The waste management industry tends to move with GDP. As the economy and consumption grow, so does the trash pile. But the industry faces a range of issues, including environmental regulations, recycling challenges and technological changes. Our latest report explores 5 Trends in Waste Management.
#1. A TIGHTENING EXPORT ENVIRONMENT
The Chinese market for U.S. recyclables has provided steady income for North American waste management companies for decades. But in 2017 China shook up the industry with new rules that include difficult-to-meet contamination limits on recyclables. As markets shrink and stricter refinement standards lead to higher recycling processing costs, waste management companies that recycle may need to rethink their pricing models.
#2. ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS OVER PLASTICS
China’s new rules on purchasing recyclable materials impose new restrictions on plastics. At the same time, public concern about plastic waste is rising, with cities across the U.S. banning plastic bags3. Companies are exploring solutions, including seeking to educate consumers to get better at sorting recyclables to reduce contamination.
#3. LABOR SHORTAGES
With unemployment low, finding and retaining workers is getting harder. Drivers pose a particular challenge.7 To fill vital positions, companies are broadening their searches, partnering with trade schools and offering health and other incentives. They are also looking to “work smarter,” taking advantage of data analytics to maximize worker output, including driver performance optimization and new approaches to increase efficiency and profitability.8
#4. INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY
Technology is driving change in waste management. Given ongoing labor shortages, workflow improvements in particular have the potential to improve profitability, with technologies like driverless trucks set to transform the industry. Smart technology may soon help companies keep up with increasingly stringent contamination requirements, reduce needless pickups, make recycling easier and cut costs.
#5. CONSOLIDATION AND INTEGRATION
Consolidation has long been a feature of the waste management industry, and is accelerating. Many private companies are more willing to sell. For those looking to stay, vertical integration may offer a way. Transfer stations to consolidate waste and material recovery facilities to process recyclables or landfills could be investment opportunities. Landfills may hold the greatest potential for profit, but they also require significant capital investment and often bring permitting and regulatory concerns.10 The large volume of global plastic waste could add to the attractiveness of landfill operations by generating additional fees: