What Businesses Can Learn from the Waste Industry's Rollercoaster Year

What Businesses Can Learn from the Waste Industry's Rollercoaster Year

 

For many businesses, managing waste and recycling may have once been as routine as, well… taking out the trash. But, as a turbulent year like 2021 has demonstrated, responsible waste management is no longer as easy as auto-renewing an antiquated plan.

Between regular service interruptions, unanticipated natural roadblocks, and sustainability practices under the microscope, companies must grow from the hard lessons learned from waste collection in this past year.

Prepare for and Preempt Service Delays

This year, two significant issues emerged as waste piled up in overflowing dumpsters around the nation. First, missed pickups due to COVID-19 staffing shortages illuminated the skeleton staff the waste industry had been operating with for years. The second was how few solutions there were to remedy the situation. And, as we covered in depth, these slowdowns are anticipated to linger for years to come.

Lesson: 

With a rocky road ahead for traditional haulers to fill vacancies, train specialized employees, navigate pandemic-related OSHA requirements, and reassume discontinued services, establishing a two-way relationship with your waste management service is a must.

With the ability to anticipate volume fluctuations (like office cleanouts or surging production), to reap the benefits of right-sizing equipment, and to set the expectation for transparent service alerts from customer service teams, your business can better prepare for and preempt large-scale interruptions.

Adjust to Extreme Weather

According to the NOAA, the summer of 2021 was the hottest ever recorded for the contiguous United States. With that extreme heat came complex solid waste and recycling challenges. From mechanical failures to unsafe working conditions to pest-seeking, smell-emitting hot garbage, it is becoming apparent that the warmer months require a different approach than other seasons.

Another risk for operational continuity and also personal safety, the amount of waste facility fires increased 20% from 2020, with devastating blazes tearing through Phoenix, Raleigh, and more. Predominantly caused by discarded lithium-ion batteries in electronic waste, warmer temps ahead will exacerbate this explosive situation.

Lesson: 

Many companies order container swaps more frequently in the summer months because of the odor, leading to a backlog of deliveries. Order or pre-plan containers swaps well in advance to ensure your business doesn’t get stuck with a stinker. 

To mitigate odor and pests in the event of a delay, ensure the lid to your can closes firmly. To address fire risks from heat, friction, and discarded rechargeable batteries, you’ll want to familiarize your employees with responsible end-of-life management for e-waste.

Follow the EPR Discussion

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a hot-button issue that took center stage during 2021. For those unfamiliar, EPR is a strategy that shifts the responsibility of post-consumer management of waste and recycling from municipalities, commercial businesses, and other end-users back to the producers. 

Some companies support EPR, as the fiscal, product, and supply chain tools associated with it promote sustainability and, in many cases, lower the future cost of doing business. On the flip side, with very little infrastructure in place for large-scale remanufacturing, other businesses worry about the initial investment to begin and lost margins of the near-term.

As the debate rages on, the agenda moves forward. Maine and Oregon became the first two states to declare EPR law.

Lesson:

Learning why or why not to institute an EPR program is currently a decision to be made on the individual business level. However, it may not be that way for much longer. It’ll be important to observe the successes and failures of Maine and Oregon organizations, as well as laying the groundwork for your company’s sustainable plan of the future.


For more insight into today’s issues in waste and recycling, or to align with a trusted partner to navigate responsible materials management, reach out to RoadRunner at any time here.

 

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