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Episode 107: Bill Caesar’s Second Life: Finding Value in Waste (Transcript)

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[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

[music]

[00:00:27] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Bill Caesar, a waste industry veteran and now operating partner for the Waste-to-Value division at Generate. Hi, Bill. Welcome and thanks for being on the show.

[00:00:42] Bill Caesar: Good morning, Liz. Very glad to be here.

[00:00:46] Liz: Bill, we normally start at the beginning with the show. I know a lot of us know you've had a storied career in waste and recycling, but please share a rundown of your background and how you ended up at Generate.

[00:00:58] Bill: Sure, I'll be happy to do that. I guess I'll start with before Generate, and then we can talk a little more about Generate once we get into things. From basically October of 2014 through October of 2020, I was a CEO of a company called WCA Waste. Which was a traditional solid waste collection, disposal, and recycling company headquartered in Houston, Texas. We were owned by a private equity firm. In this case, it was Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets.

We took that business from about 250 million in revenue when I got there in 2014 to a little over $400 million in revenue when we sold the business in 2020. The business was sold to GFL Environmental. I'm sure most of the listeners are familiar with. That was six years of a lot of work, a lot of successes business building. A lot of things I'm pretty proud of. Before I got to WCA, I spent four years at Waste Management. I started out as the chief strategy officer, eventually transitioned to run the waste management recycling business. I started doing that in 2012.

Then, along the way, also had responsibility for a waste management portfolio of investments in early-stage, technologies, and services. For the 13 years before Waste Management, I was a partner at a consulting firm called McKinsey & Company. Spent some time in business school and for the six years that I spent after college and before business school, I worked at the CIA as a Russian political and economic analyst.

[00:02:59] Liz: I was going to see if you were trying to skip that CIA part, Bill. 

[laughter] 

[00:03:05] Bill: No, it's something I'm absolutely very proud of. I could not imagine a better way to spend the first few years out of college than doing something that affords you an opportunity to engage in a business, if you will. In a career that takes you out of the country, exposes you to the rest of the world, gives you a sense of what you can do to help your country. Like I said, I spent a good bit of time working in the former Soviet Union.

I spent a good bit of time studying the former Soviet Union. To this day, it's something that I still try to keep up on, but we'll never be as deep into it as I was during that time.

[00:03:56] Liz: It must've been amazing, though. Like you said, what a great way to get out of college, see the world, and really support your country. Thank you for that.

[00:04:04] Bill: Thank you.

[00:04:05] Liz: Now you're at Generate and in the recent Wall Street Journal article, it described Generate as a firm that's on a quest to solve what it sees as the biggest challenge of sustainable infrastructure investing. Which is aligning the interests of infrastructure project stakeholders. Can you share more about Generate, what that means, and get into the work that you do there?

[00:04:30] Bill: Yes, I will do my best to be a good spokesperson for the company. I'm sure a few people have heard of Generate Capital, but I'll try and give at least an overview of what the company is and how we think about doing things. Generate was only started, I think, in 2014 so the company doesn't have a very long history. It was set up to meet the needs of both, I'll call it, customers, entrepreneurs, and technologists who are on either side of either developing technologies that have a real sustainability element to them, as well as entities that want to use those technologies.

What I think the founders identified was that there's a bit of a gap between when a technology is identified and it's something that folks are willing to fund as a venture investment, and between that and when customers are willing to buy it or invest in the actual nuts and bolts of projects. What Generate was set up to do was to meet that need of we're going to provide that funding that allows customers to go about their business without having to invest in the assets.

One of the descriptions that we like to call it is infrastructure as a service. If you're a customer, you're a municipality, or you are a large corporate and you have a need for a piece of sustainable infrastructure, all it on anaerobic digester, or energy storage, or electric buses. All of which are things that Generate has been engaged in. What we do is we step in and we provide the capital to acquire those assets. We will then operate those assets and in return, the customer will pay us a fee over a period of time.

