In a traditional linear economy, products are made, used and discarded. However, as the earth’s population grows, companies like Houston-based Waste Management Inc. are reaching toward a circular economy.
Defined as a regenerative model that aims to keep components, materials and products at their highest value at all times, creating no waste for the landfill, the circular economy refers to a growing practice that encourages economic growth using waste for tomorrow’s resources.
Waste Management recently released its 2015 Sustainability Report, detailing several things it’s doing to embrace a circular economy.
Reducing waste: Waste Management works with public and private sector customers to reduce the waste they generate. Its innovative services lines, which include its sustainability consulting business, represent approximately three percent of its revenue. WM has seen a 50 percent increase in revenues attributable to those businesses.
Growing its recycling: Waste Management managed 15.1 million tons of recyclables in 2014, up from 8 million tons in 2007. The company has set a goal to increase the recyclables it manages to 20 million tons in 2020.
“Recycling — a cornerstone of the “circular economy” — is an important part of our revenue and a critical part of the environmental benefits we provide to our customers,” said WM President and CEO David Steiner in the report.
Extracting value from organics: Waste Management is working on creative ways to mitigate the challenges in transporting food waste and other organics, and the economics of expensive organics processing. The company currently has 35 organics processing plants.
Recovering energy from waste: The company is focusing on the natural strengths and efficiencies it can bring to convert waste that isn’t recycled into energy. Waste Management continues to supply feedstock to waste-to-energy facilities and to convert methane from landfills into energy and fuel. Waste Management operates 134 landfill gas-to-energy facilities. In 2014, the company produced enough waste-based energy to cover 1.08 million households. The company has set a 2020 goal of 2 million households fueled by energy from waste.
Reducing Residuals: Waste Management continues to convert residuals from recycling into fuel products.
“We have maintained recycling at 17 percent of revenue while managing 15 million tons of material. It’s important to note that, although national recycling rates are slightly down, we were able to counterbalance this trend by offering our services to the utility industry, converting coal ash into a feedstock for cement and other encapsulated uses,” said Steiner.
The beneficial use of residual material from coal combustion had been classified as “recycling” by U.S. EPA in December 2014. The company adopted its definition in its classifications, Steiner said.