Private Contractor Association Adjusts To Evolving Industry

BW: What factors in today's industry affect the association's growth?

BP: I've been in this industry for about sixteen years and have never seen anything like the current pace and intensity of consolidation. In some ways, running a trade association during this time is like trying to hang a picture in the middle of an earthquake. Obviously, the immediate impact is a loss of members and dues income, although as companies consolidate, the average amount of dues paid per company increases.

What's less visible is the fact that as companies sell, we often lose individuals in the pipeline who we have been grooming to become the next generation of leaders in the association - volunteers who will serve on our boards, committees and task forces.

You have to put consolidation in context. Trash is big business. It is estimated that domestic gross revenues are about $35 billion. Like other industries, the solid waste industry has matured, and consolidation is a natural consequence. State and local regulations, recycling's impact on a company's bottom line and access to capital have made merging and selling a possibility that might not have occurred to a garbageman six years ago.

Finally, consolidation brings tremendous opportunities for the association. When the shake-out is through, I believe that the association will be stronger. The consolidating companies, for one thing, probably will be more lean in their infrastructure and this means they will look to EIA for more support. I also believe that overall, the industry will be more stable.

BW: In retrospect, was changing the association's name a good idea?

BP: Yes. Each of the component associations has a stronger identity of its own, while at the same time, each is still inextricably a part of the overall association.

A big reason for reorganizing the old National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) into three component associations representing solid waste service companies (NSWMA), manufacturers and distributors (WASTEC) and hazardous waste service companies (HWMA) under the EIA was the recognition that one all-embracing association with a large board of directors representing these diverse business interests was unwieldy and difficult to manage.

Each of these associations now has its own governance structure with the EIA Board of Trustees providing financial and fiduciary oversight. NSWMA is the voice of the waste services industry in the states where garbage is still mostly regulated.

WASTEC now has a greater identity to showcase its own programs and issues, especially its internationally-recognized work in developing ANSI standards for waste equipment. WASTEC still remains close to its key customer group within NSWMA.

And last, HWMA is building its own identity and relationships with customer groups while still growing under the EIA umbrella.

BW: How has the direction of the association changed in the past five years?

BP: I don't think that the direction of the association has changed in terms of our basic missions. We have explored and experimented with growing by bringing in other groups and developing more of an international program, but so have some of our major member companies.

BW: How does EIA plan to meet the demands of this rapidly-changing industry?

BP: With 100 percent inspiration and 100 percent perspiration. We have to continue to add value and give members the programs that they need. We have to show that we can make progress representing them on the issues that count the most and that we can get results.

For example, we've established several chapters in the last year: Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and most recently, Kansas. We've created an industry research and education foundation, and we continue to win regulatory and legislative battles both in the states and in Congress.

But there's lots of room for improvement. We want to grow in our ability to provide the support services that our members need, whether in basic business information, statistical data to support policies or training.

BW: I am a small, independent private contractor. Why should I join the association?

BP: This is a standard question that always gets me a little worked up because I think the small, independent hauler needs the association the most. They generally have the least time and resources to think about anything other than getting the trucks out in the morning.

The association provides an opportunity for these companies to meet with others like them, as well as with larger company owners and operators, to share concerns.

BW: How do you create an atmosphere of cooperation between what are, in many cases, competitors?

BP: We function best when we can find common ground on those issues where most, if not all, of the members agree on the nature of the problem as well as its solution.

A good example is what we call 'just compensation' legislation, which provides a level of protection to haulers who are displaced when an unincorporated area is annexed by local government and the haulers serving that area are told that the city or solid waste authority will now provide collection and disposal services.

Admittedly, issues are becoming more market-driven. In these situations, we provide a process wherein members can come together, discuss differences and then vote on a position. Often, the position is a compromise; everyone has to give a little to win.

Finally, we build camaraderie by sponsoring golf tournaments, recreational activities and facility tours.

BW: How much influence do the smaller verses the larger members have on association policy?

BP: I don't know of a single association - in any industry - where there isn't almost a knee-jerk assumption that the bigger companies dominate. I can't speak for the other associations, but I can tell you categorically that in EIA, the majority rules. We follow agendas, we have full discussions, and each company gets one vote.

BW: Which regulations will the EIA be concentrating on in the next 12 months?

BP: It's hard to say at the state level because so much of our activity is defending against unreasonable or overly restrictive laws and regulations.

But, there are common issues in a number of states, and most of them are economic, although they may involve issues of environmental protection: How do we deal with the post-Carbone environment? How do we prevent and minimize burdensome permitting and operating requirements? How do we make sure regulations create an environment in which the private and public sectors can work together to preserve competition, meet local needs cost-effectively and leave ample room for innovation and improvement?

These issues will play out in hundreds of ways in thousands of different communities. We will work cooperatively where we can, with regulatory agencies or state legislatures.

Federally, we have a broad base to cover with WASTEC, HWMA and NSWMA. Of course, we will continue to work in Congress to keep borders open and to ensure that the placed-in-service date for the Section 29 gas credit for landfills is not set back.

We also will be working for products liability reform, Superfund reauthorization and RCRA reform to encourage cleanup of remediation waste.

Regulations that concern us include GSA's extending federal schedules for discount purchases to state and local governments, which we see creating unlevel playing fields for both WASTEC and NSWMA members, EPA's proposed new standards for ozone and particulates, and definitions of solid and hazardous waste.

BW: Describe the association's new Code of Ethics program and why you believe it was necessary.

BP: We realized that with the complexity and competitiveness of the business today we needed something that made a statement about our commitment to values.

We came up with a model code of ethics called "Doing Our Best - A Matter of Integrity." It contains a code of conduct, guidelines and discussion for using it. But, what I find much more important is the way that the program shows a company how to encourage employees to become part of an ethical culture. The program actually encourages management to give employees a chance to build the culture from the bottom up and thereby give it life and momentum.

BW: How will the EIA be different in five years?

BP: It's almost impossible to do strategic planning for more than one or two years in today's environment, let alone try to say what EIA will be like in five years. But, my kids think I'm a "know-it-all," so I'll give it a try.

I suspect that recycling will have lost much of its symbolic appeal and that the public will have a more practical attitude about it. This should involve more sharing of risks between my members and the public sector.

I also think that public-private issues still will be important but also that success with public-private partnerships will be getting a lot of deserved attention. Flow control and interstate commerce restrictions will be but a memory.

Unfortunately, local opposition to building facilities and expanding existing ones will still be in force.

There definitely will be more automation in equipment control systems, which will mean improved operations, maintenance and efficiency.

Another thing is for sure: The industry will have a state-of-the-art standard for building and operating a safe materials recovery facility for commingled waste.

And, the line between hazardous and municipal waste will have largely been eliminated. Instead, companies will be managing industrial non-hazardous waste.

Finally, in five years, my waistline will have expanded and hairline receded, but my passion for the industry, the companies and the faces that go with them will be even stronger.

Let's face it, waste management issues are fun even though we complain.