For them, it turns into an operating expense as opposed to a capital expense and they don't have to big outland the beginning. For us, because of the nature of the capital that we deploy, that's exactly what we want to do. We want to deploy that capital. We like having a long tail of returns that allow us to finance these projects. From our perspective, it's a real win-win because the customer is getting an asset that they didn't have to shell out a bunch of capital for but they're getting the benefit of whatever that asset is doing, battery storage or renewable natural gas, you name it.

From our perspective, our investors, the folks that have put money into Generate Capital, are getting a return that meets their needs. As you think about that system, we're filling a gap between where I would say traditional bank lending or private equity investing and venture capitalist play. It's an attractive niche and allows us to meet the needs of a large portion of the customer base, and do so in a way that is both financially attractive and sustainable.

[00:08:34] Liz: That's what sounds great about it. It seems like everything that you guys are playing in it's around mitigating climate change, is that right?

[00:08:44] Bill: Absolutely. That is the primary driver. We see our business as one that is designed to address challenges associated with sustainability and tackle that in a way that leverages what will we like to call distributed infrastructure. We're not about doing things at, I call it, a utility-scale. We're not going to build or invest in a big power plant that serves a state or several states.

What we're focused on, and where we think there's a great deal of value, is what we call distributed infrastructure. Where a smaller scale, whether at a company or on our city size, where the size of the investment and the size of the return match up. We don't try to get into gigantic things. We try to get into things where you can make a difference at a scale that is appropriate, both for the technology as well as for the customer.

[00:10:00] Liz: Absolutely. Can you give an example of one of these deals that you did or partnerships that you had, where you brought in the assets, then you brought in the company, and then either municipalities or brands worked with that company in order to really roll this out in a successful way?

[00:10:24] Bill: Yes. I'll use an example that I'm fairly familiar with. The deal actually occurred before I got here, but I know quite a bit about it because it's in a space that I've been focused on. That is the acquisition that we made of an anaerobic digester in Ontario, Canada, actually. Just outside of Toronto. I'll provide a little bit of background. Ontario had us moved fairly quickly, at least compared to a number of cities in the United States, to food waste collection as part of their normal waste services.

The term of art is called Source Separated Organics, which basically means that residential and commercial customers are asked to separate food waste from other solid waste materials. That food waste is collected separately from the traditional MSW and is then taken either to a transfer station or directly to an anaerobic digester. The technology of anaerobic digestion has been around for a long time, but basically what happens is food waste contains quite a bit of energy. In an anaerobic digester, which basically means it is simply a vessel that doesn't have oxygen in it, there are microbes that consume that food waste.

As they consume that food waste, they release methane gas. That methane gas is then collected and in some cases, it is cleaned up, so some contaminants are removed that allow it to reach pipeline quality. In some cases that gas, without too much cleanup, would go directly to turn a turbine and generate electrical power. In the case of our facility in Ontario, we take that gas to pipeline quality and inject it into the pipeline. Because of some interesting regulatory structures, that gas is essentially sold.

Not the exact molecule, but the gas itself is sold in the California market in order to address a low carbon fuel standard requirement that companies have there. If you're a company in California and you use natural gas for industrial purposes, or for transportation purposes, you have to acquire so much renewable natural gas in order to do that or you run into trouble with the State of California.

We are essentially providing that renewable natural gas to companies in the state of California to consume in order to meet their regulatory requirements. A facility in Ontario, both produces renewable natural gas. It also has the potential to generate electricity. We collect waste from several communities in the greater Ontario area. In fact, we recently just won a portion of a contract for the City of Toronto to handle their SSO.

As you think about it, the city of Toronto, or any of the other municipalities that surround Toronto, none of them had to invest in this processing facility, this anaerobic digester. We did it. We invested in it, we upgraded it, we put all the capital into it in order to make it work, and the city and the cities around the facility that provide us with the feedstock are paying essentially a tip fee, like you would, essentially, with a landfill. We have a combination of different tenured contracts with these customers.

