6 Waste Industry Trends to Watch in 2018


Each day, waste industry workers perform vital functions that keep cities clean and communities healthy. Most of those functions remain fundamentally the same year-to-year: collect material, sort it, recover value and dispose of the rest.

And yet, there are shifts each year that change how the industry operates. Composting, glass recycling and the increasing use of compressed natural gas (CNG) helped shape 2016. In 2017, the conversations that moved the industry ranged from China’s ongoing policy changes to how the big companies in the industry responded to natural disasters.

In a short reader poll, we asked the Waste Dive audience to signal what trend is most likely to affect the industry in 2018. Nearly 50% of respondents said China would be the biggest story of the year, with other topics falling below 25% of the total vote.

Most readers voted for China as being the biggest story to watch in 2018.

Some of those trends will continue this year — especially when we consider how China’s policies, now coming into effect, will shift recycling markets. Other ongoing debates, like the meaning of “zero waste” and the idea of franchised collections, will undoubtedly be affected by the new Chinese policies and how the U.S. and industry organizations respond. Here are six trends that will be worth watching as 2018 kicks off.

1. The full enforcement and continued effects of China’s import policies

According to reader feedback, China’s new import policies continue to dominate the recycling conversation and will be one of the top stories to watch in 2018 — even if the country works with trade organizations to compromise, as some hope or expect. Now that the import restriction date has officially passed for the 24 banned materials, the pressure points will become even more clear. Companies and brokers have already begun looking to Southeast Asia in anticipation, and the situation at West Coast ports is shifting as a result.

Many are still just as concerned, if not more so, about the March contamination specifications. Meeting the slightly relaxed 0.5% standard without a major upgrade is still seen as nearly impossible. For those that already do single-stream, and may be having challenges finding a market for glass, the situation is additionally frustrating.

It’s possible that the tax reform windfall will free up funds to invest in new sorting equipment — including artificial intelligence — at MRFs. In the meantime, companies have also been staffing up and slowing down lines. Relying on staffing agencies to do that may have also gotten easier now that the BFI joint employer standard has been overturned and the industry hopes to reinforce that policy with legislation. How companies prioritize safety, and whether the addition of new employees coupled with slower work speeds affects injury rates, will be particularly interesting to watch.

2. The continued debate over franchising in cities across the U.S.

Uttering the words “franchise” or “zoned collection” is one of the easiest ways to strike fear in many of the industry’s smaller service providers. As consolidation continues, their ability to compete on price in an open market is one of the few guaranteed selling points they have left. Technology companies and brokers that rely on their relationships with these providers are also opposed to the concept.

Yet the industry’s largest companies have made no secret about their support for franchising — at the right price — and will have multiple opportunities to help advance it this year.

This will be the case as discussions continue from smaller cities such as Springfield, MO and St. Paul, MN to New York, and possibly Boston. Existing contracts in states such as California and Nevada can also be expected to receive ongoing attention. The Los Angeles recycLA system may be the most prominent example, spurring strong reactions from all sides. For environmental groups and franchise supporters, it’s a sign of what’s possible elsewhere. Though for detractors and real estate interests it’s already becoming a cautionary tale.

3. The continued and gradual deployment of technology in the industry

Perhaps as a sign of the year to come, the biggest company in the industry, Waste Management, hired its first chief digital officer as 2017 was coming to a close. Additionally, 2017 saw that company invest in fleet data capture and next-generation landfills. Penn Waste saw a big increase in efficiency by deploying artificial intelligence (AI) in a MRF and Lytx unveiled its newest video software.

These investments and experiments will continue into 2018 and likely beyond. While the waste industry is sometimes seen as slow to change, big players are continuing to put resources into tech to improve efficiency and safety. The gradual deployment of new tech in the industry will bring, as one leading voice said, “waves of change.” That change, in 2018, will likely look like the increasing use of electric or hybrid vehicles, increased interest in autonomous vehicles and, of course, continuing use of CNG for fueling vehicles.

These technologies and others, including the use of AI, could help improve efficiency and safety. While there were fewer fatalities in 2016 than 2017, refuse collection remains the fifth-most dangerous occupation in the country — so any improvements in safety could mean big outcomes for the industry.

4. The ongoing debate over how to define “zero waste”

As all of these more tangible trends play out, 2018 will also be a year of continued “zero waste” aspirations — and perhaps some reckoning. Nearly every major city has some type of “zero waste” or ambitious recycling diversion goal at this point. Fewer have a clear plan for how to achieve those goals or can agree on what the terminology actually means.

All supporters agree this means limiting landfill usage, but from there it has become a very adaptable concept. Some cities will be taking the European model of using waste-to-energy as an interim disposal solution. Others have shunned disposal technology of any kind — even though they still rely on it to some degree — and are holding out for a more viable circular economy solution around universally recyclable packaging.

Many packaging manufacturers have set lofty targets of their own, and found creative ways to demonstrate movement, but may not be ready to enact more meaningful changes. For many of the cities with their own goals that could also be the case. Diverting organic waste and finding ways to limit other types of traditionally unrecyclable packaging is a critical first step. Finding ways to keep that up on a consistent basis, and actually engage people enough to change their behavior will be another story.

