient manner using state-of-the-art equipment.”

Building a Community

In order to make themselves known to communities, Choice Environmental not only puts out press releases, but their sales and marketing team also focuses on giving the company presence at community events, through sponsorships, etc. Ray Peraino, Director of Special Projects, says, “We’re constantly out in the surrounding communities letting them know about our services. We also do a lot of community outreach through local charities and events, boys and girls clubs, educational programs on recycling and water cleanup, and others. We even get the town mayors to participate Choice’s projects and show them that we support them and what they are doing to reduce waste.” One event Choice Environmental was particularly proud of to support and sponsor was this past December’s Christmas Toys in the Sun Run benefitting the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. The annual event involves more than 30,000 motorcycles riding down a portion of the closed Florida freeways, I-95 and 595. The event raises money for the hospital as well as collects toys for the kids.

Choice Environmental also ensures that their current customers are satisfied with their services by sending management out to the field weekly to meet with their municipalities and even some of their larger customers to talk about what issues they are having, how things could be done better and what the customers needs are. “We routinely receive letters from the public, the mayor and the commissioner thanking us for our attention to detail,” Miller says.

In addition to participating in community events and fundraisers, Choice Environmental is proud to say that they have created a great company culture that is nurtured by corporate management and results in a very employee low turnover. “We believe that people are our best assets and we try to keep them happy in the industry by offering them extensive training and seminars, locally (at colleges) and nationally (at trade shows),” stresses Miller. “We empower regional management to be able to make important decisions and operate in a fashion that is decentralized from corporate management so they can operate on a daily basis and react quickly in a critical situation.” Peraino points out that in terms of training, Miller sent 30 employees to 2010’s Waste Expo as opposed to most companies that would send just one or two people from the management team. Miller rounded up about 30 employees from mechanics and fleet managers to some of the general managers, to attend classes from safety and waste strategies to mechanics in order to get the knowledge needed and bring it back to other employees within the company. Not only do employees attend seminars, but Miller explains that safety issues are a very important area for the company. As a result, Choice Environmental brings the Florida Department of Transportation and the Solid Waste Management Association to their facilities to conduct safety seminars (see Choice Environmental’s Safety Steps and Policies sidebar).

Choice Environmental and Alternative Energy

A leader in environmental initiatives, Choice Environmental was the first waste company in Florida to install a natural gas fueling station in Pompano Beach, FL and buy natural gas trucks. “A couple of years ago when diesel fuel was reaching heights of $4.50 per gallon, I decided that we needed to find a better way to fuel our trucks and I did a lot of research on natural gas, finally deciding that it would be the right move for us and our customers,” explains Miller. “However, we did keep in mind that we are garbage guys, not fueling station guys, so we partnered up with Clean Energy out of California and they did a turnkey program for us where they would design, build and operate the fueling station for us. While Clean Energy developed that end of the business, we stayed focused on what we do well—picking up garbage.”

What is unique is that when the decision was made to put in a fueling station, Choice Environmental did not apply for grants or mandates; rather, they funded the project on their own. “We thought that natural gas was a cleaner burning fuel, less expensive, domestically available and the most eco-friendly.Funding the project ourselves was right for the company, the community and our customersbecause Choice wanted to be the first in the industry and stay as the leader in environmental initiatives,” says Miller.“When the decision was finally made, in conjunction with the contracts of the city of Fort Lauderdale, Choice Environmental had a five month window in order to sign a contract with Clean Energy and go through all the permitting and construction time in order to be open and operational by the November 1, 2009 deadline. The timeline was short because Choice Environmental planned on purchasing 10 additional natural gas burning vehicles for their fleet. Giving a 110% effort during the accelerated time frame, Clean Energy was able to do put everything together and beat the deadline by 30 days.”

The company is committed to continue to expand their CNG fleet and have a goal of owning 30 vehicles within the next couple of years. In fact, they have just applied for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a grant, in conjunction with Clean Energy, in the amount of $360,000 to build its second CNG plant at their Opa-Locka facility. “This fueling station would actually be a public access fueling station where we not only fuel out trucks but we would allow other companies’ fleets to fuel at this station as well,” Miller points out. When awarded, the grant will be issued by the Executive Office of the Governor and Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

Future Plans

Miller says that one of the many industry challenges coming up will be safety. “This is always an issue in this industry and we have to stay steadfast so safety is 100%.” In addition, he believes that alternative disposal issues are important. “Everybody wants to be green and not throw everything in a landfill, and I think that organics and composting is something that we have to hit head on coming up because Florida has a 75% recycling goal in place,” says Miller.As a result, Choice Environmental is looking at composting opportunities for organic and food waste. In addition, they have begun to install state-of-the art separation and sorting equipment in its operations to help this process along at their MRFs. “We will meet or exceed that goal,” says Miller.

As for the future, Miller stresses that the company will continue to grow, especially into Central and North Florida. They will also continue to improve their MRF transfer stations and pull more usable materials out of the waste stream. However, there is one thing that Miller raves about that will continue as the company grows. “Even though we have a great fleet of new trucks, shiny new containers and state-of-the-art equipment at our facilities, it is our people that I am most proud of and that’s what makes us number one. We have a great team here and they’ve all worked very hard to get us where we are today and continue to do so on a daily basis. As a result, we have Choice Environmental positioned for phenomenal growth.”

