Defining Moment, A

For newcomers, one of the solid waste industry's most confounding elements is its blinding lack of definition. Certainly, more information is available today than when I started in 1984, but until now, the picture has been mostly fuzzy.

Thanks to the expansive work sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF), our view today is greatly enhanced. The Foundation's report, “Size of the United States Solid Waste Industry,” paints the best current portrait available, and we are pleased to present some of the key findings in this month's cover story [p. 60].

The study addressed several aspects of solid waste, from the industry's size and financial scope to its handling and handlers. For example, ours is a $43.3 billion industry employing 367,800 people in 27,000 organizations using 206,000 pieces of equipment to handle 544 million tons of solid waste. While the revenue shrinks to $39.8 billion when scrap metal yards and recycling operations are removed, the overall economic impact of our industry on the nation's economy, including its direct, indirect and induced effects, grows to 948,000 jobs and $96 billion in revenue.

The report's focus on the people and organizations handling the waste was especially illuminating. For example, the public sector employs 96,600 people in 15,100 organizations, managing 29 percent of the waste, compared with privately held companies with 151,700 employees in 11,900 organizations, managing 42 percent of the waste. Publicly traded companies round out the stats with 119,500 employees in 28 organizations, managing 32 percent of the waste.

More telling are the revenues attributed to each of the three sectors. Publicly traded companies generate $20.6 billion annually, compared with $12.4 billion generated by privately held firms and $10.3 billion attributed to municipalities.

These statistics only scratch the surface of the study, which is the most comprehensive I've ever seen. My congratulations to the Foundation for producing this milestone of information and for letting us share the report with our readers.

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age Publications.