With contamination an issue in many cities, and more harmful to the viability of scrap markets than it has been in years due to China, the “zero waste” movement could be overdue for a reality check. Progress is happening, and much more of it is possible, but all involved may need to be more honest about the systemic changes required to make that happen.

5. The industry affects of tax reform — and what that could mean for M&A

The industry has experienced rapid consolidation in recent decades. Based on what executives have been saying in earnings calls and interviews there could be much more ahead.

Now that President Trump has signed the largest corporate tax cut in recent history — without including some elements that concerned the industry in previous versions — companies will have a lot more capital on hand. Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt has previously predicted an M&A “bonanza.” Others have been similarly bullish and the bill was a top priority for executives throughout 2017.

Whether this will lead to more high-profile deals like the recent Progressive Waste Solutions or ReCommunity acquisitions remains to be seen. Tuck-ins are already prevalent and smaller family-owned operations will continue to be popular targets.

In the short-term, this may mean national or regional companies can bring some of their more modern capabilities to small communities. That will be especially useful as collection efficiencies and recycling contamination continue to be big priorities. Communities could also see economies of scale by having access to larger networks of processing and disposal facilities. While drivers and other front-line workers remain in high demand, this consolidation could also mean lay-offs for employees in office or managerial roles.

This can all be expected to make financial analysts and shareholders very happy. Whether it will translate to the workers from acquired companies getting better pay, communities getting better service, and more material going to the highest and best use, will be key areas to watch.

6. The influence of the Environmental Protection Agency

Under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency has offered some clarification on New Source Performance Standards for landfills and announced plans to aggressively target some Superfund sites for cleanup and remediation.

However, the agency has also been party to significant drama concerning the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). While RFS volumes are set for 2018, the political back-and forth is unlikely to come to an end. The EPA’s decision to enforce — or not to enforce — emissions standards could influence how landfills operate. The battle over the RFS could influence how biogas producers choose to invest in anaerobic digestion for food waste or other organic feedstock.

Pruitt’s commitment to getting the EPA “back to basics” and Trump’s deregulatory agenda could combine in 2018 to mean big shifts for how the waste industry is regulated at the federal level.

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP, INC. (WRG)

WIH Resource Group is global leader providing of diversified environmental (waste and recycling), financial, expert witness services, transportation / logistics consulting solutions to its Clients throughout North America and internationally.

WRG provides solutions to complex challenges to its clients in the areas of environmental, alternative fuel fleet conversion studies, customer satisfaction surveys, fleet management matters, equipment and assets valuations, mergers & acquisitions (M&A), landfill gas management, renewable energy, waste & recycling collections, business process improvement, procurement services assistance, waste management operations, recycling processing, transfer stations, operational performance assessments (OPAs), recycling facilities (MRFs) studies, transportation and other feasibility and related financial analysis.

Formed in 2005, WRG’s Team consists of subject matter experts from the waste, recycling, alternative fuels, and transportation industries from both the public and private sectors.  WRG’s Team of experts have over 150 years of combined experience.

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WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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Renewable Portfolio Standards drive the waste-to-energy industry


There is one single, constant driver that can propel the WTE industry forward or hold it back, and that’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS). These RPS’s are policies in 29 states and Washington, DC to increase renewable energy, usually from wind, solar, biomass, and sometimes landfill gas and municipal solid waste.

USA Renewables by State

How much capital is allocated to each of these sources depends on what “tier” within the RPS it is placed. Tier 1 generates more revenue than tier 2, allowing WTE technologies in this higher category to compete with solar and wind, which are the energy-producing forerunners right now. While biomass, biogas, and other WTE grew by 15% since 2008, wind grew by 65% in 2014 alone.

Then there is a market driver at the federal level: the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The law requires utilities to buy electricity from a qualified facility, but to only pay what it would cost the utility to produce that electricity.

“So they pay a relatively small amount, which rarely pencils out for renewable energy producers,” said Brian Lips, DSIRE project manager at North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. “But the RPS places [renewable energy producers] in a position where they don’t have to compete with fossil fuels; rather they compete against other renewables.”

Sometimes biomass, one of the more widely used WTE sources, is in tier 1 on the RPS. But what counts as biomass gets tricky as there is no standard definition; so feedstocks under this umbrella vary but could include organic materials like trees, crops, and animal waste.

How Maryland pays out for trash-to-energy

One state standing out on the WTE front is Maryland, the only state in the country that places trash-burning incinerators in tier 1, according to Energy Justice Network Founder and Director Mike Ewall. This incentive drew New York-based Energy Answers International to Baltimore, where it got a permit in 2010 to build what would have been the largest incinerator in the country — one that environmentalists vehemently protested, arguing the emissions would threaten public health.

Just last week, following a long, hard fight between Energy Answers and its opponents, Maryland announced that the incinerator project is no longer valid, stating the permit became void after an extended construction delay.

Some states have left trash incineration out of the RPS altogether, such as New York, which only allows the burning of biomass. However, that state is subsidizing crop burning. “Rarely can you make it work to grow crops just to burn them; it’s too expensive. But New York and Iowa have burned grass and or trees for electricity,” said Ewall.

