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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2006 : Cover Story

Cover Story

When Trash Becomes Treasure
Waste Management is utilizing methane gas to power one Quebec paper mill - and its environmental initiatives don't stop there.

by Liz Johnson

In 2005, methane gas from Waste Management’s Next Generation Technology landfill near Montreal began powering the local Cascades paper mill. Gas from the landfill is recovered and transported through an eight-mile pipeline to the plant in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec.
In an effort to create cleaner, greener communities, Waste Management has embarked on a new program with Keep America Beautiful, Inc., designed to improve the environment through sustainable, local solutions.
Waste Management is the leading provider of comprehensive waste and environmental services in North America. Based in Houston, Texas, the company serves municipal, commercial, industrial and residential customers throughout North America. The company is strongly committed to a foundation of financial strength, operating excellence and professionalism.

Waste Management, combined with its wholly owned subsidiary Recycle America, is North America’s largest recycler, handling 5.8 million tons of commodities each year, and saving more than 70 million trees and enough energy to power 1.6 million households.

Keep America Beautiful, established in 1953, is the nation’s largest volunteer-based community action and education organization, with 1,000 affiliates and participating organizations. This national nonprofit forms public-private partnerships and programs that engage individuals to take greater responsibility for improving communities through litter prevention, waste reduction and beautification efforts. The Great American Cleanup™ is one of its many programs that encourage people to care for communities through volunteer participation.

The 2006 program involves 35 grants to organizations within Keep America Beautiful’s national network for a wide variety of stewardship, community outreach and educational projects.

“Helping America think green and clean is our business. Waste Management collects, recycles or disposes of thousands of tons of America’s trash each day—and we want to do more,” said Everett Bass, vice president of community relations and public sector services for Waste Management. “Waste Management wants to challenge communities to think green, to accept responsibility toward our environment and to find local solutions to keeping America beautiful.”

The wide range of programs in which Waste Management participates reflects the diverse interests and needs of the communities involved. These programs tackle electronics recycling, provide hands-on environmental education, support public outreach through the media, conduct tree plantings and beautification efforts, and develop recycling events. Support of these initiatives marks Waste Management’s continuing commitment to local community quality of life. Through its efforts, the company raises building awareness about important resources, like landfills, for safe and effective waste management; how waste can become an alternative energy source; and recycling.

Waste Management also partners with Keep America Beautiful as a national sponsor for Keep America Beautiful’s Great American Cleanup™.

Every time we recycle or use landfill gas to create clean energy, we not only help the planet, we also conserve considerable amounts of energy and natural resources,” Bass said.

For example, the company’s almost 100 renewable energy projects produce enough electricity to power more than 800,000 homes and save the equivalent of 8.2 million barrels of oil per year.

“Waste Management believes that recycling and green energy alternatives make a positive impact on communities across America,” Bass said.

This is just one of the latest examples of businesses across the world trying to cut costs through use of alternative energy. In the case of Cascades, landfill gas is replacing 75 percent of the mill’s natural gas usage and should help meet a large part of its energy requirements for the next 10 years. It is also reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 540,000 tons a year—the equivalent of removing about 120,000 cars from the roads.

The paper mill’s 10-year contract to use Waste Management’s landfill gas as a cost-efficient, alternative energy source is credited with keeping the plant open after rising fuel costs threatened the continued operation of the Saint-Jérôme manufacturing facility, which was built in 1892.
“ We ask ourselves, where does our responsibility as a company end and our responsibility as members of the community and custodians of the earth begin,” said David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management, Inc. “I am so very proud that the renewable energy technology not only was able to capture methane gas for a beneficial use, but also save 315 jobs at this historic paper mill.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Most agree that conserving resources is the environmentally responsible thing to do. However, that is easier said than done. The challenge of making recycling a widespread practice, supported by consumers and business alike, has been a hurdle in the waste industry for many years.

Waste Management is working to overcome that hurdle. The company provides leadership to make recycling a working, sustainable solution for residential, commercial, municipal and industrial customers across the United States and Canada.