For more information about Choice Environmental, contact Ray Peraino, Director of Special Projects atrayp@choicewaste.comor visit www.ChoiceWaste.com.

Sidebar

Choice Environmental’s Safety Steps and Policies

Safety Programs

Safety Director Stephen Moretti has put together a multi-tiered safety program that starts before the time of hire:

  1. Each driver, helper or facility worker’s job application is sent in for a nationwide criminal and driving history background check.

  2. Each member of the Choice team is also required to take a drug test prior to employment as well as random drug testing that is usually done four times throughout the year. (Choice is a proud member of the “Florida Drug Free” workplace program.)

  3. New team members are taken out with supervisors during their probationary period. A strong emphasis on customer service, safety for drivers, helpers and, especially, pedestrians.

  4. Monthly safety meetings are given at each location covering topics from equipment safety procedures to new driving regulations.

  5. In multicultural areas they are given in three languages English, Spanish and Creole.

  6. The entire company has recently been supplied with the latest in high visibility apparel from helmets, gloves, vest and raingear.

  7. As a normal course of business, regular field observations are also conducted.

  8. Choice is very proactive with rewarding their team members with an incentive program for having a safe employment record.

Daily and Weekly Checklists

Choice Environmental has a daily Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) that all drivers are required to fill out and sign daily. Any problems with a vehicle is reported immediately to the maintenance supervisor and put in for inspection or repair that day.

Safety Associations/Groups

Choice and/or its management are members of many various groups and organizations that help with training through seminars, literature and newsletters, such as , NGV America (Natural Gas Vehicle), and the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA) to name a few along with many local law enforcement and insurance groups.

Keeping Up with the Latest Safety Trends

Continuing Education is encouraged and paid for by Choice. For example, in 2010 Choice Environmental flew more than 30 mechanics, fleet managers, general managers and safety personnel to the Waste Expo in Atlanta GA. Everyone met suppliers face-to-face, were given demonstrations and all were signed up for various conference according to their needs. Throughout the year, managers and operators also attend OSHA Compliance certificate courses, as well as certificate courses at the University of Florida Center for Training, Research and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO).

Classes/Education Offered to Employees

One key to Choice Environmental’s success has been our relationship with their suppliers. Manufactures such as Autocar and Peterbilt, as well as body manufactures such as E-Z Pack, McNeilus and Heil and even tire manufacturers such as Goodyear Tires, have all given hands on safety and operation and repair classes to our fleet managers, drivers, helpers and mechanics. Guest speakers are routinely brought in. They have included the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) local law enforcement and even the general counsel for the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA), David Bidderman.

Sidebar

Choice Charities and Sponsored Events

  • Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation
  • Gift of Life Foundation—(Chairman Member)—providing heart surgery for children
  • Helping Hands of Harbor Town Cancer Foundation
  • Freedom Waters Foundation- Boating and fishing trips for special needs children
  • Here’s Help Inc.Foundation—VIP Gold donor
  • Council for Educational Change
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
  • Memorial Bone Marrow Transplant Fund
  • Toys in The Sun Run—for cancer treatment
  • American Cancer Society Relay for Life
  • EIA Women’s Council Carts on Parade-for the Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Hollywood Welcomes the Stars-Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Bobbie and the Strays Animal Rescue
  • Town of Miami Lakes 10th anniversary celebration
  • Hollywood Hills United Methodist Church
  • Miami/Dade Martin Luther Day Parade
  • City of Opal Locka—Street Naming Ceremony
  • EASE Foundation and Project Stable for children’s physical skills
  • 40th Anniversary of Earth Day—People and Planet Fair
  • Town of Miami Lakes annual Elderly Affairs Dinner
  • Collier County Bay Clean Up
  • Concerns of Police Survivors
  • Miami/Dade School Board “kids recycle program”
  • Friends of the Parks-Broward County
  • South Broward Hospital District
  • JJF Hand Controls for the Handicapped
  • 33rd Broward County Annual Waterway Cleanup
  • Hurricane Relief Haiti-Rear Load Packer Donation
  • South Florida Reuse and Recycling Institute
  • Highlands County Clean Up Day
  • 20th Anniversary South Florida Police Motorcycle Training
  • Town of Miami Lakes Chamber of Commerce Taste of the Town Festival
  • Miami Dade Coastal Clean Up
  • Broward League of Cities
  • Sponsor Boys and Girls Clubs events of Miami, Broward and Collier County
  • City of Hollywood Hometown Fourth of July sponsor
  • Junior Deputies of Collier County Fishing and Camping Trip
  • Highlands County Police Patrol
  • Lee County Bay Day Clean Up
  • Inlet Challenge Bicycle Ride for kids in distress
  • City of Opal-Locka Arts and Crafts Festival.
  • Highlands County 4-H Club
  • North Miami Free Masons-Feeding Families for the Holidays
  • 2ndAnnual Mayor’s Charity Gala-Town of Miami Lakes to Benefit-American Cancer Society
  • NCMEC-National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Sponsor