Waste and recycling is a commonly overlooked opportunity to reduce expenses while operating more sustainability, says Graham Rihn, founder and CEO of RoadRunner Recycling.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

March 21, 2023

6 Min Read

Waste and recycling is a commonly overlooked opportunity to reduce expenses while operating more sustainability, says Graham Rihn, founder and CEO of RoadRunner Recycling.

We sat down with the Waste360 40 Under 40 Changemaker winner for his suggestions on how to avoid common pitfalls and ultimately capture more would-be waste and save money and time while reaching for ESG goals. He also points out emerging trends and how companies can stay ahead of the curve to take on what’s next.

Waste360: What kinds of companies do you work with?

Rihn: We work with businesses of any size, across all industries looking to have more oversight and control over their waste and recycling program, reduce expenses, and advance landfill diversion and emission reduction.

We are the waste management provider for restaurant and grocery chains, large retailers, office buildings, commercial property owners and multi-family housing, colleges and universities, manufacturers, hospitals, and more.

Waste360: What challenges are unique to a given industry? And what are recourses to stand up to those challenges?

Rihn: In answer to the first part of the question: a restaurant may have the challenge of properly handling food waste, while multi-family housing may struggle with proper tenant recycling education, and a warehouse may be focused on pallet recycling.

Businesses often feel like they have no choice or recourse to improve their waste and recycling operations, or don’t always have time and resources to analyze, oversee, and optimize these operations. As such, waste and recycling is a commonly overlooked opportunity to reduce expenses, while operating more sustainability.

As far as where and how they can improve: Oftentimes, by simply rightsizing the level of service needed, we can avoid additional fees and control costs, while increasing recycling rates.

We can also create specialty stream services to help increase landfill diversion. This is all possible by having a dedicated team that can act as your waste department.

As a first step, we conduct a waste audit for every location to identify the types and volumes of waste a business generates and what services and equipment are appropriate. The audit also uncovers where a company's waste actually goes, its environmental impact, and how much a business is actually paying for services.

Then by leveraging industry-leading technology, such as waste metering technology, we provide oversight and analysis on every aspect of a business’s waste operations, identify additional optimization and diversion opportunities, and provide more proactive customer service.

Waste360: What are the most common pitfalls resulting in potential recyclables getting missed? How does RoadRunner help?

Rihn: Not knowing what type and volume of waste is being disposed of, not having proper staff training, and lack of oversight at the point of disposal are all factors as to why recyclables don’t get recycled.

Again, waste audits and a dedicated waste management team are tools for improvement.

Single stream recycling services create a scenario where recyclables have multiple touch points to be contaminated. A business that is trying to get rid of plastic, paper, cardboard, and aluminum simply puts it all in one dumpster, and oftentimes waste can be inappropriately mixed in as well. These dumpsters are then collected, and the materials are mixed with other items, creating chances for cross-contamination. When they finally reach a materials recycling facility, they have to be sorted by machines and by hand, yet another point for potential recyclables loss.

This process can not only lead to avoidable recyclables heading to landfills but is also a very costly process leading to those costs being passed down to businesses.

RoadRunner helps with education, proper signage, oversight, and management of waste operations.

Since we’re not tied to expensive assets like trucks and large dumpsters, we don’t benefit from landfill tipping fees. Thus, we can help businesses implement clean-stream recycling programs if it makes sense for their operations to ensure more affordable and effective recycling.

Our program makes sure materials like plastic, glass, paper products, and so on are pre-sorted prior to collection so they stay clean and can be transported directly to recycling centers without commingling or risking contamination.

Waste360: Can you share a couple of real-life cases? Show us the problems, the plan, and the outcome.

Rihn: A regional grocery store needed assistance with controlling cost, but was also mission driven to reduce waste. RoadRunner worked with the grocery store to consolidate management across all of their regional locations. We were able to save them up to 30 percent at specific locations for their waste and recycling services while helping them implement battery recycling, composting, and cardboard clean stream programs.

We were also able to simplify and consolidate their billing process so they no longer had to deal with multiple vendors.

Another type of client we support is manufacturers that deal with the challenge of complicated waste and recycling streams. One national manufacturer was able to reduce  costs by 10 percent through not only rate negotiation but efficiency of collection without interrupting or delaying operations.

We were also able to help the manufacturer identify upstream recycling opportunities for a byproduct, set a collection program in place, and reduce waste to landfill.

Waste360: What’s holding companies back in getting started on developing robust diversion programs? How can they overcome these barriers?

Rihn: Most organizations simply don’t know how to recycle properly, or lack time and resources to appropriately manage day-to-day waste and recycling operations, making it difficult to recognize opportunities to reduce expenses and advance ESG efforts.

Others are just not aware that lower-cost and more effective programs exist. First, businesses should conduct research to see what waste and recycling programs are in their area or if their local government offers monetary assistance to support organizations’ recycling strategies. They should also discuss with their employees the importance of waste management and ask for volunteers to be involved in a program.

Although often an afterthought, waste and recycling can be complicated - and just like any other part of a business’s operations, it takes expertise to be handled correctly which is why they should consult with a third-party provider for support.

Waste360: What trends do you see in what will be expected of businesses moving forward? How do businesses stay ahead of the curve?

Rihn: Much like other business functions, waste management is equally impacted by the potential for regulations, changing economic environments, and progress in technology. As regulators are making more of an effort toward ESG, such as the potential emissions reporting rules from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, we’ll see more businesses use benchmarks and data to showcase how they are taking climate change seriously and implementing sustainable-focused initiatives to meet sustainability goals.

Technology will continue to be leveraged by businesses to help drive sustainability throughout their operations. With data and reporting becoming increasingly important, technology will enable accurate, consistent tracking, analysis, and reporting.

Most businesses are feeling the weight of inflation across the board. The waste sector is no different. It continues to increase annual prices as fuel, landfill tipping fees, and the cost to run waste and recycling programs rises. New technologies will also help companies continue to prioritize sustainable-focused initiatives across the board and control costs in an ever-evolving market.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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