“ Ultimately, we should do everything we can to benefit our own neighborhoods, families, cities and quality of life,” Steiner said. “We are stewards of the earth’s resources. This report lets stakeholders know about our efforts—both internally and externally—to ‘Think Green.’”
Through the resources of subsidiary WM Recycle America (WMRA), Waste Management provides recycling programs that are cost-effective and environmentally sound for cities, businesses and households. Waste Management is the largest provider of recycling services in North America, processing 5.8 million tons of commodities in 2005. At year-end 2005, the company operated 131 recycling locations in the United States and Canada. It also operates or has operated eight glass-recycling facilities, two plastics-recycling facilities and three electronics-recycling facilities.

“ Together, these facilities enable us to offer high-quality recyclable feedstocks to mills worldwide,” Steiner said.

Waste Management has a history of leadership in the recycling industry. The company was the first major solid waste company to focus on single-stream recycling, which allows customers to commingle recyclable paper and mixed containers in one bin for collection. The convenience of single-stream recycling greatly increases participation, resulting in the recovery of up to 30 percent more recyclable materials.
Waste Management uses state-of-the-art equipment to sort and process recyclable paper, glass, plastics, metals and electronics. The company has introduced innovative ideas, cutting-edge technology and advanced systems to streamline everything from the collection of recyclable materials to processing and marketing them.

Materials are recycled as follows:
Fiber. WMRA handles more than 4.2 million tons of fiber annually, including more than 50 grades of office paper, printer waste, cardboard, newspaper, and high grade de-inking and pulp substitutes. By recycling more than 2.5 million tons of newspaper a year, the company saves about 41 million trees. And by recycling more than 1.5 million tons of cardboard, it recycles more than six billion boxes each year.

Glass. By recycling close to a million tons of glass annually, the company keeps roughly 500 million pounds of mining waste from being generated.

Plastics. Waste Management saves enough energy to power almost 116,000 houses for one year by recycling more than 229,000 tons of plastics annually.

Metal. WMRA and Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., Waste Management’s waste-to-energy subsidiary, process more than 371,000 tons of metals annually. Through the recycling of more than 57,000 tons of steel cans, Waste Management reduces greenhouse gases equivalent to taking approximately 21,000 cars off the road each year.

Electronics. Waste Management also manages and recovers electronic scrap materials. As the nation’s leading coast-to-coast provider of electronics recycling services, WMRA offers services ranging from end-of-life equipment recycling, collection events, mail-back programs and drop-offs, to commodity marketing and brokerage.

In addition to a network of dedicated e-cycling facilities, the company works with service partners and local Waste Management facilities to offer collection and processing operations in more than 20 states. Waste Management’s network of more than 80 drop-off locations is the largest in the United States and Canada.

WMRA has played a leading role in product stewardship efforts, creating successful electronics-recycling programs with companies such as Sony and Best Buy. Waste Management was the first U.S. electronics recycler to achieve ISO 9001 and 14001 certification for its regional processing centers, and the first to develop an Environmental Stewardship Pledge, publicly defining the company’s high standards for managing and marketing electronic products and components.

Waste Management’s environmental standards have been employed by two municipalities in their recycling programs. Last year, the mayor of Little Rock, Ark., asked Waste Management to help the city boost participation in recycling by area residents. Working with local government, the company developed a year-round recycling education program that taught residents how to recycle properly.

In addition to educational tours for local students at the material recovery center in Little Rock, Waste Management also helped devise a “Green Bin Instant Win” program that rewarded residents for proper curbside recycling. The results were gratifying: In the first few months, more than 700 residents requested new recycling bins, and more than 5,000 people enrolled in the program. The city experienced a 12-percent increase in tons recycled during this time.

Also in 2005, the city of Oakland, Calif., asked Waste Management to help move the city toward its goal of 75-percent waste reduction by the year 2010. The company took on the challenge, and helped launch the largest new recycling program in the county’s history. In a matter of weeks, Waste Management implemented an enhanced single-stream recycling program, and delivered 60,000 recycling carts and 100,000 kitchen pails for food-scrap recycling throughout the city. The program allows the city’s 400,000 residents to combine food scraps, soiled papers and yard trimmings all in one cart for weekly pickup and conversion into compost.