They get the benefit of reducing their carbon footprint, of reducing the amount of waste that they put into landfills without having to invest in the asset itself. We invest in that asset, we have these contracts, which make the deals attractive for us long-term. You can finance something that you've got a long tail of billings that follow it and we're able to make a good return on that investment, while at the same time, essentially, doing something good for the environment.

We'd leverage that technology and that skillset. We actually expanded that side after the initial anaerobic digester, which had been there but we acquired it and refurbished it. We then built another facility in a town, called Jumbo which is nearby. That's actually nearer to Toronto than where the animal digester is. We operate that essentially as a preprocessing transfer station so the food waste that's collected in the area is taken there. We process it and then we ship that to the anaerobic digester where is then injected into the system.

At the end of the day, the cities and the communities around Toronto benefit from having this technology that enables them to reduce the amount of waste they put into landfills, enables them to realize a reduction in carbon emissions. We've invested in some very hard assets, put a lot of money into those, and we benefit from the tip fees as well as the sale of the products and whatever regulatory supports are available for those types of products.

[00:16:59] Liz: That's great. It really sounds like you've taken a major hurdle out of bringing this to market.

[00:17:06] Bill: Yes. There are anaerobic digesters in some places in the country and they frequently appear at wastewater treatment plants where they're used to primarily manage biosolids. Although, in some cases, some of those facilities are also accepting food waste. But there is a much greater need than the assets that currently exist, and there are more anaerobic digesters being planned and being built. There's actually a great deal of interest right now in using the same technology.

The same anaerobic digestion technology that is used for food waste can also be used for animal waste, essentially for dairy manure. That material actually has a lot of energy left in it after it passes through the cow. You can collect that material, you can process that material. The same microbes or similar microbes will consume, that material will generate gas, and that gas can then be collected and sold just like food waste material.

There's a great deal of activity right now across large portions of the US, especially in the agricultural spaces because this is an opportunity to really capture both a financial, as well as a sustainability benefit from a gas that otherwise would have been released into the atmosphere. There's a lot going on. It may not be that sexy, but it actually is pretty darn effective at carbon reduction, and given structures as they exist today, can be a pretty attractive business.

[00:19:05] Liz: Absolutely. It's interesting you mentioned the animal waste because my husband's uncle in Ireland has been doing that for years, Bill.

[00:19:15] Bill: Is that right?

[00:19:16] Liz: Yes, and he sells the energy to the utility there so it's a very interesting story. I keep meaning to bring my kids there to visit to see it in action because it's supposed to be a pretty well-run machine there [laughs]. 

[00:19:31] Bill:  I have to tell you, I know a little bit about agriculture from some of the time I spent at McKinsey where I worked with a large agricultural chemical and bio-based feed manufacturer, but I'd never really seen the dairy side. I was at a farm in Indiana a couple of weeks ago where we have one of these anaerobic digestion facilities. I saw some things that really just blew my mind. There's a facility there that uses robots to milk the cows.

It was crazy because the cows who have to be milked, I think three or four times a day, are just in a facility where they have their own stall, they're able to wander around, and do whatever they want to do within this facility. When they feel themselves ready to be milked, they just wander over into line and there are no people in this facility at all. They wander over into line, they get in a stall, and the stall then automatically hens them in. Not tightly, just keeps them from moving too much.

This robotic arm comes in underneath them, cleans the utters, and then attaches the milking devices to the utters, milks the cow, when it's done the robot removes the milking devices, the pen opens and the cow wanders out. I was like, "Wow." I had no idea how advanced dairy farming had become.

[00:21:22] Liz: It definitely has. Things have just been moved into such an advanced stage and an automation stage that you would be shocked. That is so cool that you saw that.

[00:21:35] Bill: It was pretty amazing. I've become familiar with some of the robot technology that's currently being used in recycling but this was a different level.

