These are interesting times for the waste management industry. Our growing global population producing more waste at a faster rate than ever before. Additionally, an increased focus on promoting sustainability and reducing environmental damage is making it increasingly clear that yesterday’s waste management methods may not be viable forever.
Read on for a closer look at the major trends which will be defining and driving change across the waste management industry, today and tomorrow.
Increased Use of CNG Trucks
Today, the waste management industry is seeking to make sustainability a core principle in every aspect of its operations. The increasing use of trucks powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) is the perfect example.
Not only are CNG fleets cleaner-burning and more energy efficient than the more commonly-used diesel-powered vehicles, they can also yield considerable cost savings. A recent study from the US Department of Energy revealed that waste management companies that made the switch to CNG-powered fleets spent an average of 50 percent less on fuel than they did when using diesel or petroleum-based fuels.
Furthermore, the study estimates that the upfront additional costs associated with the adoption of CNG vehicles can be recouped within three to eight years thanks to the decreased cost of fuel.
Although waste management companies that use CNG trucks are still in the minority, the use of these advanced vehicles is becoming increasingly widespread. Waste Management, one of North America’s biggest companies, now operates a fleet of 4,200 CNG trucks. Republic Services, another leading national company, operates nearly 2,500 CNG vehicles that are supported by the company’s 38 natural gas fueling stations.
More Programs and Legislation Focused on Zero Waste
More and more cities and municipalities are making big efforts to reach the ultimate goal of zero waste. Zero waste is a system in which a combination of recycling and composting programs, waste-to-energy initiatives, and the banning of specific products means that no waste ever ends up in a landfill.
It’s an ambitious but by no means far-fetched goal. However, achieving it requires everyone involved – from consumers to municipal legislators to waste management professionals – to think very differently about waste.
To help achieve this, a variety of organizations are implementing education and outreach programs designed to put zero waste at the top of the waste management agenda. For example, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) are partnering to offer a zero waste course and certification program. The course is intended to help municipal and industry leaders bring the zero waste concept to their local territories.
More Landfills Reaching Capacity
The waste management industry today is coming up against a tough reality: many landfills are simply too full to take in any more trash. A rapidly growing population and the consequent increase in waste generation have filled local landfills to bursting point, and landfill owners are finding that there’s no easy answer for what to do next.
Landfill expansions are in some ways the most obvious solution, but they tend to be met with strong opposition from nearby residents. They also don’t address the larger issue of society’s overproduction of waste. However, a landfill that is forced to close without an alternative waste disposal solution in place could lead to some unpleasant problems.
An Increase in Industry Mergers and Acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions are nothing new in the waste management industry, particularly for large companies like Waste Management. However, recent years have seen an increase in this type of activity among smaller waste collection firms.
This has led to significant market growth potential for smaller, family-run operations, which in turn have begun to have a much larger impact on the industry as a whole. For example, smaller companies are often better positioned for niche-market hauling and other specialized services. Additionally, they can often respond more quickly to changing market conditions or demands.
Greater Emphasis on Reducing Food and Organic Waste
In 2010, a shocking 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in the United States. This is a major problem, especially given that about 50 million Americans are “food insecure.”
Not only that, it’s also a critical environmental problem: as organic waste decomposes in a landfill, it becomes a significant producer of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
To address this issue, a growing number of municipalities are adopting new initiatives, such as composting programs and organic waste-to-energy plants, in order to divert organic waste from the landfill. Some communities have even gone so far as to ban food scraps entirely from household trash.
These efforts are an important strategic element of the zero waste philosophy described above. They are also opening up new market opportunities for enterprising, sustainability-focused waste management firms.