WW: How has the industry changed since you joined it five years ago?
PP: Waste minimization and re-cycling, as well as the merging of solid and hazardous waste management into one line of business, are the biggest changes.
In government, the legislative mood recently is to tone down hazardous waste regulations which also pushes the two waste sectors together. Of course, within a consolidated waste management business, specialization in the sub-sectors will continue - an in-cinerator still needs different technical expertise than a solid waste landfill.
In hazardous waste management, we've gone from waste minimization and waste reduction to waste elimination. A consequence, however, is over-capacity.
In addition, waste recycling is really starting to work. In the last six months, for example, paper manufacturers have achieved the capacity to use recycled materials. As a result, the prices for corrugated and paper are rising and it's transforming our industry.
WW: What are the major issues facing solid waste managers today?
PP: They must be able to deal with increasing complexity. For example, the changing regulations for special wastes have affected solid waste managers. Now, certain technical processes such as front-end approval systems are necessary.
In addition, solid waste managers have to deal with recycling, which has become a complex business process. Now, it includes collecting recyclables, building facilities to process them and then selling the material to a broker or a paper manufacturer, for example. That's a much more complex process than the disposal options of the past.
WW: In the next five years, how will the industry's on-going consolidation differ from that of the last five years?
PP: In many ways, the consolidation is just beginning. I don't think it has hit its stride yet in the hazardous waste industry.
On the solid waste side, the consolidation will continue, probably at a slower pace than in hazar-dous waste. It will certainly be larger consolidations in the future. As complexity in the industry in-creases, some of the major regional players may consolidate - unless they are able to grow and pick up the new technical processes. Attwoods being absorbed by Browning-Ferris Industries is a good example of this trend.
WW: How would you compare the industry's level of sophistication in other countries to that in the United States?
PP: It varies widely. Some foreign countries, Germany and Sweden for example, have stringent laws and are leaders in recycling. Then consider Mexico, where they're just beginning the waste management process, and Eastern Europe where it's almost non-existent. Globally, there is huge opportunity because everyone wants a clean environment.
In the future, we'll view business from a global perspective. If Ger-many has a best practice for hazardous waste management, we ought to be using it here and in Taiwan. As the world shrinks, there will be a tendency to pull the lowest up to the highest. Funda-mentally, people are people - they want the same things, regardless of where they live.