[00:21:50] Liz: [laughs] It definitely is. [inaudible 00:21:52] you said that the cows it's like Pavlov. They've been trained and they know when they need to go and do it. They've been automated themselves [laughs]. 

[00:22:04] Bill: Yes. Someone was expressing concern that the cows were being put into situations where maybe they didn't have much freedom. I was like, "No, you don't understand." I was told the cows actually have friends. They get to hang out with their friends and whenever it's time, they just wander over and get in line. It was the most calm-- and everything is about trying to ensure that the cows are in a good mental state. Because when they're in a good mental state, they produce a lot of milk. Just a really interesting set up there.

[00:22:44] Liz: That is great. If we end up getting to Ireland once the travel bans are lifted, I will send you some video. You'll find it interesting how it's around over there [laughs]. 

[00:22:57] Bill: That would be terrific.

[00:22:58] Liz: [laughs] It seems the world is realizing that systems and economies need to be less linear and more circular. You've been doing this a long time in the waste industry and now with Generate. When did you start to see this becoming really tangible and something that we all need to work towards?

[00:23:23] Bill: Look, I'm not going to suggest that I was the first one because I wasn't. There was a lot of activity going on, and I'll go back to the mid-2000s early 2010. There was a lot of focus on reuse. If you think about the recycling mantra of reduce and reuse, there wasn't a whole lot of reduce [laughs]. We were more focused on what can we do with the waste material once it's been generated.

I think that first big transition was maybe even coming out of the 2008 economic crisis when a lot of manufacturing companies and retailers started to realize that there was savings available to them by reducing the amount of either packaging that they were using or raw materials that they were using, that would then turn into a waste product. I think that was when we first started to see some of the big retailers, some of the big manufacturers, start to change their practices.

That not only became hyper-focused on, "What can we do with this waste material that we've generated in order to recover value from it?" but, "Can we reduce the amount of waste material that we're generating?" I think a lot of companies got religion on that one and continue to strive for ways to reduce what they generate. Then you got into maybe a little bit of a hypervigilance on, "Okay, we've taken as much material out of our process as we can today".

"There's still incremental improvements available to us, but we want to get a lot smarter now on what do we do with the material that we are generating that's a waste material." Frankly, a lot of it is packaging-related. Sure, there are scraps from manufacturing processes that are not truly packaging. But when you think about materials that either go from primary or secondary packaging to a manufacturing enterprise, then they're packaged, then they show up at a retailer and they're packaged to go to a retailer, and they're packaged and put on a shelf and then they get to someone's house.

The first thing you do is remove and throw away the packaging. That's where I think there's been a lot of focus, in the circularity of what folks are trying to do. There are a lot of things that you can reuse and you see greater efforts to make things that are reusable. But there are still a lot of things that are, I'll call it, consumables and even those consumables can be reused. They just have to be processed in order to get them back to a point of reuse. That's where I'm talking about the fiber, the plastics, and the metals.

The things where, in their current state, you can't really reuse them. You can't peel the shrink wrap off a pallet of material and reuse the shrink wrap but you can take that shrink wrap, and you can return it to a state where you can make another roll of shrink wrap out of it, or you can make some other product out of it. Right now we're just starting to see some of those technologies begin to reach commercial scale. In particular, I'm talking about plastics conversion technologies or even MSW conversion technologies.

There are companies out there that have developed methodologies to take, essentially, the fiber and the plastic that's in MSW in one case and turn that into either transportation fuel or another type of fuel. Then you've got the plastics conversion guys that are either taking those recycled plastics either to a product that allows you to make plastic from it, naphtha, or a synthetic crude oil that can then go back into a cracker where plastic can be made again.

Or, in some cases, they're taking those plastic polymers and they're able to convert them back into the original monomer state. If you take polystyrene, the material that's used to make packaging. That polystyrene, that Styrofoam, which is one of the brand names for that product, you can take that and you can return that to a styrene oil.  That styrene oil then can be used to, basically, in a circular path, make polystyrene again, so you really have a true circular solution for that type of product.

