Green But Not Giant

Small and mid-size waste services companies are re-inventing the trash business model and embracing sustainability.

April 26, 2012

8 Min Read
Green But Not Giant

Michael Fickes, Contributing Writer

You would expect the largest waste companies to embrace sustainability. And they do (see “Rethinking Recycling,” for the latest example of how Waste Management is burnishing its green bona fides). It’s a way to shine up a reputation and attract and keep customers.

But you might not expect the same effort from medium-sized and smaller waste companies that must focus constantly on controlling rising costs and battling tough competitors.

In fact, medium-sized and smaller waste companies are indeed implementing comprehensive green operations.

“We’re not just picking up trash anymore,” says Ben Harvey, executive vice president of Westborough, Mass.-based E. L. Harvey & Sons Inc. “Our customers want to know what can we do to help them divert materials from landfills so they will look good to their customers.”

As customers demand more recycling, composting and other green services, the waste industry is becoming less and less a straightforward trash-collecting industry and more and more a service industry that helps people make their homes and businesses sustainable. Waste companies that want that kind of business are going to have to show their own sustainable credentials.

“We have to walk the walk,” says Ben Harvey.

So what are waste companies doing to green up their operations? They are recycling internally, designing green facilities, moving toward compressed natural gas (CNG) fleets and creating powerful public outreach programs to teach others more sustainable practices. Those that have landfills collect landfill gas and sell it or use it to generate electricity. Here’s how a few companies are facing the green challenge.

Recology: The True Believers

Recology, formerly Norcal Waste Systems, has a long and well-documented green history. In recent years, the company has helped San Francisco recycle and compost its way to a landfill diversion rate of 78 percent — the highest in North America. Tools used to boost the diversion rate feature 20 separate recycling programs, including projects for e-waste, hazardous household waste, and construction and demolition (C&D) debris. The company also collects organic wastes and produces compost that, among other uses, is bought by Napa Valley wineries.

The company offers many creative community outreach and education programs, such as a popular “Artist-in-Residence” program at the San Francisco Dump that encourages creative reuse of discarded materials.

Recology’s own facilities contribute to that 78-percent diversion rate. “We have extensive recycling and compost collection programs at our offices,” says Robert Reed, a company spokesman. “We recycle all bottles, cans, paper, cardboard and hard plastics. We compost all food scraps and plants. We recycle batteries. We print very little and keep digital files.”

Meanwhile, Recology’s fleet also is going green. The San Francisco fleet includes 14 CNG-fueled pickup trucks and two transfer rigs and five garbage trucks that run on liquid natural gas (LNG). Reed says the company will add 26 CNG-fueled garbage trucks by year’s end.   

“Solar energy provides power at many of our facilities,” Reed says. “A large solar field at Recycle Central, our San Francisco recycling plant, generates up to 30 percent of the facility’s energy needs.”
The company’s three landfills collect landfill gas and sell it or use it to generate electricity. One installation generates electricity for 1,400 homes.

Rumpke: Just As Green

Based in Colerain Township, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc. offers a host of sustainable services, including residential, commercial and industrial recycling, material recovery facilities (MRFs), composting, record keeping for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of customer construction projects and waste disposal. Public outreach and education programs include a speaker’s bureau that makes presentations about recycling, composting and other green activities to schools, colleges and civic groups. About 10,000 people tour Rumpke’s facilities annually.

And Rumpke practices what it preaches. “Throughout our own work campuses, we provide single-stream recycling receptacles,” says Amanda Pratt, Rumpke’s director of corporate communications. “Employees can use their own home curbside recycling service, and they may also bring in their recycling and drop it off at our on-campus drop boxes.”

The company recycles engine oil and tires for customers and for its own internal maintenance shops. According to Pratt, Rumpke recycles about 2.5 million tires annually by processing them into chips and using the chips as protective landfill liners.

New Rumpke facilities feature green design elements. “In our new vehicle maintenance center, skylights provide natural light and sensors ensure electric conservation in the offices,” says Pratt.

The company bought 10 rear-loading CNG collection trucks last year and plans to add another 10 this year, along with one CNG front-loading commercial collection truck.

To fuel the equipment, the company has built a slow-fill, CNG fueling station with 16 fueling stands.

Rumpke operates nine landfills including the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill, the sixth largest landfill in the United States. At the site the company hosts three landfill-gas-to-energy plants, which capture and convert landfill emissions into CNG.

