As a leader in the environmental services industry, Mt. Diablo Resource Recovery works hard to increase the economic value of every material stream they collect and process.
Starting in the 1930S as a garbage company in Concord, CA, Mt. Diablo Resource Recovery (MDRR) has evolved into a trusted, proven, and essential service provider of trash, recycling, and organics collection and processing services. At their state-of-the-art sorting facility in Pittsburg, 90 percent of the material MDRR collects is diverted away from the landfill. Through a unique reuse program, MDRR collects discarded, gently used items, and redistributes them to people who can give them a new life. They also offer debris box rentals, construction and demolition processing services, and sell products such as compost and bark to provide customers with an efficient way to get multiple project-related tasks done in one convenient location. As a leader in the environmental services industry, MDRR works hard to increase the economic value of every material stream they collect and process. This philosophy is called Community Resource Optimization.
With 360+ employees at the company, MDRR serves nearly 300,000 residents and thousands of businesses throughout Contra Costa and Solano Counties with 100+ trucks in their fleet, including side loaders, box trucks, split body commercial front load, residential front load, cart delivery, and rear load trucks. The makes include Labrie, Heil, Autocar, and Kenworth. Notably, MDRR uses renewable fuel, and their maintenance program is second to none at 99 percent uptime.
MDRR’s 40-acre recycling center in Pittsburg hosts the area’s largest state-of-the-art materials recovery facility (MRF), which is a center of bustling activity where the MDRR team processes 300 tons of single stream residential and commercial recyclables each day. They also handle a total of 1,500 tons per day of MSW, C&D, and organic material at their transfer station. With sustainability at the forefront of its mission, MDRR has implemented:
• An 89 percent diversion rate of construction and demolition materials
• A 74 percent diversion rate of recyclables
• A 100 percent diversion rate of green waste and organics
• Recycled water (dust and fire) and all renewable diesel
Adjusting to Industry Challenges
Operational excellence and unparalleled customer service are two things that set MDRR apart from other environmental services companies. They show up on time every day, and engage with customers anytime, anywhere, in any channel, using any device. While many other companies experienced service delays and disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, MDRR maintained their commitment to 100 percent on-time pickups and fielded 100 percent of customer service inquiries.
“Like every other business, we had to pivot to deal with the pandemic,” says Kish Rajan, CEO of MDRR. “Moving from onsite to remote work challenged our company culture, but fortunately we already had the technological infrastructure in place to support this shift. And the folks on the front lines—our drivers, members of our operations team, and customer service professionals—never wavered in delivering the highest level of service to our customers.”
Like other players in the industry, MDRR is grappling with rising operational costs, such as higher fuel, labor, and maintenance expenses associated with collection, transportation, and processing of materials. However, they are combatting these issues by streamlining their processes, using better technology, such as 3rd Eye cameras on trucks, the Five9 system for customer service, and Targit dashboards for tracking performance, and extracting the data MDRR decision makers need to determine where to adjust to keep the business profitable. “We take a great deal of pride in our ability to increase the value of every material stream we collect and process,” says Rajan. “For example, through our reuse program, we redistribute discarded, gently used items to people who can give them a new life. Twice a year, we collect gently used items curbside and bring them to our warehouse to be sorted and redistributed to organizations that help people in need. Last year we kept 3.4 million pounds of material out of the landfill and redistributed 165,340 books to folks in our community through reuse.”
MDRR is also extremely proud of how they are implementing the new organics program that is now mandated by California state law SB 1383. The law requires organic waste facilities and operations to measure and report organic waste material activity, including composting and anaerobic digestion. “Since food waste accounts for about 20 percent of methane gas emitted by landfills, our organics program is making a real difference by separating kitchen scraps into green waste that can be converted to soil enriching compost,” says Rajan. MDRR worked closely with its jurisdictions, delivered kitchen pails to customers for collecting compost, and implemented comprehensive multi-channel communications to educate the community on the new program.
In addition to safety, the customer experience, and business growth, the employee experience is one of the company’s four key priorities. By placing a strong emphasis on professional development and training, MDRR helps team members expand their knowledge and skills, which, in turn, helps the organization to attract and retain top talent. “Our retention numbers are incredibly high. There are many people who have been at the company for two, three, sometimes four decades,” says Rajan with pride. “These retention numbers reveal three important insights about our culture: 1) MDRR is a place where people enjoy their jobs, feel a sense of belonging, and feel fairly compensated for their work, 2) the time and effort we put into developing talent from within is a worthwhile investment, and 3) our organization is made up of people with a treasure trove of institutional knowledge that we continually tap into for the purpose of delivering the highest level of service to our customers. For these reasons and many more, MDRR was Great Place to Work Certified for the second year in a row.”