Meanwhile, commercial scale trash-burning incinerators seem to be fading from the landscape. One to be built in West Palm Beach will be the first such plant launched in 20 years, at least on a new site. Many others are shuttering or at risk of closing, with the number currently in operation having fallen under 80 for the first time in decades, largely because of their cost.

Introducing more energy sources to the playing field

In quest of new options, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia have put fossil fuels in their RPS, bringing a whole new category onto the playing field. “They are the first ones [and only ones] to do this,” said Ewall. He added that Ohio has put nuclear in their portfolio in addition to fossil fuels. And a fairly new industry direction is to pelletize trash and market it to existing boiler plants for energy.

Some of the growing options — and their price tags — are sparked by regulations mandating the amount of electricity that utilities must derive from renewable resources.

“In California where 50% of energy has to come from renewable sources, utilities may pay more. But in North Carolina where just 12.5%  has to be renewable, utilities have more bargaining power,” explained Lips.

The renewable energy market is particularly strong in New Jersey, and Hawaii has the most ambitious goal in the country: 100% renewable energy by 2045, he said. The island state has two motivators: outrageously high electricity rates as it burns imported oil, and its vast renewable energy resources.

How the Federal Clean Power Plan is driving state policies

More change may be on the horizon if EPA’s Clean Power Plan unfolds. It’s part of Obama’s push, claimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel and coal-fired power plants, which would allow for natural gas and renewable energies such as biomass, incineration, and natural gas.

Analysts project this law will be a major market driver, and it’s already proving to be, at least in the natural gas front. There are about 300 proposals for gas-fired plants in the United States now, according to Ewall.

“Most were underway before EPA adopted the plan. But they were [further] fueled by the rule. So Clean Power would be a major driver to push for natural gas,” he said.

Source: Waste Dive

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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List of Top Waste Management Twitter Users


ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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Drones Sought for Landfill Surveying


Ada County, Idaho is applying to use a small commercial drone to collect valuable geographical data, starting with the region’s landfill. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Drone for Landfill Surveying - WIH Resource Group

Using drones in military, law enforcement and agriculture has become the new normal in daily life even in the relatively short period unmanned aircrafts have become available to the public.

Now a county in southwestern Idaho says drones belong in the trash.

Ada County officials have recently submitted an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to use a small commercial drone to collect valuable geographical data, starting with the region’s landfill.

Currently, the county spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to fly manned aircraft just to gather information about land use, said Stephen O’Meara, Ada’s information technology director.

For example, the county can only afford to take aerial photos of the 2,700-acre landfill once a year because manned-aircraft can cost as much as $700 an hour to rent.

But at the same time, the county is under pressure to keep an eye on the region’s landfill considering it collected 440,000 tons of waste from four cities and four separate local government agencies in 2014.

O’Meara said using a drone could provide an easy way to learn how quickly the area is expanding not only in sprawl but also in height.

“We have high hopes,” O’Meara said. “We feel this could be very beneficial that does not cost a lot of money to the taxpayer.”

According to the FAA, it’ll take 60 to 90 days to process the county’s application barring any delays stemming from legal questions and agency response.

Larry Maneely, the county’s chief of staff, said the county will post online when and where the drone flies to help prevent fears from those who may distrust governmental agencies using drones.

 “Nothing will happen in secret,” he said. “These things have to fly below 400 feet so they will be in eyesight and every flight has to be pre-approved.”

Overtime, Maneely and O’Meara would like to see drone use help collect data to pinpoint spraying pesticides to kill mosquitoes and invasive weeds.

O’Meara added that he doesn’t know of any other similar drone efforts in other Idaho counties or cities. Instead, drone use in Idaho has been much more traditional.

In 2012, Canyon County — which neighbors Ada County — used a $34,000 grant from U.S. Homeland Security to buy a 2-pound drone for aerial surveillance and public safety. County deputies say the drones help with investigations, barricaded subjects and rescue missions.

In January, Advanced Aviation Solutions — located in Star, Idaho — became the first agriculture-based company to receive a FAA exemption for commercial use. Meanwhile, scientists at Boise State University deployed drones in western Idaho with three different cameras to study sagebrush, a critical landscape that is playing a key factor if the federal government will list a football-sized bird found in 11 states.

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Bob Wallace, MBA is the Founder and a Principal of WIH Resource Group, Inc. and has over 27 years of experience in waste and recycling collections programs management, transportation / logistics operations, alternative fuels (CNG, LPG, RNG, LNG & biodiesel), Fleet Management, Operational Performance Assessments (OPAs), Waste-by-Rail programs, recycling / solid waste operations, transfer stations, landfills, planning and development. Mr. Wallace has extensive experience in working with clients in both the private and public sectors. Prior to WIH Resource Group, Mr. Wallace served as the Director of Transportation & Logistics for Waste Management, the largest provider of waste management and recycling services in North America. He can be reached at bwallace@wihresourcegroup.com or 480.241.9994. For more information visit http://www.wihrg.com

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