In its 2021 Sustainability Report, Waste Connections noted its progress toward the 15-year ESG goals it first identified in 2020.
The document places a spotlight on the trifecta of culture, value and leadership at the company, highlighting the measures the company took to persevere during COVID-19 turbulence as well as a focus on environmental and social justice directives.
"We are proud of the accomplishments of our 19,000 employees as they met those challenges and drove continuous improvement not only in our business, but also towards our sustainability objectives," said Worthing Jackman, president and CEO. "We view efforts to minimize our impact on the environment and drive continuous improvement in employee safety, welfare, engagement and inclusion as integral to our business, driving long-term value creation for all of our stakeholders."
Key areas of the report are reflective of values first installed at the company's core at its inception in 1997.
1. Climate Change
Waste Connections has dedicated $500 million to achieve its sustainability targets it identified in its 2020 Sustainability Report.
It reported an 8 percent year-over-year reduction in Scope 1, direct energy emissions, and Scope 2, indirect energy emissions. The company's data follows Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.
A 1.9 billion standard cubic feet, or 7 percent increase, in landfill gas collected and converted to renewable energy was attributed to company efforts to expand landfill gas recovery and RNG production through gas collection infrastructure improvements and the addition of beneficial use facilities.
"Put simply, through our services offered in 2020, we were able to avoid 18.2 million metric tons of CO2e, a figure that exceeded our emissions generated from operations by over 3.2 times," Jackman said. "Going forward, we are well-positioned to achieve our aspirational climate-related targets through a growing pipeline of projects under development, including renewable natural gas plants, leachate treatment plants and state-of-the-art greenfield recycling facilities."
Fleet size at Waste Connections totaled 8,912 in 2020. Just more than 13 percent of the company's fleet makeup, 1,166 vehicles, are powered by compressed natural gas.
The company noted that it will soon begin beta testing fully-electric collection trucks.
"Although at a significant initial cost premium, the fully electric trucks operate quietly, generate zero emissions and are expected to provide considerable savings in fuel and maintenance expenses relative to comparable diesel trucks," the report stated. "We look forward to expanding the use of alternative fuel vehicles in Waste Connections’ fleet over time."
To reduce the fleet's environmental burden, transfer station networks have consolidated waste onto fewer trucks. Maintenance has played a large part ain reducing emissions as well. Waste Connections noted it has installed controls to minimize idling time, switched to synthetic motor oils with longer replacement intervals and installed more advanced engine filters.
Technology such as on-board tablets and route optimization software have assisted drivers with minimizing time spent on the road. In addition, the company has upgraded engine diagnostics software in order to reduce downtime.
Automation is driving improvement for Waste Connections' recycling line of business. Key accomplishments in 2020 included the implementation of 25 robots to seven of the company's material recovery facilities (MRFs).
The company reported robotics has assisted in "various sorting capacities," which has led to an increase in productivity and reduced contamination.
About 1.7 million tons of recyclable materials were processed in 2020, up 5 percent year over year. Waste Connections recycled or diverted more than 50 percent of collected waste volumes, with some markets achieving more than 70 percent recovery. Its targeted goal is to increase the amount of recycled materials to 2.31 million tons by 2033.
"Going forward, we are actively pursuing the development of state-of-the-art greenfield recycling projects within our existing markets to more fully integrate our operations. These initiatives position us to achieve our long-term recycling target," the report stated.
4. Leachate Management
In 2020, Waste Connections reported processing 37.6 percent of its leachate on site. It plans to increase that to 50 percent by 2033.
The company generates more than 600 million gallons of leachate annually. Traditionally, more than two-thirds of it was disposed of off-site. However, its 15-year target aims to reduce the environmental impact involved in transporting and disposing of leachate a third-party.
"In order to further increase our leachate self-sufficiency, we will expand utilization of evaporator technology at some landfills and pursue other landfill practices such as reducing working face size or installation of temporary cover to minimize infiltration of rain or snow," the company reported. "We also will install on-site wastewater plants where applicable. Always looking for a more cost effective and environmentally conscious way to treat and/or dispose of leachate and other waste, we are independently funding research into new leachate treatment methods with an annual commitment of $1 million over a five-year period."
5. Employee Safety and Wellbeing
While the COVID-19 pandemic presented a set of challenges and pivots to safety programs, Waste Connections saw a 12 percent reduction in safety incidents. More than 60 percent of the company's operating locations reported zero incidents or year-over-year improvements.
The company also noted an 18 percent decrease in voluntary turnover. Its drive for continuous improvement in the area of employee engagement was examined as part of an annual Servant Leadership survey.
"Recognizing the importance of putting employees first, our safety-focused, servant leadership-based culture guided our decision-making and facilitated our differentiated execution during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and continues to do so," Jackman said.
Waste Connections reported $40 million in COVID-19 support, which included supplemental pay for frontline employees, an increased minimum wage of $15/hour and benefit expansion. Charitable contributions comprised of donations to food banks, families at risk, and organizations with a focus on addressing racial inequities at the local and national level.