The New State of Waste: The Top 3 Impacts to the Waste Industry from 2016

Evan Bue

2016 brought noteworthy impacts in the waste industry; below are some of the year’s most significant developments as observed by Ecova’s Waste Solutions team.

1) Big Data Has Enabled Striking Insight

Big Data has become a focal point for many institutions trying to successfully manage their waste production.

For example, the EPA just released its yearly assessment of continental municipal solid waste statistics.  In addition to concluding that roughly 4.4 pounds of trash is produced per person, per day, they determined that of the 136 million tons of trash sent to landfills, 20 percent of it was food waste.

Putting these numbers in perspective: that’s 20% of the entire country’s food supply wasted.  That’s $162 billion worth of goods trashed. It’s 20% of the US’s greenhouse footprint.  And it’s countless people going hungry while others discard.

Without this data, we would never have known the extent of the food waste problem.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the surge of accessible data has accelerated action towards sustainable management of waste.

2) Action Is Becoming the Norm

Take the Circular Economy, a perfect embodiment of a new waste paradigm. In this model, food waste is being captured and refined into liquid fertilizer, to be sold for both large scale agriculture clients and gardening hobbyists alike.  The methane gas produced from decomposing waste, which normally serves as a potent magnifier of global warming, is being captured and sent to power generating facilities where electricity is produced, sold, and distributed.

Fortune 500 companies are following suit as well.  Just this year, Alaska Airlines flew one of its commercial airliners from Seattle to Washington D.C. using 20 percent biofuel sourced from Pacific Northwest logging residuals.

And even though many other companies have yet to pursue waste reduction commitments, the industry standard has changed. Just last month, the USDA and EPA announced the inaugural U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions. Each entity awarded the title has committed to reducing by 50% their food loss and waste by 2030.  To name just a few of these recipients: Walmart, PepsiCo, Kellogg Company.

3) Regulations and Zero Waste Incentives Are Being Put to the Test

Los Angeles, California, motivated by its goal of achieving a 95% diversion rate by 2025, has embarked on a complex trash hauler franchise system.  Set to be fully implemented in early 2018, the trash haulers allowed to pick up rubbish within city limits must agree to be governed by a strict contract that is full of ambitious and comprehensive waste regulations.

In total, the 7 private companies awarded the contract will be required to spend $200 million in collection and processing infrastructure improvements.  Concretely, this will mean an entire fleet of collection trucks running only on natural gas, as well as the development of additional facilities to handle increased diversion of recyclable and organic materials.

With cities only becoming more ambitious with environmental goals, Los Angeles’ excursion into a highly regulated trash hauling system will serve as an example for many cities to come.

And so, finishing our moment of reflection, there is data to support optimism, insight to understand what needs to be done, and much action to look forward to.  Or, more simply put:  the new state of waste has arrived.  We look forward to being a part of it.

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