The Beauty of Planning Ahead: Waste Management at its Best

I’m here in Florida for Waste Management‘s Industry Summit.  The day kicked off with tours of Broward County Florida’s recycling facility (Reuters Recycling) and waste to energy facility (Wheelabrator South Broward).  By no coincidence, this particular community has what is quite possibly the most advanced and integrated waste management system in the country.  A resident of San Francisco, I was shocked to see that a county in Florida, of all places, might have a higher diversion rate.  Turns out that in the mid-80s, Broward County noticed that landfills were scarce and filling fast and they would need an alternative plan.  So they built two waste-to-energy facilities to avoid landfilling waste.  Foresight.  What a refreshing concept.

If you live in Broward County, you have two bins – trash and single stream recycling.  All trash gets sent to the waste to energy facility (unless you live in one of the five out of 31 municipalities that still insist on landfilling) and is basically burned to create electricity.  (The facility I saw has the capacity to power 38,000 homes).  About 10 percent by volume of the waste emerges as ash, and is placed in the neighboring landfill which happens to only accept ash.  Lynn Brown, VP of Corporate Communications, pointed out that some municipalities with waste to energy even do cool things with their ash, like make bricks or use it for daily cover at the landfill.

If you put something in the recycling bin, it is brought to the Reuters Recyclery, which is the second largest single stream recycling facility in the country.  It was indeed massive.  So, at the end of the day – the only landfilled debris is the 10% of waste that ends up as ash.  All else is recycled or turned to energy.  Pretty cool, right?  Only thing lacking is composting, which Waste Management is working on.

No wonder Waste Management was eager to show Broward County’s facilities off to the analysts, bankers, investors and others in attendance.  That said, it’s clear that WM is pushing hard in the right direction–with waste to energy plants popping up across the country and heavy R&D investments and joint ventures in leading edge waste technology.  In my conversations with Brown, she referred to waste as a valuable resource that we need to learn to tap most effectively.  People toss out billions of dollars of stuff each year–let’s make the most of it.

Ed Note: In the interest of full disclosure, WM has covered Amie’s travel expenses to the Florida summit

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on GreenBiz.com, and on JustMeans.