We're starting to see the companies that have been engaged in that get to the point where they're going to be able to operate at a scale level. I think we'll be seeing that over the course of the next year or so. There are already a couple that are in the process of building facilities. One big one, Pure Cycle, a company that uses a technology that was originally developed by Procter & Gamble that's going to convert polypropylene back to pure propylene, they're building a big facility.

There are a number of other guys out there that are also looking at. They are invested in or are developing technologies that will allow them to convert other forms of plastic waste back into useful materials. I think, when you look at it, my evolution occurred as I became more familiar with the materials, I became more familiar with some of the technologies, I started to understand the collection processes. I'd say the biggest challenge that anyone who's trying to make something useful out of a product that has become a waste product is finding the feedstock and the quantities that you need in a form that you need. That's the biggest challenge.

We in the US, we like to put all of our trash into the same bin, and that makes it easy for collection purposes, it makes it easy for disposal purposes, but it makes it a little bit harder when you're trying to convert that material into something else, where ideally you'd want to segregate it. I think in some communities around the country we're starting to move in that direction. I was talking about Source Separated Organics in Toronto, I think we're going to start seeing that in some parts of the United States.

I don't know that we're going to go back to multiple bins for plastics, and metals, and fiber as they do in some countries in Europe, but ultimately when there's value associated with things, you can start to see behavior changes. I think that's where we're headed now, there's a lot more interest in doing these things that allow us to be more sustainable, that reduce the amount of raw materials that we use, that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels because it's not just the right thing to do, but because it's economically the right thing to do for us and for our communities.

[00:31:54] Liz: Definitely. To your point, there's a lot of technology that's helping with that. Also, I think there's just more awareness now, consumers are almost demanding more sustainable alternatives, which is making brands rethink and really look for solutions. It's interesting to watch and it's headed in the right direction anyway, the momentum is.

[00:32:18] Bill: I think that's one of the biggest changes that has occurred. Even, I would say in just the last two or three years, and that is that a combination of investors, and by that I mean large pension funds and other investors in public company equity, as well as consumers or products, are both leaning on companies to do more in support of the environment. It is a very different model than what existed, I'll say, five or six years ago, where you wouldn't get much pressure from investors on company management. Consumers, maybe, there were pockets of it, but as a limited voice, they weren't having much of an impact.

Now, when you've got this combination of investors and consumers that are walking the same walk and talking the same talk, companies are having to do things differently. I can remember back in 2013, this was when I was at Waste Management, we had conversations with a large consumer products company that was a significant consumer of recycled PET. We were having two different types of conversations with them. One conversation was with the folks in the sustainability department, who were all over trying to get as much rPET as possible into their products, were desperate to try it and lock up large volumes of material.

We'd walk into that meeting and come out there saying, "Great, this is super. We're going to have a home for the material that we're making." and then we'd walk down the hall to the procurement department and the guy there, maybe he hadn't gotten [unintelligible 00:34:39] yet because his response was more or less, "Yes, we'll take all the rPET you can produce, but we're not going to pay you a penny more than what we pay for virgin material, and that is how the price is going to be set." That was a little more discouraging because then we will be holding to crude oil or natural gas prices, which fluctuated and made it more difficult to invest in recycling a material like that when you weren't sure what the return was going to be.

Now, what you're seeing is the guys in the sustainability department maybe won an internal battle because the word on the street now is that a lot of consumer packaged goods companies are willing to pay a premium, a green premium for recycled plastics over virgin product, which was something that was, I would say, unheard of five or six years ago. Now, because these corporations have gone out and set targets for themselves, goals for themselves that we're going to use 30, 40, 50% recovered material in our packaging, there's a little bit of a competition out in the marketplace for the recovered material that's available. You're seeing that reflected in what companies are having to pay for those products, which is good for everybody in recycling.

