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What’s in Store for Waste Management?

| Monday March 1st, 2010 | 12 Comments

Ever since I was a small child I’ve wondered what happened to things when we threw them “away.”  When I figured it out, I did all I could to prevent the tossing out of anything.

From the little experience I’ve had in the waste management industry in general, I’ve learned that landfill disposal can be very profitable, recycling can be profitable when played right but has tighter margins, and radical ideas like composting may not add to the bottom line at all, except to make your tree-hugging stakeholders happy.  Knowing that, and knowing just how many of us there are producing tons of waste, I’ve always seen waste as a key problem area in need of attention and innovation.

It is for that reason that I have the good fortune of being able to attend Waste Management’s Industry Summit next week in Florida.  This will be a first time for me to travel for the sake of TriplePundit coverage.   I’ll get to hear from the company’s executive team on company strategy, recycling and renewable energy markets and other waste management industry trends.  Look out for my coverage later this week.

In the meantime, Waste Management has announced a strategic investment partnership with waste-to-biofuels company Enerkem Inc. Essentially Waste Management is investing in Enerkem’s most recent financing round, which will support the construction of a second waste-to-biofuels plant. Enerkem’s thermo-chemical gasification technology helps convert organic waste into biofuels, such as ethanol. This technology is able to process carbon-based feedstocks, such as sorted municipal waste, construction and demolition wood, as well as agricultural and forest residues.

What do you want to know about Waste Management’s strategic direction and decisions?

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


▼▼▼      12 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Parson1

    A very interesting angle – I'd like to know more about what is truly profitable on the one hand, and what government policy is needed to realign this business with ecological needs? The green energy revolution is a tremendous market opportunity. How could waste management live a similar revolution?
    I posted an article on the five questions we should be asking big industry (check out http://www.businessecology.ca/industry-5-questi…) – hope it helps! Look forward to your next installment. Nick

  • Pingback: Waste Management – Seize the Day | Business Ecology Paradox

  • http://blog.babyganics.com/ Evan

    Turning trash into something useful is always something good.

  • mckennamorrigan

    I'd like to know what Waste Management and other industry players think about bio-plastics (i.e. #7 PLA) — do they support their use in places where there is municipal composting? What about in places where there is no municipal composting? Or do they find them to be a big hassle, “gumming up the works” of traditional plastic recycling?

    And what's their general sentiment on municipal composting programs? Are there any cities (beside San Francisco and Seattle) that they are working with that are likely to launch composting programs soon?

    • http://twitter.com/amievaccaro Amie Vaccaro

      Thanks for your questions McKenna and Parson1 – will try to get them answered!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

    Composting can be profitable if the methane byproduct is captured and converted to electricity!

  • http://twitter.com/amievaccaro Amie Vaccaro

    Good point, Jen. How typically American is it of us to pull apart various processes in a perfect and natural cycle (decomposition of biomaterials and growth of new plants) and call one of them “unprofitable” therefore we won't do it. Ridiculous. And there are certainly other ways like methane capture to make composting “profitable”.

  • tomspiggle

    Actually, composting can be profitable. I would urge you and Triple Pundit to take a closer look at the growing composting industry. It would be wonderful to have you attend the United States Composting Council (http://www.compostingcouncil.org) annual convention. I'd also recommend that you check out BioCycle (http://www.biocycle.net), the industry publication.

    There are number of profitable companies in the industry operating without government subsidies. (St. Louis Composting, just to name one: http://www.stlcompost.com. I have no connection with any of the companies mentioned here.) The beauty of commercial composting is that it can generate two sources of revenue, a tipping fee for collecting the waste and then another profit for sale of compost.

    Perhaps the most exciting development in the industry is the introduction of large-scale anaerobic digestion – a process by which organic material is allow to decompose anaerobically and the methane is captured and burned to produce electricity. The end product can still be composted. As you may know, Waste Management recently purchased a minority share in Harvest Power (http://www.harvestpower.com), the first company to open a large-scale anaerobic digest facility in the United States. It remains to be seen if companies like Waste Management will play nice with the organics-recycling industry. In some states – like Georgia and Florida – landfills are fighting to overturn landfill bans on yard waste, bans that have greatly benefited the composting industry in those states. The landfill industry, trying to claim the green business mantle, argues it can capture the methane produced. They, of course, neglect to mention that composting operations can convert this waste into a beneficial substance while producing very little methane.

    A cap-and-trade would offer another revenue stream for the industry, but I've gone on long enough.

    So, take another look at the organics-recycling industry. And have fun at the conference!

    Tom Spiggle
    http://www.spigglelaw.com

  • tomspiggle

    And for you Bay-Area folks, I forgot to mention Recology (http://www.recology.com), the commercial composter that is recycling the food waste collected by the City of San Francisco, which has that nation's only mandatory composting law.

    • http://twitter.com/PaulLedesma Paul Ledesma

      I would like to add to Tom's comment by suggesting that you look at the work of the City of San Francisco's Department of Environment (sfenvironment.org). SF Environment have been successfully implementing a citywide organics diversion program – collecting from homes, businesses, and government facilities. SF Environment is dedicated to seeking the highest and best use for all materials recovered in their programs.

      In the interest of disclosure, I am staff person at SF Environment.

  • Tim

    For people interested in this topic, I recommend the book, “Garbageland.”

  • Patrick Doss-Smith

    I would like to know how Enerkem plans to deal with petro-plastics. We have a Waste to Energy plant here in Minneapolis, MN. but plastic is allowed, with subsequent dioxin issues. Although the plant is good at capturing particulates, etc., petro-plastic incineration will always be a problem. By the way, Waste Management is one of the providers here.

  • Patrick Doss-Smith

    I would like to know how Enerkem plans to deal with petro-plastics. We have a Waste to Energy plant here in Minneapolis, MN. but plastic is allowed, with subsequent dioxin issues. Although the plant is good at capturing particulates, etc., petro-plastic incineration will always be a problem. By the way, Waste Management is one of the providers here.