Providing Relief

With the Gulf Coast reeling from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Americans have responded exactly as they have after other similar events — by opening their hearts and wallets. The solid waste industry is no different, donating unprecedented amounts of money, while offering aid to employees affected by the storms.

Hurricane Katrina has precipitated the costliest reconstruction effort in American history. Already, the cost to aid victims, clear debris, and rebuild affected areas — particularly New Orleans — is expected to top $200 billion. After being criticized for what some consider a sluggish initial response to the disaster, President Bush has since pledged massive government support.

Private donations have been monumental. In the three weeks immediately following Katrina, according to the Associated Press, Americans donated more than $1 billion to disaster-relief charities. Most donations have gone to the American Red Cross, with substantial amounts also being funneled to the Salvation Army and the Katrina Relief Fund helmed by former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Most donations from the solid waste industry have been earmarked for those major funds.

In one example of the industry's generosity, the Washington-based Waste Equipment Technology Association states its member companies have donated more than $3.5 million to hurricane relief. Meanwhile, many companies are matching employee donations. For instance, Folsom, Calif.-based Waste Connections has established a special Red Cross fund with an initial $100,000 contribution, and the firm has pledged to match the first $100,000 in employee donations.

Companies also have helped their own workers. Waste Management (WM), Houston, created an employee support fund after the hurricane. When WM employees asked that such a fund be established to assist their Gulf Coast colleagues, company executives not only agreed, they pledged to match every employee contribution made to the fund. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allied Waste Industries also created an employee aid fund, which was established with a $1 million initial investment from the company and a personal $100,000 contribution from CEO John Zillmer.

The industry's leading associations have opened their coffers as well. Meanwhile, the Washington-based Environmental Industry Associations, the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America and the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, among others, have donated thousands of dollars to the Red Cross and other major relief organizations. “It is a small gesture in the scope of the disaster,” says ISRI Chair Joel Denbo, “but it is a first step.”