One of the challenges that we all have is that there are a lot of societal costs associated with just throwing stuff away that are never really captured. This where you get into the debate around extended producer responsibility, and I have mixed views on that, but essentially what you're seeing is companies starting to realize that whether or not there is some cost to society, society wants me to use recovered material. They want me to do the, "The right thing." I'm going to do that because I want to continue to sell my products, and I want my investors to feel like I am listening to what they're telling me. It is a very different environment today in terms of how recovered materials are viewed in the marketplace then than really they were just a couple of years ago.

[00:37:18] Liz: Definitely. It's being seen as a resource and a very valuable one, instead of waste. To your point about having limits and goals, I interviewed someone from Unilever and they had just worked out a deal with Closed Loop partnership. Basically, why they did that investment was because they're feeding the system. Really, at the end of the day, they wanted the PET back, they needed the feedstock, investing in that system feeds their goals for 2030. It's just very interesting to see the circularity and the buzz around it, and the actual work behind it. They'll walk the walk and talk the talk. I'm with you, I think some of those limits are important and it is changing things. We'll see where it goes.

[00:38:14] Bill: Yes. I'm trying to be real careful about throwing brand names around because I don't want to miss speak [chuckles] and have somebody come down on me, but I will do a little shout out to Unilever because everything that I had seen from their public announcements and what I've heard about their willingness to think about this screen premium, they are clearly at the front side of this. They also say they're backing up their public statements with actions, and I think they have to be commended for that.

[00:38:58] Liz: I think so too, and I thinks there's just so much shame. There's a lot of green shaming going on, accusations of greenwashing, and look, that's real, but when companies are stepping up, I think we have to applaud the progress. It's not perfection, but it's progress. Many more companies will follow suit, so shout outs like that I think are important [laughs].

[00:39:20] Bill: Any time I think a consumer-facing company tries to do the right thing, there is always some cynical person who says, "The only reason they're doing that is because they were forced into it. They're not really going to deliver on it." Part of that is because there's a track record of companies that have made public pronouncements about targets that they're going to set, and then you never hear about those targets again after they were used to quell some consumer question.

I think now you have to applaud the effort. You have to give the companies the benefit of the doubt that even if they're struggling with how best to manage some of these things around circularity and sustainability, I think they're all trying, I think they're really trying, and that's what matters. Through those efforts, there'll be some that are more successful than others, but I don't think that any of these companies is really just cynically saying, "We're going to set these targets and we're going to do the best that we can for the environment", and then go back to the back room and just say, "All right, guys, just do whatever you can, but we need to save money. This is just window dressing." I just don't think that's happening, I think they are actually trying. That's a big deal, without the effort, we're not going to see any results.

[00:41:10] Liz: Definitely, I agree. Bill, that brings us to food waste too. With food waste being top of mind, especially during the pandemic, I feel like it has really just put a light on it to show food insecurity and the need to really find solutions around it. Are you seeing more interest from cities and brands to do their part in combating it and making it a real resource?

[00:41:37] Bill: Yes. Food waste is a very interesting topic because there are a lot of different directions that you can go on. About wagon role, maybe four or five years ago, I was on an advisory panel for a group called ReFED, this was at the very beginning of their efforts and they started out thinking, or at least some of the folks started out thinking that, "All right, what we need to do is figure out how to better manage food waste after it has been generated." After it has gone through the restaurant, or the retailer, or the home, "How can we handle that material after it's already become food waste?"

I remember saying, "Guys, once that food waste hits the bin, it's hard to manage. You can do source separation and you can do things, but that's going to be hard." The ReFED group was filled with some of the world's biggest retailers and consumer packaged goods companies, food processors, the whole value chain. There was quite a good group and very knowledgeable group. We started to realize that the real path here was to think about things like expiration dates, how are expiration dates set? It turns out a lot of them were set randomly [laughs], and really had nothing to do with when the food was going to expire. There was a big effort put in, "All right, let's be much more thoughtful about expiration dates, and not just throw a date on there because we want to restock the shelf".

