- The U.S. waste industry's revenue was more than $70 billion in 2016 and could reach $80 billion by 2021, according to new analysis from Waste Business Journal. Broken down, 57% of the revenue is generated by publicly traded companies, 23% by private companies and 20% by municipalities or local governments.
- Collection comprised the largest portion of overall revenues, at $44 billion or 62%. Disposal — including waste-to-energy — generated $18 billion, or 26%. Material transfer and recovery — including recycling — was responsible for $8 billion, or 12%.
- The direct role of local governments in the waste sector has decreased over the past 20 years. In 1996 — when the industry was worth an estimated $41 billion per year — local governments comprised about 30% of that business. In 2016, their share was about 20%.
Like many industries, the U.S. waste and recycling world has experienced considerable consolidation in recent decades. Three publicly traded giants — Waste Management, Republic Services and Waste Connections — now dominate a field that once included many others. Aside from showing up on corporate records, legal documents or the odd piece of equipment, once major names such as USA Waste, Browning-Ferris Industries, Allied Waste Services and Progressive Waste Solutions are starting to become a thing of the past. Smaller companies such as Deffenbaugh Industries, Groot Industries, ReCommunity and many others have also been acquired by these large players recently.
Though as seen over the past year, other companies outside of these top three have also shown signs of growth. Waste Industries, which recently announced its own restructuring to facilitate future expansion, has made a conscious decision to do this by staying private since 2008 after more than a decade of being public. On the other hand, Advanced Disposal took the IPO path to fund its own growth late last year. Canadian company GFL Environmental recently embarked on an expansion into the U.S. and could go public itself some day. European players such as FCC Environmental Services have recently entered the scene. The role of other non-traditional companies, such as Rubicon Global or Recycle Track Systems, is also still a factor in the years to come. Many other companies of varying sizes have been making their own moves in regional markets with the potential for more surprises ahead.
Because the U.S. traditionally exerts less federal control over the industry than in other countries, much of the decision-making happens at the local level. These governments can still play large roles — as seen in recent discussions about franchising and landfill regulations. Yet Waste Business Journal's analysis also shows that more local officials are now relinquishing the daily work of collection and processing to outside companies rather than managing it themselves. In many cases, particularly in smaller municipalities or counties, those officials often defer to corporate representatives for guidance on topics that may be beyond their expertise. This may mean that when large-scale issues, such as China's new trade policies, begin to affect the industry the preferences of larger publicly trade companies could carry more weight in decisions about local programs. Based on past events, that trend is expected to continue.