- Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS) is in final negotiations to purchase the Atkinson Landfill in Illinois from the owner of Chicago-based Ravenswood Disposal. As first reported by the Dispatch-Argus, the deal was approved by the village of Atkinson and the Henry County Board this month.
- If the deal is finalized, LRS would assume responsibility for any remaining debt to the village and take over a 2006 host community agreement with Henry County. It would also be responsible for completing site remediation mandated by the Illinois attorney general's office in a 2016 settlement. Specific financial terms have not been disclosed.
- LRS has built a reputation in part on vowing "not to own or operate a landfill," but maintains this won't change that recycling-first strategy. "If it closes, it provides us further avenues to expand our existing footprint," CEO Alan Handley told Waste Dive in an interview. "In our natural progression as a company, having landfill assets at our disposal is probably prudent."
This particular landfill property has had an eventful lifespan since it first opened in 1980. After Henry County sold the site to Ravenswood CEO Branko Vardijan in 1992, it has been the subject of multiple state regulatory and legal actions. After going dormant for more than a decade, the landfill reopened under its current name with expanded capacity in 2009. It later closed in 2013 after exceeding height limits before getting clearance to reopen again in June 2018.
This deal appears to have been in the works since at least that time. State records indicate LRS filed to change the name of its acquiring subsidiary to Western Illinois Landfill LLC in June 2018. Henry County was notified of the potential sale by Vardijan's Atkinson Landfill Company in July 2018.
The Atkinson Landfill's estimated lifespan remains unclear for various reasons, and, given the multi-year closure, it hasn't been included in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's annual landfill report since 2014. At the time, it was estimated the landfill could have more than 10 million tons of capacity remaining – or 173 years at current disposal rates.
LRS, the product of a merger between two Chicago-area companies, is the largest private waste and recycling company in the region. The company currently owns and operates 15 MRFs, a significant municipal and commercial collection business, an aerobic digester system and various other assets across Illinois and Wisconsin.
The company is often cited as a leader on the increasingly small list of independent private recyclers – and one of the few for-profit entities in that category – that are making the business work amid broader market shifts. Still, given that LRS is already handling waste from collection routes and its MRF residuals, the move to vertical integration is described as a necessary step. The Illinois market is highly competitive, so this landfill deal comes as a unique opportunity.
"When we started this little journey together in 2012, we were $50 million in sales and maybe had a million tons that we controlled. Today, we're doing $250 million in sales and have almost 3 million tons at our control. So the company has grown dramatically and we have to evolve accordingly," said Handley. "It doesn't change our DNA, which is to still make sure that we keep as much out of landfills as possible."
The latest example of that expansion was announced in January with the acquisition of multiple commercial and residential routes from Molenhouse Enterprises in the Chicago suburbs. Following the recent news of Waste Management's plans to acquire Advanced Disposal Services, some have speculated LRS would be a natural buyer for any potentially federally-required divestitures in the Chicago area. When asked, Handley said the news is still very fresh, but didn't rule out the possibility.
"We obviously are interested in continuing to expand our presence in the region and to take advantage of any opportunities that come our way," he said.