In addition, the Community Relations team is actively involved in every community they serve. MDRR believes that education is critical to improving the way people recycle and helps to encourage environmental stewardship by providing scheduled tours to schools, clubs, sustainability groups, and the public. During the 45-minute tour of MDRR’s processing facility, guests get to learn firsthand about how seriously the organization takes resource recovery and why waste reduction and proper sorting are so essential. The team also offers presentations to neighborhood associations, civic/environmental groups, businesses, and all other service and community-based organizations within MDRR’s service areas.
Commitment to Safety
MDRR’s safety program, led by their Director of Safety, Bart Miller, and embraced by the management and operations teams, is award-winning. MDRR was just recognized by OSHA for the company’s commitment to promoting workplace safety, identifying and managing workplace hazards before they cause injury or illness, and improving sustainability. The main tenets of MDRR’s safety program include:
• Employee Safety Training—This provides MDRR employees with the knowledge needed to do their work safely and avoid creating hazards that could put themselves or others at risk. Training also helps to bring awareness to different, changing situations and help employees learn how to identify, report, and control workplace hazards.
• Promoting a Culture of Safety, Wellness, and Wellbeing—In partnership with Human Resources, MDRR employees who spend most of their weekdays working on the job are encouraged to ensure the environment around them is comfortable and secure, apply their safety knowledge at home to avoid off-the-job injuries, and access MDRR’s robust menu of safety and other well-being benefits.
• Regular Inspections—Conducting regular inspections of workplace equipment and safety procedures associated with high-risk job tasks to prevent serious injuries.
• Defensive Driver Training—Certified defensive driver training to heighten awareness around driving hazards, eliminate driver shortcuts involving safe driving procedures, and achieve zero preventable crashes. Professional drivers comprise the majority of MDRR employees.
From new employee safety orientations to on-the-job training and coaching to monthly OSHA safety trainings to emphasis training around high-hazard activities (e.g., forklift operation, Lockout/Tagout, etc.), MDRR provides computer-based, group, and one-on-one trainings to ensure safe decisions are being made. Without any repercussion whatsoever, employees are encouraged to stop work immediately if they feel unsafe or have a safety concern. “We also use a vehicle camera technology platform called 3rd Eye that tracks the vehicle and provides in-cab video to constructively coach on driver behaviors,” explains Rajan “The camera placements provide visibility into driver blind spots to help eliminate unsafe maneuvers, and the footage helps the safety team coach drivers on how to avoid crashes and reduces reliance upon human memory or inaccurate and conflicting information following a crash. In combination with defensive driver training, the use of vehicle camera technology has reduced MDRR’s preventable crash rate to the lowest level in company history—a number that is well below the industry average.”
MDRR also conducts weekly driver meetings with discussions on best safety practices and enhanced commercial motor vehicle driver instruction using the Safe and Smart training system consisting of video, classroom, and practical on-course training. “MDRR has dedicated, qualified driver trainers who listen, ask the right questions, and understand the needs of the professional driver. Proactive coaching using newly installed vehicle camera technology will soon provide the next, most impactful investment to MDRR driver safety,” says Rajan.
MDRR is currently working on several exciting new programs that are in various stages of planning and execution. One program they are keen to implement involves the recovery and redistribution of edible food. “As you probably know, ‘food insecurity’ is the occasional or constant lack of access to the food one needs to lead a healthy, active life,” says Rajan. “While California produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, more than one in five Californians—about 8.4 million people—currently struggle with food insecurity. MDRR wants to be part of the solution to this problem by using our formidable logistics and operational capabilities to redistribute edible food to people in our community who are facing food insecurity.”
MDRR is also looking into using robotics with Integrated AI for increased precision during the sorting process. “Mistakes in waste sorting can result in improper disposal, leading to missed recycling or reuse opportunities. Manual monitoring can be done, but it comes with challenges such as labor costs and human error,” Rajan states. “AI-waste sorting helps separate the materials according to the categories and accelerates the recycling process using technology akin to facial recognition. Integrating robotics into the recycling operation can also be a way to solve major labor shortages—a problem many companies experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Building partnerships with companies that are making wonderful new products from recycled content such as single use plastic bottles is another top priority,” says Rajan, “We believe the future of recycling is about working proactively and transparently to ensure the commodities we recover from our material streams are provided to manufacturers who are committed to building recycled products. We will continue to show leadership in this area.” | WA