“Together, these plants form the world’s largest waste to direct pipeline energy system,” says Pratt. “The natural gas provided by the system could power 25,000 homes.”

Natural gas from this landfill also fuels the company’s CNG fleet.

Pittsburgh-based GSF Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Montauk Energy Capital LLC, owns Rumpke’s gas plants and wells and markets the gas.

At the company’s landfill in Butler, Ky., Rumpke and the Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative operate a waste-to-electricity facility as partners. The facility provides power for about 2,000 homes.

Waste Pro, Green Pro

Longwood, Fla.-based Waste Pro USA Inc. is sprinting into the sustainable era. Operating in the Southeast, the company collects trash and recycling and operates two MRFs.

Waste Pro owns and operates a C&D landfill but does not have a sanitary landfill. So the company disposes of trash in landfills owned by others. To hold down disposal costs, the company focuses on recycling.
“We’re interested in the idea that after you process recycling materials, [they] can be made into products for sale,” says Ron Pecora, the company’s senior vice president of marketing. “We’re also looking into composting and bio-digesters.”

The company holds a majority interest in Miami-based Green Key Environmental Solutions, which makes bio-digesters for sale or lease.

Designed for food service operations of all sizes, bio-digesters process organic waste using microbes and enzymes. The end product is environmentally safe gray water that flows down the drain. It can also be used as a soil amendment. Digesters dramatically reduce food waste disposal costs.

Waste Pro’s internal green programs begin with recycling.

The company has also embarked on a $100-million initiative to convert its 1,500 heavy trucks to CNG over the next decade. Thirty trucks will arrive this year. In addition, the company is building a CNG fueling facility.

The company’s marketing staff drives Smart Cars with three-cylinder Mercedes-built engines that get 41 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 48 mpg on the highway.

At its Bradenton, Fla., office, Waste Pro is converting a 5,000-square-foot area of the roof into a solar power plant that will supply 120 kW hours of electricity per day, enough to cover most of the building’s needs.

“Our Concord, N.C., office has a ‘solar tree’ that provides a percentage of the power used there,” says Pecora.

E. L. Harvey & Sons: Campaigning for Green

Westborough, Mass.-based E. L. Harvey & Sons Inc. hauls waste, recyclables and organics, processes recyclables and runs comprehensive community outreach campaigns promoting sustainable practices.
Of all the materials collected and brought into their facilities, only 6 percent goes to a landfill. About 40 percent goes to a waste-to-energy plant where it helps reduce the use of fossil fuels to make electricity. About 54 percent is recycled.

The company passes its recycling knowledge on to its commercial and municipal customers through outreach programs.

“We organize about 50 Earth Day Awareness programs for our commercial customers and their employees,” says Ellen Harvey, the company’s vice president of corporate and community training and education. “We set up booths at their facilities and run mini-green education programs about how to be more green at home and at work. While Earth Day is the busiest time of year for these programs, we do them year round.”

Harvey also volunteers to help customers with their LEED building construction projects. For instance, she recently advised EMC Corp. in its effort to earn LEED certification for its existing world headquarters in Hopkinton, Mass. “We want to help our customers gain LEED certifications,” she says. “We helped EMC get all the available points for waste and recycling. The building earned a Gold LEED Certification.”

The company’s internal program includes de-manufacturing electronics equipment – breaking the equipment down into original components, which are then recycled. The company also offers this service to municipal and commercial customers.

The company runs a comprehensive internal recycling program. “We put recycling containers at everyone’s desk and in the halls,” says Ben Harvey, the company’s executive vice president.

Harvey adds that the company is considering alternative fuel vehicles and solar power for its facilities. “CNG will play a huge role in our future,” he says. “It offers us a green environmental advantage as well as a green competitive advantage. Municipalities will like haulers that will drive through their communities on clean CNG.”

Over the next couple years, the company plans to build a new MRF and has designed the structure so that solar panels can be installed easily on the roof.

“We can’t just haul waste anymore,” says Harvey. “Our customers want strategic partners who can manage materials.”

Customers want to deal with waste companies that can manage waste and other materials in ways that satisfy today’s regulatory requirements and community responsibilities. Green apostles are leading the way.

Mike Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.

Stay in the Know - Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Join a network of more than 90,000 waste and recycling industry professionals. Get the latest news and insights straight to your inbox. Free.

You May Also Like