Hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters can have a major impact on the waste and recycling industry. And while companies can prepare in advance for some natural disasters, others arise unexpectedly and require quick and smart thinking on a moment’s notice.
In 2017, areas including Puerto Rico, Houston and Florida were hit hard by hurricanes, which damaged homes and businesses, left residents without access to everyday necessities and caused a buildup of waste and debris. These storms caused major waste and recycling companies like Waste Pro, Waste Management and Stericycle Environmental Solutions to temporarily halt collection services and operations and conduct post-storm cleanup efforts that lasted months.
To stay ahead of the curve this hurricane season, companies across the nation are taking the necessary actions to be prepared for anything Mother Nature throws their way. Waste360 recently spoke to industry experts from Waste Pro, Waste Management and Stericycle Environmental Solutions about some of the steps they are taking to prepare for hurricane season.
1. Be prepared
The time to prepare for hurricane season is well before hurricane season, especially since more and more natural disasters have been occurring off cycle.
“Now more than ever, hurricanes are something that we have to be prepared for on a regular basis opposed to just one season,” says John Morris, senior vice president of field operations for Waste Management. “Natural disasters can be unpredictable, and, because of this, it’s better to be prepared for everything all the time, from wildfires to flooding to hurricanes.”
From tracking weather events to making sure generators are working properly, companies take a number of actions and put a variety of plans and procedures into place to prepare for hurricanes.
“As a division, we ensure our compressed natural gas (CNG) generator is in excellent working order to keep our CNG fueling station up and running just in case we lose power after a hurricane. We have a contract in place with an offsite diesel contractor who is close to our site for fill ups for diesel trucks,” says Darlene McLaughlin, Waste Pro division manager in Fort Pierce, Fla. “We also meet with our municipal contracts’ emergency management groups to review hurricane procedures and to determine what role the company will be assuming during a weather event.”
Knowing what role waste and recycling companies play during a weather event can help eliminate confusion and keep response methods both effective and efficient.
2. Put safety first
When a natural disaster is on its way, the first thing haulers and municipal solid waste (MSW) departments often do is put safety first. From checking in with employees to alerting local communities of safety tips and service changes, precautions are taken to prepare not only waste and recycling industry workers but the members of communities that may be affected by natural disaster-related dangers and service disruptions.
3. Utilize a variety of communication methods
When a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes, many forms of communication may not be available, so it’s important to develop a variety of communication methods for both employees and customers.
“First and foremost, we make sure all employees’ contact information is correct and that a list is provided to all supervisors and managers for post-storm rollcalls,” says McLaughlin.
Having an updated contact list is important because companies want to ensure that employees are informed of any service changes, operations shutdowns, safety steps and procedures and more. The list can also help companies maintain a simple and efficient way to get a hold of employees when it’s time to conduct post-storm cleanup efforts.
“We have everything from recorded phone messages to social media posts to emails,” says Morris. “You don’t know what type of access people will have, so we try to utilize all the methods we can. As soon as a weather event looks like it’s going to touch down in one of our areas, it’s important for us to set the right expectation with our customers. We don’t want to overpromise, and we want to be clear about where they fall in the scale of priority. Hospitals, medical facilities and food distribution centers are top priority so people can have access to necessities like medicine, food and water, but we are always thinking ahead to debris cleanup and collection services and completing those services when we are able.”
4. Properly secure and store hazardous waste
Failing to properly secure and store hazardous waste can be dangerous and come at a high cost. Materials can mix together and cause contamination, chemical impact can put companies out of operations for long periods of time, unchecked or improperly stored materials can mix together and cause combustion, and customers can think companies aren’t responsible or don’t care about them or the environment, according to Maricha Ellis, vice president of marketing and sales operations at Stericycle Environmental Solutions.
“When a disaster hits, challenges can become amplified, so we work to help customers be prepared by providing our expertise on hazardous waste segregation, storage, labeling, sealing, etc.,” says Ellis.
Hazardous waste should be prioritized over other types of waste like yard waste, debris, recycling or regular trash because it can be unsafe if large volumes pile up or become combined with other types of waste.
“Getting hazardous waste out of facilities and off the streets is even more important during a natural disaster,” comments Ellis. “During an event, waste volumes are already high and having a high volume of hazardous waste can lead to many dangerous situations for customers and employees if it’s not managed properly.”
Following an event, companies should make note of what is gathered, properly segregate and label the material and remove the material in an organized and prioritized manner. Having a plan in place for these efforts can help minimize expenses and reduce risks.
5. Properly secure and store equipment
Before a natural disaster like a hurricane strikes, it’s important for companies to properly secure and store their equipment. From containers, carts and trucks to workplace items like computers and furniture, all items should be either placed at a higher elevation or stored in a safe place where high winds and water can’t damage them.
“In preparation for the storms last year in Miami, we secured our equipment at a higher elevation, which happened to be our landfill,” says Morris. “We placed the equipment close together to protect it from high winds and other elements. It worked out pretty well for us.”
Ensuring that equipment is properly secured and stored can also save on costs in the long run when those items need to be used for services and post-storm cleanup.
“When services get back up and running, it’s important for us to have the proper equipment on hand,” states Morris. “We have a Green Team made up of highly trained and experienced team members located around the country who can come on a short notice to help out with cleanups or work with vendors to bring in heavy equipment as needed.”