WW: What percentage of Laid-law's business does solid and hazardous waste management represent?
JB: The two together are approximately 60 percent of our business. To break it down further, solid waste makes up about 60 percent of our waste management side and hazardous waste is 40 percent.
WW: Define the scope of your solid and hazardous waste services.
JB: On the solid waste side, Laid-law operates nationally here in Canada with a presence from Quebec to British Columbia. We are in the United States in what I would characterize as a market basis, with our principal strength being in New England and continuing into Chicago, down through the central United States including the St. Louis area, down to Texas and over to California.
In volume, we are the third largest solid waste company in North America, after Waste Management and Browning-Ferris Industries.
We are a fully integrated operation with landfills, hauling, MRFs and so forth.
On the hazardous wastes side, we operate as a national company in both Canada and the United States. In terms of revenue, we are the second largest company [in hazardous wastes], after Chemical Waste.
Our business areas in hazardous wastes are a combination of transfer stations, where we assemble wastes from the small-scale producer - we have about 34 of those - and treatment facilities, primarily liquid incineration and landfills. We operate four hazardous waste landfill sites, three in the United States and one in Canada.
On the solid waste side, we have approximately 19 landfill sites.
WW: What are the key issues facing solid waste managers today?
JB: Learning to accept that the margins we see in the marketplace are going to be with us for a while. We have to do a better job of providing the service to our customers at present pricing levels and making profits at those pricing levels. In other words, we have to become more efficient and more cost-effective.
You hear people in the business saying that business conditions are getting better and that means that they can pass off price increases and restore margins back to what they were in the mid- to late-'80s. I just don't see that happening. I think that there will be some pick-up in pricing and we are already seeing that of a modest nature just with increased economic activity. But we will have to drive growth and profits by doing a better job of managing our businesses and being more cost-efficient.
WW: Does Laid-law have plans to develop its business internationally beyond North America?
JB: We, like most others in the business, are engaged at looking at the opportunities presented by Mexico. At the moment, other than Mexico, our interest internationally is very modest. We have a couple of small investments in Europe, which we will maintain but we do not plan to make any further European investments in the foreseeable future.
[Laid-law's present European investments include] a landfill in Italy, near Milan, and we have an environmental engineering company operating in Milan and Naples.
WW: In the next five years, how do you see the solid waste industry changing?
JB: Fewer, larger companies. Some will say that the period of consolidation in solid waste is over. I don't believe that. I think that you will see fewer and larger players as we go forward into the year 2000.
There will be some privatization activity and that will be a growth opportunity for the business.