Talkin' Trash: Casella wraps up earnings season, and a look at SWANApalooza highlights
This week we analyzed the last of the quarterly earnings calls (thanks, Casella!), spent some time at SWANApalooza in Denver, and analyzed the latest news out of the federal government that could impact the waste industry.
It was another busy week, so let's dive in.
Stories that drove the week
Casella Waste Systems finished the year with 5.2% more in revenue than it did in the same time last year. But operating income from recycling was down by $1.9 million.
- The company said it expects "historically low" levels for commodity prices to continue this year.
- CEO John Casella estimated the company has at least $500 million in acquisition in the Northeast.
The company has an upcoming landfill closure in Massachusetts, but is confident it can make up what it loses in volume with higher price points in other states.
The Recycling Partnership showed notable successes in three 2017 pilot cities: Denver, Atlanta and Chicago.
- In Atlanta, TRP focused on plastic bags in recycling carts and saw a 57% drop in contamination on pilot routes. Denver focused on aluminum cans, which saw a 15% capture rate increase.
- Chicago has a notoriously high contamination rate; the campaign in the city saw a 32% decrease in contamination.
Since starting in a handful of municipalities in Massachusetts, TRP's contamination model has grown in size and scalability. These three projects, in cities with a variety of existing resources (Atlanta is already partnered with Rubicon for data collection, for example), showcase just how important it is that education programs be adapted to populations, and a "one-size-fits-all" approach may not work across different cities.
SWANApalooza in Denver saw conversations about taxes, marijuana and recycling markets.
- One thing to keep in mind when considering company policies around marijuana is the drug's medicinal use. Terminating employees who have a legitimate medical license to use the substance could expose companies to legal trouble, according to an employment lawyer who spoke at SWANApalooza.
- Even though recycling markets have become tighter because of China's changing policies, don't expect the trend of single-stream recycling to go away, according to panelists from the Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management and local governments. The main messages from that session were about reducing contamination through education and technology investments.
- Stifel financial analyst Michael E. Hoffman said haulers should start charging more for recycling, and that the companies have been undercharging the service for decades. To that end, he also said it's unlikely any companies would be returning tax cut savings to customers in the form of pricing.
States are legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) marijuana coast-to-coast, and it may only be a matter of time before haulers in every state are discussing how to handle employee use of the substance. Combine those changing laws with the recent changes to the tax code,and China's continued action on imports, and 2018 is shaping up to be a disruptive year.
At the federal level, we saw a nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Land and Emergency Management as well as the announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum.
- Peter C. Wright, a lawyer from Dow Chemical, was nominated to lead the OLEM at the EPA, the office which oversees the Superfund program and other solid waste-related projects, like Resource Conservation and Recovery.
- President Trump moved forward on applying tariffs to steel and aluminum, which could increase commodity prices in the U.S.
Both of these moves are in early stages, so it's hard to say for sure what they could mean for the industry. Wright has spoken in the past of bringing reform to the Superfund project, by, for example, giving more authority and control to state agencies — but he faces confirmation in the Senate before getting to work. The tariffs could lead to higher prices for recovered metals, but it could also make purchasing equipment more expensive.
The latest in M&A
GFL Environmental announced the closing of a deal to acquire Smithrite Disposal and Carney's Waste Systems, all based in Canada. The deal helps GFL expand its operations in British Columbia.
Did we miss a merger or an acquisition? Let us know by emailing [email protected]
How are Chinese import policies playing out across the U.S.?
Things are looking dire in the Southwest. Municipalities in New Mexico and Texas are hurting, in large part because the region has only one processor, Friedman Recycling. The company is trying to renegotiate terms with the cities it serves, because its cost structure has flipped "upside down," according to President Morris Friedman.
Idaho continues to take a beating. The Twin Falls City Council voted early this week to keep the recycling program by raising rates in April. However, recycling will only occur if processing it would cost less than $100 per ton; otherwise it will go to landfill. PSI Environmental and the city will split the disposal cost.
Oregon's Marion County became the latest to limit the items it will accept, as of March 5, to align with the Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association's list of recommended materials. Market effects also continued to play out in this news this week for states including Colorado, Montana, Virginia and Washington.
You can follow all of this information on our 50 state tracker page. Tips and feedback are highly appreciated.
Other stories from the week...
- Norway is using drones to track down trash in its fjords. Really.
- A small business owner in Las Vegas is suing Republic Services, alleging the company is trying to hurt her business.
- Waste Dive's Kristin Musulin talked with the president of Pink Trash, a Wilmington, NC-based hauler that stays involved in the community.
- Complaints of missed pickups in Los Angeles are down 68% as the recycLA franchise system matures.
- A diver, filming in Bali, produced a video of marine plastic that's since gone viral.
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