50 years Bin There, Done That

A QUIET YET ONGOING FORCE has been moving throughout the waste industry for the past 50 years. The Detachable Container Association (DCA), the waste management industry's first formal association, recently celebrated its half-century milestone at a special anniversary meeting held in Boca Raton, Fla., on Feb. 10-14. The association is noted for advancing modern containerized collection, spawning the Washington, D.C.-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and helping to facilitate numerous waste industry technological developments. And this legacy of innovation and leadership will continue, the DCA members emphasized at their birthday party.

A Storied Past

The idea for DCA, Keswick, Va., initially began in the early 1950s when a group of six men in the waste hauling industry began discussing the idea of forming an association to improve techniques in waste collection, in particular, by using detachable containers. After two years of informal discussions, and with three of the initial six founders committing their own seed money to the association, DCA was officially formed in 1954.

“At the time, collecting garbage was pretty primitive and not very technical,” says Jeanne Hayes, honorary member of DCA and the association's executive secretary from 1985 to 1995. “Around 1952, the detachable container was seen as the new innovation in the garbage world,” she says.

Indeed, the use of detachable containers at the time was rapidly revolutionizing the industry, which, prior to the early 1950s, had relied on a variety of manual operations to collect waste. “What we consider modern collection started with the concept of containerized collection, or the detachable container,” says Kevin Walbridge, president of DCA and regional vice president Republic Services Inc. in Indianapolis. “Today, we know them as roll-off containers, front loaders or automated carts; the nomenclature has changed, but the detachable container was the first container used for waste collection,” he says.

In fact, the detachable container is a moniker for the Dumpster, which was patented by George Dempster in 1945. The Dumpster originally was used in building highways, railroads and dams for the Dempster Construction Co., which Dempster founded along with his brothers prior to the Depression.

Interestingly, the idea for the Dumpster has it roots in the building of the Panama Canal. From 1907 to 1912, Dempster, along with his brother Tom, worked as civilian employees of the Isthmanian Canal Commission in Panama under the tutelage of experienced engineers. As DCA legend goes, George was almost fired while helping to excavate the site because he “was trying to invent a mechanical device to pump the dipper on his shovel.” Eventually, all shovels on the Canal project were equipped with such devices, according to the DCA.

While George was responsible for the detachable container, it was the DCA that propelled its status in the waste industry. (Ironically, George, who died in 1964, never became a member of the DCA.) “[The DCA] very quickly became a cohesive organization,” Hayes says.

From the beginning, the DCA's mission has been to promote education and to establish ways to improve the industry and the productivity of its members, Hayes says. Among its many services, the association has served as a purchasing consortium and helped members with equipment financing, Walbridge says.

Initially, the association's membership consisted mostly of independent, family run hauling companies. In the 1960s, however, large conglomerates such as Waste Management Inc., Houston, started coming into being, Hayes adds.

As the DCA's membership base was evolving, so was the waste industry landscape. Realizing they needed formal representation in Washington, D.C., the DCA leaders formed the NSWMA (now a sub-association of the Environmental Industry Associations [EIA]), Washington, D.C., in 1969. “The DCA now had an organized lobbying effort for the industry as well as one for drafting legislation,” Walbridge says.

After forming the NSWMA, the DCA's charge became less formal, with the association's gatherings at WasteExpo as well as their own annual meetings taking center stage as major information swaps for members. (Hayes served as meetings director for the DCA and NSWMA from 1975 to 1985.)

“A lot of technological developments in waste equipment came out of the DCA meetings and gatherings,” Walbridge says.

In the meantime, the DCA's membership base continued to broaden. While hauling companies were, and continue to be, the association's primary focus, the association began accepting manufacturer members as well. Almost simultaneously, large national companies began to buy established independent hauling companies, which made up the core of the DCA's membership. “

To me, that was the beginning of the biggest change in the waste industry over the years,” says David Hyman, who served as DCA president from 1979 to 1981. Hyman sold his family run company, Industrial Disposal Co., Louisville, Ky., to Republic Services four years ago.

Still, the DCA has remained consistent in its mission. “The one common theme in the DCA over 50 years that continues is that the association and its members have been in the forefront of the industry,” Walbridge says.

Tight-Knit Group

Today, the DCA's membership roster, which includes approximately 120 members, reads like a Who's Who list of the waste management industry. Indeed, highlighted at this year's anniversary meeting in Boca Raton were numerous awards bestowed upon the DCA's members. For instance, 37 out of the 60 individuals that have been named NSWMA/EIA Members of the Year are DCA members, and 17 of the 19 individuals who have served as NSWMA/EIA presidents or chairmen came from DCA's ranks as well.

To commemorate 50 years in the industry, the DCA tried to assemble as many of these and other early members as possible at the meeting. Among the most memorable attendees was Albert Shayne, who served as the association's first president from 1954 to 1955. Shayne, who will be 90 this year, was part of a panel of past DCA presidents who spoke at the meeting; Shayne also was featured in a documentary of the DCA that was unveiled at the meeting.

Because of its anniversary, the DCA experienced record attendance this year, with close to 200 people attending the meeting. In fact, the DCA annual meetings, which are held in resort destinations, are generally well-attended. “One of the biggest duties of a DCA president is to make sure we have a productive meeting and to prepare a meeting that the members are going to want to attend,” Walbridge says. “Interaction among our members and information sharing are key components of the association.”

“Attendees learn a lot at the meetings; they are very informative and a good way to exchange ideas and do business,” says Jim Harvey, CEO of E.L. Harvey & Sons Inc., Westboro, Mass. Harvey served as DCA president from 1997 to 1999.

Indeed, while this year's 50th anniversary celebration was billed as a “reunion,” every DCA annual meeting has the same feeling, which is a testament to the closeness of the group, Harvey says. “We're like a big family of rubbish men,” he says. “It's a very tight-knit group — we don't forget one another.”

According to Pam Bloom, COO of Oregon City, Ore.-based B&B Leasing, a full-service hauling and recycling company, networking is a big plus of DCA membership. “The members that have been with the association have brought new ideas and concepts to the industry,” she says. “It's an elite group, and one that has been very rewarding and helpful.”

“There are people in New Jersey or Texas or New York that you can call when your city or county is going to start a new program,” Bloom says. “What's been nice is that all of the DCA's members have always been working in the same direction.”

While the goals of DCA's members have remained the same, the changing face of its membership from primarily independent companies to companies owned and operated by national conglomerates may bring new challenges, Hyman says. “People before my time grew up with the business — the industry was made up of family run operations — and knew it inside and out,” he says.

“Now you have a more varied group of industry,” Hyman says, adding that independent companies competing with national companies may not be as prone to information sharing. “You have publicly owned companies now with boards of directors; it probably wouldn't be legal for them to talk to other companies.”

Nevertheless, “our main goal is to continue with an active, participating membership … and to keep the DCA as a viable group,” Walbridge says. “The industry continually goes through consolidation, and we have a number of members that have left the industry. But we want the new industry leaders as part of our group.”

“I spent the greater part of my adult life in DCA and I know that there are probably thousands of haulers out there that could benefit from joining,” Hyman says.

So as the association turns 50, it still is valuable — and young at heart. “As companies change hands, we've also got people growing in the waste industry,” Walbridge says. “We want to keep a fresh outlook as much as we can.”

For more information about DCA, contact Gerri Wyer at (434) 244-3522. Kathleen White is a Waste Age contributing editor based in Portland, Ore.