Covanta Details Latest Sustainability Efforts

Covanta Details Latest Sustainability Efforts

Covanta Holding Corp., a waste and energy firm located in Morristown, N.J., recently unveiled its annual sustainability report, which came shortly after the company’s full year earnings.

This year, Covanta looked at the sustainable investment community, various environmental groups and clients to better understand their concerns and to pinpoint issues that needed to be addressed. The company then shaped its annual sustainability report around the feedback that they received, sorting valuable information into four categories: Environmental Performance, Resource Management, Community Relations and Workforce Engagement.

“It’s been valuable for us to be able to engage with our stakeholders,” says Mike Van Brunt, director of sustainability for Covanta. “I think we’ve done a good job with being transparent, and one of the most important things about a sustainability report is making sure that you’re both credible and transparent.”

Waste360 recently spoke with Van Brunt about the latest sustainability report and what we can expect to see from the company in 2016.

Waste360: The report reveals an increase in demand for zero-landfill solutions by major companies. Can you share some insights on this?

Mike Van Brunt: This is a way for companies to really take a leadership role in sustainability efforts. It’s just another example of how companies are paying closer attention to sustainability and focusing on sustainable waste management. In many cases, a lot of companies are starting down this path to save money. As you tighten up your processes and recycle more, you use more materials in your process. Many businesses also save money and reap environmental advantages at the same time.

I think this demand [for zero-landfill solutions] is going to continue. You see more and more companies becoming quite public about their sustainability efforts. From an environmental standpoint, I personally think it’s the right thing to do. It’s all about doing a better job with the left over waste materials.

Waste360: What is Covanta doing to help out these large companies with these demands?

Mike Van Brunt: A lot of the companies that we help out come to us to help them manage the difficult waste that’s left over in the end, such as general plant trash and filter medias from plants. These can be paper media or corn cob-based media, for example. Usually we are getting the last few percentages of tons of waste that is left over from companies. This is the waste that they cannot recycle, reduce or reuse. Putting remaining waste into good use is a bulk of our business.

We have also been able to expand our services and offer new and different services to companies. One of the services is our UnWrapp service, where we can take back consumer packaged goods and separate the product from the packaging itself. In some cases, the product itself can then be used in different applications.

This is only one of our innovative approaches to managing waste materials. We are seeing more companies that are not only looking at energy recovery, but also looking further up the waste hierarchy. We are pleased to be able to offer more of those services as we get more into that business.

Waste360: Can you talk about the report’s sustainability focus areas and their goals?

Mike Van Brunt: There’s a lot of overlap between our business goals and our sustainability goals. On the materials management side, for example, one of our key goals is to increase the amount of waste managed through energy recovery and other sustainable waste management operations by 10 percent by 2020. We also set a goal to increase total wastes avoided, recycled or reused under our management by 25 percent by 2020. In addition to that, we have added in the component about moving up the waste hierarchy and helping companies move up the waste hierarchy, which speaks to our commitment to doing what we do and doing it well.

Waste360: What do you feel were the biggest accomplishments for Covanta in 2015?

Mike Van Brunt: We put together an interactive chart about moving up the waste hierarchy, which is a nice way for us to organize the report and our thoughts around moving ourselves (and our customers) up the waste hierarchy by recycling more metals and reusing more water. To expand on recycling metals, we have embarked upon a couple of projects to help us do different kinds of metals recovery, such as a first-of-its-kind stainless steel recovery system.  

We also built a new metals processing facility in Fairless Hills, Penn., which allows us to consolidate multiple metal streams from nine plants, clean up the material and produce more attractive and higher-quality products for the end-use market.

We are also involved with the Go Green Initiative—a nonprofit organization geared toward recycling education—and on the innovative side, we made an arrangement with one of our customers to process old X-rays. I always think that it’s kind of neat because the old X-rays have a lot of silver in the X-ray image itself. We were able to link up with United DMS, a precious metal recycling company, to recycle and reuse the materials in these X-rays. United DMS recycles the metal off the film and we use the remaining film for energy recovery. It’s a great example of how recycling and energy recovery can work very well together.

Waste360: What is hurting and/or helping the overall sustainability industry right now?

Mike Van Brunt: One of the high points is the announcement of the climate agreement in Paris. I think we are taking a big step forward, but we still have a lot of work to do. We are taking things more seriously and working toward better solutions. We are pleased, of course, because we are a huge part of that solution. We are able to reduce gas emissions, and the European Union has done a very good job at looking at waste management and incorporating robust recycling, composting and energy recovery into an overall system that is driving greenhouse gas reduction.

I am also seeing more and more consumer demand for sustainable solutions, materials and material management, and I think that will only continue to grow as people become more aware.

As far of the negatives, it’s hard to not look at the low points in commodity prices, which I think is a short-term problem. This puts the pressure on many recyclers, and we obviously feel it because of the amount of metals that we recover. I think in the long term there will be an increasing value in commodities, and we just need to make sure that we recover as many materials as we can out of the waste stream.

Waste360: What can we expect from Covanta in 2016?

Mike Van Brunt: It’s really about making sure that we execute well on our core business and do things as efficiently as we can. We need to look at how we can generate more energy from the waste resource, how we can recover more metal from the waste resource and how else can we add value to our current client base here in the U.S. One of the major things we will be doing is continuing our construction on the Dublin, Ireland, facility, which is about half way constructed. We will also focus more on logistics, zero waste to landfill and other innovative solutions.

To view the full report, visit

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