Waste Management helps private companies build successful programs, as well. Waste Management’s ISO 14001 certified service group, Upstream, helps large companies reduce waste, reuse materials and capture and remarket recyclables on a large scale, as part of total environmental management programs customized for each customer.

The ISO certification of Upstream demonstrates Waste Management’s commitment to applying the highest environmental standards to programs at customer locations. It means that Upstream has established an environmental management system that meets stringent specifications in such areas as determining the environmental impact of services, developing environmental objectives and ensuring ongoing management review.

The certification is particularly noteworthy because it applies not just to a particular location, as is often the case, but also to all of Upstream’s 200 operating sites. For example, for many businesses, recycling means sending waste products such as cardboard, paper or construction debris to a waste-recovery plant. However, some industrial waste products can be returned directly to the manufacturer without ever leaving the site. Upstream division recently helped Alcoa, the world’s largest producer of primary and fabricated aluminum products, to do just that at its Massena, N.Y., manufacturing facilities.

At one plant, 75 percent of the non-hazardous waste stream consisted of alumina, a key component in the aluminum production process. As part of its “total waste management” contract with Alcoa, Upstream helped devise a system to recover and reintroduce more than 20 tons of alumina per week, saving the company an estimated $600,000 annually in landfill and raw materials costs.

In addition to the traditional three “R’s”—reduce, reuse, recycle—Waste Management has introduced a fourth “R” in resource recovery. In its own backyard, Waste Management is seeking out new ways for landfills to contribute to renewable energy solutions. The company’s long-term vision is to change today’s landfill into a source of clean energy to power homes and fuel vehicles.

“ We see a future in which the landfill becomes a form of resource recovery instead of merely disposal,” Steiner said. “Today’s modern, engineered landfill is an environmentally sound system for solid waste disposal. All aspects of landfill operations are controlled to ensure that the health and safety of everyone living and working around the landfill are protected, and the environment is secure.”

Waste Management has taken a leading role in the development of Next Generation Technology, which transforms landfills from waste repositories into waste treatment systems. At 10 landfills across the United States and Canada, Waste Management is applying its Next Generation Technology to accelerate the decomposition of waste. By circulating air, collected landfill liquid and other liquids such as stormwater or wastewater back through the waste mass in a landfill, the decomposition of waste can occur in years instead of decades. This action improves compaction and extends the useful life of the landfill without expanding its size.

Additionally, this technology produces more landfill gas over a shorter time, allowing greater gas recovery, better emissions control and more efficient gas-to-energy use. As a result, the landfill is stabilized more quickly, which means the land can be converted to other useful purposes sooner. The benefits of this technology are being measured and analyzed for broader future use. Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies and leading researchers, Waste Management contributes to studies of the environmental and economic benefits of Next Generation Technology.

In another example of speeding up the natural processes of landfill decomposition, Waste Management’s Riverbend Landfill in Portland, Ore., received an Excellence in Engineering award from the American Academy of Environmental Engineering for its unique approach to leachate management. Leachate is the liquid waste produced by water passing through the solid waste in a landfill. The wet Pacific Northwest climate generates significant volumes of leachate that must be removed from waste cells and treated.

A number of treatment options involving filtration, distillation, evaporation and wastewater treatment were considered, but in the end, something more innovative was designed: a poplar tree farm. This tree farm employs an advanced drip irrigation system for precision leachate application and extensive environmental monitoring systems. This sustainable tree plantation plan ensures consistent harvesting and leachate handling capacity far into the future. While managing the leachate generated by the landfill, the trees also provide the added benefit of an attractive visual buffer and wildlife habitat.

Growing new trees, recycling paper and generating electricity is part of Waste Management’s daily business. As one of the largest collectors of recyclables from businesses and households, Waste Management is taking the reduce-reuse-recycle concept into every venue.

Liz Johnson is senior communications specialist with Waste Management, Inc. Find out more at

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