Then, there was a big focus on portion size, "Maybe we're making our portion sizes too big, and that's why we've got food waste." Some of the companies went back and said, "You know what? We need to think about portion size because the reason that we're generating food waste is not because people are throwing stuff away, it's that they literally cannot eat as much as we are giving them, and what's leftover is turning into food waste".

There was a lot of discussion around packaging and what can you do to keep materials fresh. At the end of the day, the solution space for how to manage food waste, and there was a whole path around once food, "Becomes waste", there's still a pretty big secondary market for it in terms of food donations, and how do you make that more effective and more timely so that you can get the food to people who need it.

A lot of thoughtful stuff went on, and I hope that those things are still going on. I'd like to think that the companies that are involved in this thinking are still going down that road. I've veered off the how do we change expiration dates, change portion size, and improve our ability to distribute food to where people need it. The part that I'm focused on most now at Generate is, "Okay, that portion of food waste that actually shows up in the bin, what can we do with that?" That's where I've been spending a lot of time, in particular with this anaerobic digestion efforts, and looking at source-separated organics in some markets.

I think we've made progress, there's clearly a lot more progress to be made. Given the economic challenges associated with the whole pandemic situation, a lot of food insecurity was revealed. I can honestly tell you that my own personal charitable donations in 2020, [unintelligible 00:46:03] significantly to the Houston Food Bank because I saw myself as being in a situation where I didn't have to worry about that, and I'm seeing on the news people who were on the edge, who got pushed over the edge, and were having to go to food banks for the first time in their lives. That to me was the best use of my dollars to help that situation, and it is a challenge that we're still seeing today.

Hopefully, I think the economy is starting to turn and we'll be able to get out of some of these challenges, but it is one of the biggest issues that we've got as a country from an economic standpoint, and from a health standpoint. It's something that we should all be working to address.

[00:47:03] Liz: Definitely. To your point, I do hope that the economy is getting back and fewer people are in this challenge, but it is overwhelming and the pandemic definitely showed that. That's great that you were part of that and continue to be, that's awesome. Bill, you last spoke at our last live WasteExpo [chuckles] prior to this.

[00:47:32] Bill: That’s right.

[00:47:33] Liz: [chuckles] A lot has changed. I was really touched by the human side of leadership that you displayed when you were talking about safety and your people at WCA. Do you miss that aspect of your work?

[00:47:48] Bill: That is a very loaded question, Liz. I will tell you in all honesty that running a business with-- I think we had 1,700 employees when we were done, 1,100 drivers, was the hardest thing that I have done in my professional career. It wasn't because the business problems were so challenging, it was because managing people is a hard thing to do. In a large organization, you have all kinds of people on all kinds of situations. It can wear on you.

On the other side, it's extraordinarily rewarding to be put in a position where you can actually create or help create a culture to help develop people professionally and personally, and to feel like you're making a difference, because people are excited about working for your company, they see the benefits of doing that. They feel rewarded, not just financially, but personally. I'm more proud of what we were able to accomplish, and we I mean the whole company was able to accomplish at WCA in the time I was there.

There are clearly times when I wish that instead of selling the business to another large strategic company that we'd had another few years to continue to run that company as a private entity, because I think there's a lot more potential that we could have unlocked. All that being said, in my new world, where I don't think I have a single direct report [chuckles] it is different. My job is, right now, focused on helping us identify things where we can and should invest our resources. On the margins right now, I am engaged with our operating teams, but I'm not running a business right now.

