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Insights from Waste Business Journal’s New, Updated Industry Report

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In May, Waste Business Journal released its 2021 Directory of Waste Processing & Disposal Sites. In this month’s edition of the Business Report, we present some of the highlights and insights we gleaned.

What Happened in 2020? And, Early Glimpses of 2021 Trends

Waste Business Journal (WBJ) detailed 2020 monthly landfill daily tonnages and tipping fees for municipal solid waste (MSW) and 2021 figures through March. Unsurprisingly, daily tonnages fell from February levels of 937.1 (in 000’s) to 801.2 in April, before beginning a fairly steady recovery back up through October levels of 947.3 and ending the year modestly higher in December at 950.2. This tracked the publicly-traded solid waste companies’ reported volume recovery throughout 2020 from April lows. The plateaued level of daily tonnages from October through December likely reflects some typical seasonality, as well as the late year resurgence in COVID infections and the ensuing tightening restrictions in some geographic areas, though we would note that reported volume declines for the publicly-traded companies continued to improve sequentially in the fourth quarter of 2020. Despite the sharp decline in volumes early in the year, landfill tipping fees exhibited a fairly steady increase during 2020 with just small dips in February and May. Ultimately, US average tipping fees started the year at $53.12 per ton in January and ended the year in December at $54.94 per ton, an increase of 3.4%. This rather remarkable result underscores the pricing discipline in the industry that was also evident in the publicly-traded companies’ reported price figures.

WBJ also recently detailed landfill daily tonnages and tipping fees through the first quarter of 2021. Tipping fees rose more than 3.5% in just the first quarter, rising to $57.09 per ton in March, which also represents a 6.5+% increase for the year. Landfill daily tonnages in the first quarter of 2021 held relatively steady, despite what would normally be a down seasonal period, again likely reflecting the beginning of the reopening. February tonnages fell to 946.9 from the December levels of 950.2, likely reflecting harsh weather impacts, and then recovered in March to 951.4, above the December levels. This recovery represents a 9.3% increase in landfill volumes from a year ago.

Updated Landfill Market Shares

A key highlight gleaned from the WBJ Directory was updated landfill market shares for both 2020 and 2021. Publicly-traded companies and very large privates (specifically Santek and Rumpke) controlled 64% of landfill volumes in 2020 and 2021. The biggest difference in 2021 versus 2020 was the disposition of Advanced Disposal’s (ADS) landfill market share, which was put at 5% in 2020, of which 2% went to Waste Management (WM) upon the completion of the ADS acquisition, putting its market share at 29%, while GFL Environmental’s (GFL) market share increased from 2% in 2020 to 4% in 2021, as it purchased the divestitures required to complete the deal. Republic Services (RSG) and Santek’s market share was put at 19% and 1%, respectively, in both 2020 and 2021, so we would estimate RSG’s market share should now rise to roughly 20% as it has closed the Santek acquisition. Casella Waste’s (CWST) market share remained unchanged at 1% in both years, while Waste Connections’ (WCN) market share rose to 9% in 2021 from 7% in 2020. Interestingly, “other privates” market share rose two points, from 7% to 9%, from 2020 to 2021, while municipalities’ share fell from 29% to 27%, likely reflecting continued privatization.

Although in recent years landfill market share shifts have been more modest, it should be noted that they have shifted fairly dramatically when looking over a longer time period, reflecting the periods of consolidation in the industry. According to Citigroup research from 2007 (your editor’s), using the same WBJ databases from earlier years, in 2000, publicly-traded companies controlled 58% of landfill volumes, private companies 12% and municipalities 30%. However, much more dramatically, in 1996, just before the wave of consolidation that took place in the industry in the mid-to-late 1990s, the publicly-traded companies controlled only 37%, private companies 19% and municipalities 44%!

Landfill MSW Volumes by Region and Year

WBJ also presented yearly landfill MSW volumes by region from 2010 to 2020. Overall, US tonnages rose from 245.8 million tons in 2010 to 286 million tons in 2020, a 10-year compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of just over 1.5%. There were certainly more significant regional differences within that overall figure, however. The Midwest had a landfill tonnage CAGR of 1.6%, while the Northeast tonnage was almost flat at 24.7 million tons in 2020 versus 24.1 million tons in 2010. This is not surprising as shrinking landfill capacity in the Northeast has resulted in increased waste volumes leaving the Northeast and going to Midwest sites. James Thompson, the author/editor of Waste Business Journal, noted that Connecticut has no landfills left open, and Massachusetts is expected to close its last landfill in the near future. Although the ten-year period showed mostly continuous growth in tonnage after 2012, the overall growth rate was impacted by reduced tonnage in 2020, which fell from 292.9 million tons in 2019 to 286 million tons in 2020—basically returning to around 2018 levels.

Landfill Tipping Fees by Region and Year

Landfill tipping fees showed a steady rise in all regions over the course of the ten-year time period from 2010 to 2020. Overall, tipping fees rose from $43.35 per ton in 2010 to $53.90 per ton in 2020, or a ten-year CAGR of 2.2%, though as noted previously, the growth rate has recently accelerated.  Unsurprisingly, given the capacity constraints already mentioned, the Northeast had the highest tipping fees on an absolute basis from start to finish, starting at $66 per ton in 2010 and rising to almost $77 per ton in 2020. Also on an absolute basis, the Western region had the lowest tipping fees at $41 per ton in 2020.  And, again remarkably, the average US tipping fee rose almost 3% in 2020 to $53.90 per ton from $52.37 in 2019, despite COVID and the decline in 2020 tonnages.

C&D Facts and Figures

WBJ’s Directory also contains construction and demolition (C&D) pricing and disposal figures. C&D disposal tonnage has risen from 58.8 million tons in 2010 to 65.1 million tons in 2020, a ten-year CAGR of 1+%, though it should be noted that C&D tons picked up at a faster rate beginning in 2015 through 2019. Again unsurprisingly, C&D tonnage had a fairly steep drop in 2020, from 69.2 million tons in 2019 to 65.1 million tons in 2020, a single year drop of about 6%.  The ten-year C&D tipping fee pattern tells a similar tale to the MSW pattern. The average tipping fee in 2010 was $35.3 per ton, rising to $42.5 per ton in 2020, or average annual growth of just under 2%.  But again, despite the significant drop in volumes, the average C&D tipping fee rose in 2020, from $40.2 per ton in 2019 to $42.5 per ton in 2020!

More Granular Data Can Be Found in the Directory

More granular detail can be found in the Directory. Of particular note, the directory contains detailed individual facility profiles of more than 9600 processing and disposal facilities across the US, including 1766 landfills, 1140 construction and demolition facilities, 82 waste-to-energy plants, 4581 transfer stations, 1337 material recovery facilities and 700 composting sites. The details also show the increasing scale of waste operations in the US. James Thompson noted that the average capacity size of a materials recovery facility (MRF) today is close to 190 tons per day, almost double the average of 109 tons per day in 2000.

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