Just days ago, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, pounding the area with more than 50 inches of rain. And as residents and city officials in the area come together to help conduct rescue missions, local companies in the waste and recycling industry are taking extreme safety measures to halt operations and to ensure that all employees are safe. In addition, the industry is preparing for the aftermath of the hurricane, which could be years of waste and debris cleanup.
“When there is extensive flooding in areas with widespread industrial infrastructure, particularly when it is oil and gas related like refining, petrochemical and chemical manufacturing, there are likely to be spill-like cleanups once the storm surge has passed and the water recedes,” says Michael Hoffman, managing director of environmental services research at Stifel. “Clean Harbors is a nationally recognized emergency response company with assets forward deployed in sensitive areas. US Ecology and Waste Management operate industrial/hazardous waste landfills that are easily accessible to debris that could result from a hurricane like Harvey, impacting the gulf coast area. Waste Connections operates the largest disposal capacity for oil field solid waste.”
Texas Pride Disposal, Waste Management, Texas Disposal Systems, WCA Waste Corporation and Waste Pro are five of the local waste companies that have provided updates amid Hurricane Harvey.
Rosenberg, Texas-based Texas Pride Disposal is positioned in a relatively high spot, and according to Kevin Atkinson, owner of Texas Pride Disposal, the company’s facility and equipment will be just fine.
“We’re extremely fortunate as we have a supervisor who lives on our yard and is keeping a close eye on everything and shuffling trucks as needed,” says Atkinson. “We typically run services Monday through Saturday, but we did not run services the past couple of days and will likely not resume services until Wednesday or Thursday. Residents assume we’ll be back up and running as soon as the rain stops, but I think they are unaware of everything that goes on behind the scenes.”
Texas Pride Disposal is focusing on three main areas: employee safety, ability to access disposal sites and ability to access fuel. Atkinson explains that numerous roads are and will be flooded for the next few days so crews may not be able to make it to work and crews that do make it to work may not be able to navigate various areas of the greater Houston area. Once on route, displaced animals such as snakes and fire ants will likely be encountered by crews, and landfills will be an absolute mess and harder to traverse than usual.
As far as access to disposal sites go, many began closing on Friday, and until Texas Pride Disposal receives updates that the sites are reopened, the company will not begin to consider running. When it comes to the ability to access fuel, it all comes down to whether Texas Pride Disposal’s vendor can supply the company with fuel for its onsite diesel tank.
“Once we are up and running, we realize that continued education over the next few days and weeks is going to be crucial,” states Atkinson. “We have been utilizing our website and Facebook page as well as our voicemail system to update customers daily on our schedule, and we will continue to do so as we move forward. We've also been in contact with our large home owner associations and municipalities to help push the word out to their residents. We'll use these same channels to provide information on the cleanup process such as what we can and cannot collect, put-out procedures for waste we can handle and contact information for cleanup procedures to be handled by both city and county agencies.”
Houston-based Waste Management is another company in the area that’s focused on employee safety. Currently, the company is working on locating its approximately 2,400 employees in the area to make sure that they are safe and have basic necessities.
“It’s certainly a devastating situation in Houston and surrounding areas, and it continues to unfold so it’s still very much a rescue effort,” says Janette Micelli, external communications manager for Waste Management. “We are committed to our employees, customers, the City of Houston and surrounding communities devastated by this storm. We just announced a $3 million donation to various entities including the Mayor’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the American Red Cross and some of the organizations in south and east Texas that were hit so hard.”
In addition to focusing on employee safety, Waste Management is focusing its attention on critical customers, such as hospitals, first responders, essential service providers and grocers. The company is also assessing the status of its operations so that it can understand what facilities and equipment have been damaged, what’s available and what the company needs from a resource standpoint.
