The stereotype of the solid waste industry is that it's one in which change rarely occurs. That may be true in some ways, but since joining this magazine in May 2004, I've definitely been struck by the industry's increasing emphases on landfill diversion and employee safety.
Just before WasteExpo, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), which represents private hauling firms, announced its support of zero-waste efforts. "Solid waste companies are an important partner in zero-waste efforts," said Bruce Parker, president and CEO of NSWMA, in a statement. "Zero waste doesn't mean 'no trash,' but rather, continuing to find economically achievable ways to treat as much waste as possible as a resource … Trash haulers and other solid waste processors will still be needed to make it work." (For more on NSWMA's endorsement of zero waste, see "Zero Support.")
At WasteExpo, a breakfast forum that focused on zero-waste initiatives and the opportunities that they present to waste management firms was packed and ran well past its scheduled ending time. Clearly, this is an industry coming to terms a future that could entail significantly different business models. (For more on this topic, read "Finger on the Pulse: A Q&A with Bruce Parker" in Waste Age's April issue and "A Ton of Changes" in Waste Age's December 2009 issue.)
And clearly this is an industry that is taking the safety of its workers more seriously. About the time that I joined this magazine, the industry's "Slow Down to Get Around" campaign was launched, and since that time, NSWMA has produced its "Be Safe, Be Proud" video series. WasteExpo now typically has a whole track of conference sessions dedicated to the topic.
These efforts and others like them appear to be paying off. As NSWMA General Counsel and Waste Age safety columnist David Biderman noted in his February column, the industry's accident rate has declined by approximately 25 percent over the past five years. Make no mistake, however: This industry is still one of the most dangerous around.
You can count on Waste Age to thoroughly cover both the zero waste and safety trends. In fact, this month's issue has a feature on residential collection route safety ("Out of Harm's Way"). The solid waste sector may change, but Waste Age will always be your source for in-depth industry analysis.