“All ships rise with the tide” is an old expression that is especially true in the waste management industry. On a day-to-day basis, customers care little about how and where we manage their waste and recyclables. They begin to care greatly if they find out that they’ve been duped into believing that their waste was being managed responsibly or their recyclables were being recycled. Bad hombres that do not handle waste and recyclables in a responsible manner hurt us all.
A recent court case out of the United States highlights how a bad hombre can tarnish the reputation of the entire industry. The case involves a recycling company in Iowa that was recently found guilty of violated a number of environmental laws. The company, Feinberg Recycling, specializes in scrap metal recycling. The State of Iowa sued the company for violating a number of environmental regulations. The State claimed the company was melting down scrap aluminum in a furnace and that hazardous air pollutants were being released to the atmosphere. Under Iowa State law, the company was required to have a permit to operate the furnace.
The judge ruled against the company and ordered it to pay a $125,000 fine and dismantle the furnace. Canada is not immune to bad hombres. In 2015, a company based in British Columbia known as Electronics Recycling Canada was charged in convicted in a BC Provincial Court for contravening the Canadian Environmental Protect Act. The company pled guilty to exporting hazardous recyclable material to Asia without a permit. The materials included lead acid batteries and used nickel-cadmium batteries. The company received a $40,000 penalty.
Impact on Industry
Bad hombres hurt the entire industry. News stories of waste & recycling companies misdirecting recyclables or improperly disposing of waste erodes the public trust in the industry. Manufacturers, commercial companies, and municipalities that rely on waste & recycling companies to manage recyclables and waste appropriately may begin to lose confidence in the industry.
Although there are no specific surveys undertaken in recent years on the trust Americans, Canadians, and corporations have that their waste and recyclables are being managed appropriately, there are surveys that demonstrate that the 3Rs and landfill diversion are important to them. For example, in a 2014 survey by the National Waste & Recycling Association in the US found that 77 per cent of those surveyed understood the importance of implementing an organics management program for source-separated organics instead of disposing of it with general household waste. A Canadian survey commissioned by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) in 2014 found that 66 per cent of those surveyed supported energy-to-waste technology. An overwhelming 89 per cent preferred that non-recyclable plastics go to an energy-from-waste facility rather than a landfill.
What to Do
To prevent the erosion of trust in the waste and recycling industry, there are several things companies can do. The first action by a company is to focus on transparency. By allowing customers and the public to tour the operation will alleviate any apprehensions they may have. An example of this transparency can be seen at Waste Management Inc., the largest waste and recycling company in the world. WM Inc. has an open door policy. It offers tours of its facilities and environmental education programs. Its facilities have 24-hour community response lines.
Secondly, companies can encourage third-party audits of the facilities and operations and share the findings with customers. Such audits are not uncommon in the United States. This is partly due to the difference in the waste management regulatory regime in the US vs Canada. For example, in Ontario, “ownership” of waste and recyclables gets transferred by the waste receiver. This “ownership” transfer does not occur to the same extent in some US jurisdictions.
Thirdly, waste and recycling companies can support customer’s efforts at implementing the 3Rs and have higher goals such as “zero waste”. By partnering with customers on 3R and zero waste initiatives, your waste and recycling company is demonstrating its commitment to a long-term relationship that goes beyond just getting rid of waste. U-PAK, an Ontario-based waste management and recycling company, is a good example of a company that works with its customers on achieving zero waste goals.