Each day, waste industry workers perform vital functions that keep cities clean and communities healthy. Most of those functions remain fundamentally the same year-to-year: collect material, sort it, recover value and dispose of the rest. And yet, there are shifts each year that change how the industry operates. In 2017, the conversations that moved the industry ranged from China’s ongoing policy changes to how the big companies in the industry responded to natural disasters.
Here are six trends that will be worth watching as 2018 kicks off.
1) The full enforcement and continued effects of China’s import policies. China’s new import policies continue to dominate the recycling conversation and will be one of the top stories to watch in 2018 — even if the country works with trade organizations to compromise, as some hope or expect.
2) The continued debate over franchising in cities across the U.S. Uttering the words “franchise” or “zoned collection” is one of the easiest ways to strike fear in many of the industry’s smaller service providers. As consolidation continues, their ability to compete on price in an open market is one of the few guaranteed selling points they have left. Technology companies and brokers that rely on their relationships with these providers are also opposed to the concept. Yet the industry’s largest companies have made no secret about their support for franchising — at the right price — and will have multiple opportunities to help advance it this year.
3) The continued and gradual deployment of technology in the industry. While the waste industry is sometimes seen as slow to change, big players are continuing to put resources into tech to improve efficiency and safety. The gradual deployment of new tech in the industry will bring, as one leading voice said, “waves of change.” That change, in 2018, will likely look like the increasing use of electric or hybrid vehicles, increased interest in autonomous vehicles and, of course, continuing use of CNG for fueling vehicles.
4) The ongoing debate over how to define “zero waste”. Nearly every major city has some type of “zero waste” or ambitious recycling diversion goal at this point. Fewer have a clear plan for how to achieve those goals or can agree on what the terminology actually means.
All supporters agree this means limiting landfill usage, but from there it has become a very adaptable concept. Others have shunned zero waste disposal technology of any kind — even though they still rely on it to some degree — and are holding out for a more viable circular economy solution around universally recyclable packaging.
5) The industry affects of tax reform — and what that could mean for M&A. Now that President Trump has signed the largest corporate tax cut in recent history — without including some elements that concerned the industry in previous versions — companies will have a lot more capital on hand. Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt has previously predicted an M&A “bonanza.“Others have been similarly bullish and the bill was a top priority for executives throughout 2017.
6) The influence of the Environmental Protection Agency. Under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency has offered some clarification on New Source Performance Standards for landfills and announced plans to aggressively some Superfund sites for cleanup and remediation.
However, the agency has also been party to significant drama concerning the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). While RFS volumes are set for 2018, the political back and forth is unlikely to come to an end. The EPA’s decision to enforce — or not to enforce — emissions standards could influence how landfills operate. The battle over RFS could influence how biogas producers choose to invest in anaerobic digestion for food waste or other organic feedstock.
Pruitt’s commitment to getting the EPA “back to basics” and Trump’s deregulatory agenda could combine in 2018 to mean big shifts for how the waste industry is regulated at the federal level.
Source Credit: wastedive.com: Excerpts from 6 waste industry trends to watch in 2018