“Given our experience with storms that devastate communities, we do a lot in advance to make sure that we have employee contact information, time to prepare our sites and time to relocate people and equipment as needed,” says Micelli. “There is a huge amount of planning and coordination going on, and we’ll be prepared to get into the communities as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Austin, Texas-based Texas Disposal Systems, another local waste company, is currently helping HEB grocery stores’ disaster relief team provide access to portable restrooms at seven locations on the coast. In addition, the company is working with the State of Texas at two evacuation centers, providing restroom trailers, shower trailers and several roll-off containers for trash.
“For areas that we service with commercial and residential trash and recycling routes, we are providing services when it is safe and roads are open,” says Stacy Schmitt, director of marketing and communications for Texas Disposal Systems. “We have at least a dozen of our communities that we are completely unable to service due to flooded roadways. We are communicating directly with city personnel when possible and using social media to update our customers.”
When the weather improves, the company plans on doing everything it can to service its cities and communities as they recover from the hurricane. According to Schmitt, the TDS team is preparing roll-off trucks to help transport large items that could be recycled and large amounts of brush debris.
Houston-based WCA Waste has been active on its Twitter account, sharing that it will not provide services in Texas on Tuesday, August 29, and Wednesday, August 30. The company is also organizating a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which can be found here.
Longwood, Fla.-based Waste Pro USA, which has faciltiies in Louisiana, has experienced some flooding in its service area, which has resulted in some delays. But as of August 29, conditions have improved signifantly in the area, with area pumps successfully lowering water levels. The service area is currently still inaccessible due to road closures and flooding, but services are being offered based on road conditions and access.
"Our number one priority is the safety of the hard-working men and women on our trucks and the residents of the impacted communities," says Brandi Hunter, Waste Pro USA marketing communications director. "We are continuing to provide service as we are able, and we are continuing to monitor the situation. We have posted updates via our website and Twitter feed and will continue to do so as they become available."
In addition to the haulers' updates, the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department announced on August 29 that services are closed through at least next Tuesday, September 5. Updates about services will continue to be posted on the department's Facebook page.
The two largest industry assocaitions, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), have also released statements regarding Hurricane Harvey.
SWANA sent a Safety Alert to its Texas Chapter Safety Ambassador on Monday that includes links to federal, state and local resources, as well as several reports and documents on SWANA’s website on responding to floods and other natural disasters. SWANA has been in contact with the City of Houston and other municipalities about the situation and the huge debris removal job that local governments and haulers will have in September as the water recedes.
"We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and we intend to provide additional assistance and resources to Texas, and likely Louisiana, to help them recover from Harvey," says David Biderman, SWANA CEO and executive director. "SWANA members from other parts of the country, and in Canada, have generously offered assistance."
NWRA President and CEO Darrell K. Smith sent out an email release stating:
As you know, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey continue to be a threat to millions of residents of southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana, with the forecast calling for continued torrential rains for the next several days. Rain totals being measured in feet have caused dangerous flooding throughout Houston and many other communities. The NWRA family is personally impacted in these regions. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of these members and their families as we hope they remain safe and healthy.
We are proud of our members who have come together to help their employees, the communities they serve and institutions in highest need. As we see time and time again, the waste industry is dedicated to service and we stop at nothing to help all those we can. While some parts of the affected area will experience service delays and interruptions, trust that our member companies are doing all they can to help those in need in and help clean-up communities.
For those who aren’t able to be on the ground to lend a hand, there are additional opportunities to make a difference. We encourage you to support the American Red Cross as they work around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the vast number of people impacted by this disaster. Donations enable the Red Cross to provide a variety of key services, using its resources where they are needed most urgently. Contributions can be made in three convenient ways:
- Text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
- Donate online by visiting redcross.org.
- Donate by phone by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.
According to the Red Cross website, millions of people face flash flood warnings, including the entire Houston metro area which remains under a flash flood emergency. The Red Cross Emergency App is available for your smartphone, with a "Family Safe" feature that allows people to check on loved ones and instantly see if they are okay, even if that loved one hasn't downloaded the Emergency App on their device. Alerts via the app provide people with real-time information so they can better protect themselves and their families.
The Waste360 team will continue to provide more information as it becomes available. For more information about how the industry prepares for natural disasters, click here.