There are a lot of things that came out of the WCA experience that will be with me for the rest of my life because it really was challenging, and I feel really proud about the company that we created. I'll tell you this one. Greg Yorkston, who has been a friend of mine for a very long time, he worked with me when we were both at Waste Management, and he later went to Waste Industries, and is now the chief operating officer at GFL. I was talking to Greg, maybe two or three weeks ago, and I asked him, I said, "Greg, what do you think about my business?" His response brought a tear to my eye, it was exactly what she said it was.

We delivered against the expectations, and the people are good, the business is good, there are no skeletons in the closet, there was no stuff that was hidden away that the next owner had to deal with. We ran the company the right way, we treated people the right way, and the new owners of that business benefited from a lot of the hard work that me, and my team, and my people put into running that. That to me was probably the best compliment that I've ever had. I want to publicly thank Greg for that, I hope he listens to this podcast.

[00:52:26] Liz: That's amazing. What a legacy, Bill, really, to hear that and just know that it was all worth it. It lives on, which is fantastic.

[00:52:40] Bill: Yes. 

[00:52:43] Liz: That's awesome. As you know, a lot of our listeners are waste and recycling folks. Do you have any advice for them in working toward a more sustainable future?

[00:52:55] Bill: Any advice? Let's see. If I was going to give advice to someone in the industry today, is that I would say open your arms to change because I think that the days of doing things the way we always used to do them are going to go away in some places quicker than others, but eventually, I think you're going to see a change come about not just in how we manage materials, but in how we run our businesses.

A waste company today has a mandate to manage its materials, but they also have a real push to run a sustainable operation. If you look through the sustainability reports of Waste Management, Republic Services, Waste Connections, and GFL, you will see that they are tying. They're trying hard to do the right thing and manage in an environment that is really challenging because there are lots of pressures on the business from different places.

I think you're going to see changes in operations, you're going to see changes in systems. You're going to see changes in technologies that are going to allow this business to evolve, to become more efficient. To itself become more sustainable and to be a driver of sustainability that other companies within the economy benefit from. Embrace the change, it's going to be good. It may not always be fine while it's happening, but at the end of the day, I think the industry is going to hit another period of evolution. The waste industry that we all know and love today, a decade from now you're still going to recognize it, but it's going to be different, and it will be because of decisions that the people in the industry are making today that'll do that.

[00:55:20] Liz: That's great advice. What's next for you in Generate?

[00:55:25] Bill: For me, we're looking very hard at expanding our presence in the organic waste space. We've got some interesting technologies that we're on the cusp of deploying, which I think are going to change the game in a couple of different spaces. At the same time, we're looking very hard at some of these other technologies, these other waste to value technologies, and hope to be in a position where we can facilitate the expansion of those technologies and help commercialize them.

Whether that be plastics, or MSW, or batteries, or bio-based plastics, whatever. We're looking hard at the space, we're looking for the companies that we think are going to be successful long-term, and trying to figure out how we can best support their growth and support their goals.

[00:56:22] Liz: That sounds great. Bill, this has been amazing, thank you for your time today. It was so nice to catch up, I wish you all the luck with Generate. I can't wait to see where you go with it, the technologies, and where it takes us.

[00:56:36] Bill: Thank you, Liz. It's been great talking to you, and I will be at WasteExpo this year in person, I'll give a quick plug, I'm moderating a panel on plastics conversion. If anybody's interested in talking more about that, you can find me there.

[00:56:52] Liz: Okay, that sounds great. Good, I'm looking forward to seeing you.

[00:56:56] Bill: Here we come, Vegas.

[00:56:57] Liz: Here we come, look out world [laughs].

[00:57:00] Bill: Okay.

[00:57:01] Liz: All right. Thanks, Bill.

[00:57:03] Bill: Thanks, Liz. Bye-bye

[00:57:04] Liz: Hope to talk to you soon, bye-bye. Thank you for listening. It would mean the world if you would take a moment to rate or review this podcast, and if you share it with us on one of our social networks, we are giving out some fun Nothing Wasted Podcast swag. Just tag us and see what you get. Thanks so much.

[music]

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