Waste Management’s five-year recycling investments expected to exceed $700 million by 2022
Rising demand for recycled content products driving investment to capture more recycled materials and increase access to recycling
Houston-based Waste Management (WM) has announced it expects to invest $200 million in recycling infrastructure in 2022, bringing the company's investment in new and upgraded recycling facilities to over $700 million since 2018. With the demand for recycled content products continuing to rise, the investment will enable WM to capture more recycled materials and increase access to recycling for its customers.
Over the past two years, WM has opened new materials recovery facilities (MRFs) in Chicago, Illinois, Salt Lake City, Utah, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Sun Valley, California. These facilities include state-of-the-art recycling technologies, such as robotics, intelligent sorting, volumetric scanners, cameras on collection vehicles to further reduce contamination.
By 2023, WM plans to outfit 95 percent of its residential recycling facilities with updated recycling technology, further enabling and enhancing the company's ability to provide high-quality recycled commodities to its customers. WM's Chicago facility was named the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) 2021 Recycling Facility of the Year and served as the pilot location for the technology.
"As consumer-packaged goods companies continue to set aggressive 2025 and 2030 goals for recycled content - in many cases approaching 50 percent - solutions need to scale, especially related to plastics, as plastic capture must grow five times to meet these targets," said Tara Hemmer, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, WM.
"We are making great progress unlocking this supply, increasing overall recycled plastic volume by 25 percent since 2019 and this will continue to expand. These enhancements will ensure recyclables are efficiently sorted and sold to high-quality end markets, meeting the strong demand for recycled content material in new products."
WM also expects to upgrade much of its remaining recycling facility network. MRFs in Houston, Cleveland, Washington and Maryland, are being fully renovated, and 29 existing MRFs have already been, or are currently being, outfitted with enhanced technology as well as supplemental capacity.
According to WM, these recycling investments play an important role in their commitment to sustainability, contributing to the company's support of the circular economy, while helping customers achieve recycling and environmental goals. Since 2019, Waste Management's recycling of specific types of plastic such as polypropylene (#5 PP) has increased by as much as 40 percent, including items such as shampoo and medicine bottles, yogurt cups, skin care lotions and deodorant containers.
This latest announcement follows the release of the WM 2021 Sustainability Report, where the company noted the implementation of employee uniforms made of Unifi's REPREVE fiber, woven with recycled plastic; 2025 goals exceeded, to have more than half of its compressed natural gas fleet powered by RNG; and an expanded Your Tomorrow benefit, paying for education and upskilling opportunities for both employees and their dependents, starting in 2022.
Traditionally, waste management companies have operated using a simple "management of waste" approach to operating a MRF. Throughput targets and continuous operation (minimal downtime) were the main driving forces. The industry has changed however, and the focus moving forward is now on optimizing system performance and reliability, in conjunction with increasing recycling rates and a drive for a "greener" and more sustainable tomorrow.
When considering the addition of, or upgrade to, an "intelligent" MRF, for municipalities or private operators, the main factors should always be the client's (operator) current requirements, and evolving market needs, which include throughput, reliability, output quality, and adaptability. Equally important is a full understanding of what is really expected from any proposed system. Having an engaged and focused mindset for the project with the client from the beginning, will impact and drive the entire design process. This then impacts the overall project result, through to the productive, efficient, ongoing operation of the facility itself.