Waste Management on its Sustainability Initiatives and How to Think Green

Waste Management presents an important session on "Emissions Impact of Recycling and Evolving Goals for Today’s Changing Waste Stream," at the COMMIT!Forum on Oct. 19.

Susan Robinson, federal public affairs director at Waste Management, will discuss how the US EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management policy is becoming more visible to businesses and states. Analysts at Waste Management used EPA’s lifecycle analysis to evaluate the solid waste and recycling services industry and found the need for a new focus on broader overall environmental impacts.

Waste Management has also partnered with the COMMIT!Forum to reduce waste at the event—check out the results of this effort in the November/December issue of CR Magazine.

CR Magazine asked WM some questions about their session and overall sustainability at the company.

CR Magazine: What drives innovation and sustainability at Waste Management?

Waste Management: Our commitment to being a trusted partner and delivering value to all of our stakeholders is at the core of what drives our focus on innovation and sustainability at Waste Management.

Our company—and our 40,000-plus teammates—are committed to leaving our planet to future generations in better shape than we were given it. To do that, we have to innovate, adapt, and evolve.

Over the years, the company has provided an increasingly broad array of sustainability solutions for its customers and we’ve innovated along the way. Thirty years ago, Waste Management focused on how we could best provide our customers with the kind of environmental stewardship sophisticated landfill design and management systems could provide. Then our customers asked us to help them recycle more, and we adapted to those needs and desires and began to shift our investment toward more recycling assets. In recent years, we’ve moved even further along the spectrum, developing the capacity to meet our customers’ evolving sustainability needs and aspirations, up to and including “zero waste” strategies.

We need to go beyond recycling to other conversion technologies that unlock the economic and environmental value of the materials that we collect. We’ve said that the materials that we collect and bury each year could be worth $10 billion if we could separate and re-use or re-purpose them. We’ve made significant investments over the years, trying to find new technologies to provide an alternative to the landfilling of materials. And the technology exists, it just isn’t economic or scalable yet. But we will keep searching for more efficient ways to manage materials for the good of Waste Management, our customers and our planet. How have you helped other businesses transform waste into new resources? Our customers’ business needs and objectives vary. We work hard to ensure we understand their objectives and recommend a strategy and service offerings that best manages their resources. We ask questions:

• What are our customers’ goals?
• What are their constraints?
• What could be recycled that isn’t?
• How can packaging be altered or reduced?
• How might raw materials or byproducts be re-used?
• How might they avoid generating waste in the first place?

At the end of the day, while each plan is as unique as the customer, beyond the basic landfilling of materials in environmentally-safe, highly-engineered facilities, the pillars of our services are the same, whether we’re working with a business, a municipality, a school system, or a community. Here’s what we do:

Reducing the use of virgin resources is the biggest winner for the environment. Waste Management Sustainability Services (WMSS) consultants work on-site with customers to create detailed roadmaps to eliminate waste and increase recycling, including audits of materials to ensure they can be reused or recycled after their primary use. WMSS also partners with customers before waste is even created, helping them to “design with intent,” a process focusing on product and packaging design innovations that increase recyclability and reduce end waste. Lessening overall waste, in turn, equates to future savings of water, energy and other natural resources. Our recent work with Tyson Foods is a great example of how we partner with customers to create mutual value, making recycling economically profitable by separating different streams of materials. To learn more, see this video.

Waste Management is committed to recycling. Our customers want it, and we want to do it. The past number of years have proved extremely challenging for the recycling industry. A sustained low commodity price environment, the changing waste stream, increased contamination (which, in turn, leads to increased operating costs) have all presented major challenges for recyclers across the country. We, and many others, have been working with customers, municipalities and other stakeholders to ensure that the business model for recycling is sustainable, so we can do even more recycling in the future. A key piece of all of this is more education on what is recyclable and what’s not. To help with that, Waste Management launched our Recycle Often. Recycle Right (RORR) campaign, a campaign designed to make recycling easier – and more sustainable - by focusing on simple actions that can have a big impact on the quality of the recycling stream.

Waste Management works with municipalities and others to convert organic waste to beneficial uses such as compost, mulch and green energy. A great example is our proprietary Centralized Organic Recycling (CORe®) process, which allows us to tap the energy in organics, such as commercial food waste, to produce biogas for electricity and fuel. In Brooklyn, NY, and Orange County, CA, we’re collecting food waste and converting it into a renewable, local energy source, generating electricity for these communities while reducing the amount of organic waste sent to landfills.

Waste decomposing in landfills produces methane, which is the major component in natural gas fuel and also a greenhouse gas. At most of our landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facilities, we capture this methane and use it as an alternative energy source, reducing methane emissions and helping to offset the impacts of energy production from the fossil fuels that might otherwise be used. As the largest LFGTE developer and operator in North America, we harness this energy to power homes and businesses, provide fuel for industrial uses, and fuel vehicles that run on natural gas. For example, landfill gas powers operations at BMW’s manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, North Carolina and to the University of New Hampshire, displacing fossil fuel with renewable energy. Landfill gas processed and purified at our Milam Landfill helps to power trucks and other equipment that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). And in California, Waste Management collaborated in the world’s largest plant to convert landfill gas to ultra-low-carbon liquefied natural gas (LNG). With greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent lower than those of diesel, LNG is the cleanest fuel available for heavy-duty trucks. The facility produces up to 13,000 gallons of LNG per day and helps to power Waste Management’s own fleet in California.

CR: Can you explain your Think Green mindset?

WM: At the forefront of our Think Green mindset are all our stakeholders—including our customers, communities, employees, and shareholders. We work closely with customers—from those just starting on the path toward sustainability to others already far into the journey—to help them find ways to manage their waste in a way that makes environmental and economic sense.

Our world, however, looks very different today than it did a few years ago and we’re adapting and evolving. Just take a look at recycling as one example. The waste stream is changing. The products in our homes and communities are shifting—there is less paper, more plastic, more non-recyclable pouches, and many more lightweight materials. We’re seeing concerning levels of non-recyclable materials coming to recycling facilities. As world economies have slowed, so has demand for recyclable materials. A shift in the recycling business model is needed and our Think Green mindset pushes us to work to improve the economics of recycling so we can all do more of it in the future. To learn more, visit our website.

CR: Why is participation in the COMMIT!Forum important, in your opinion?

WM: Waste Management is honored to be part of the COMMIT!Forum. This gathering offers an important opportunity for companies to come together, share their challenges and celebrate their successes as they strive to operate more sustainably. It’s an especially invaluable space to tackle the fundamental question of how to focus on profitable sustainability, including how to use a focus on sustainability to create a competitive advantage. The attendees at the event come from a wide variety of corporate functions and together, comprise a wide-ranging network of experts in everything from sustainable sourcing, to the power of sustainability to attract and empower employees, to the far-reaching benefits of creating a truly sustainable brand. We’re honored to be a part of such a committed group!

To learn more, click here.


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