Waste Management shows reduced emissions, flat recycling in sustainability report
- Waste Management operated 6,100 trucks that run on natural gas as of the end of Q3, according to the company's 2017 sustainability report update, compared to around 5,100 at the end of 2016. Already, Waste Management has surpassed its 2020 goal of reducing fleet emissions by 15%. Emissions had been reduced 26% in 2016 using a 2007 baseline.
- The company has a goal of recycling 20 million tons of material annually by 2020. In 2016, Waste Management recycled 14.7 million tons of material, meaning the company has a significant amount of ground left to cover. The company processed 14 million and 15.1 million tons in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
- In addition, the company has set a goal of producing enough electricity from solar panels, landfill gas-to-energy, waste-to-energy, waste-based fuel and steam to power 2 million homes by 2020. According to the report, the company currently generated enough power for 470,000 homes in 2016 and 2017. A drop from 1.08 million in 2014 is due to the divestiture of Wheelabrator's waste-to-energy business.
To reach its goal of recycling 20 million tons annually by 2020, Waste Management has the ambitious task of increasing its capacity by over 5 million tons in about two years. However, the waste stream has changed since the company introduced its recycling goals: Recyclables volumes have increased in many places while the weight of those recyclables may have not grown as much due to factors such as thinner plastics.
"As an example, it now takes 97,000 water bottles to reach a ton versus 62,000 a decade ago," Waste Management Spokeswoman Tiffiany Moehring said in an email to Waste Dive. "That is great news for the environment, which is why we are changing our goals away from weight based goals to GHG emissions reduction goals."
Moehring added that the company's new goals recognize the benefits of reducing emissions that are associated with reducing waste along all parts of the value chain, "rather than focusing on the shortcomings associated with our current 20 million weight-based goal."
The company must also reconcile discrepancies between its original goals for WTE and current realities. Moehring described Wheelabrator and WTE plants as the "second half of the equation" to the company's energy-production goals.
"We realize that our waste-based energy goal cannot be achieved by 2020. When we originally set our goals, we intended them to be directional — and aspirational," Moehring wrote. "Although it meant that we were unlikely to achieve our 2020 goal on renewable energy, we divested Wheelabrator to concentrate on our core competencies in [landfill gas-to-energy] and recycling." She added that the company's next round of sustainability reporting would consider ways to highlight the production of low-carbon fuel from its landfills.
Low-carbon fuel production is a field that Waste Management and other companies have been rapidly developing. Republic Services, for example, highlighted its developments in CNG in its 2016 sustainability report. According to Waste Management's new report, the company operates 104 natural gas fueling stations, more than two dozen of which are open to the public. The company also maintains 131 landfill gas-to-energy facilities nationwide.
As more interest develops in moving vehicles to compressed natural gas, companies that capitalize on and invest in landfill gas projects now will be better positioned to stay competitive in the shifting fuel market.
- Waste Management Leading Change
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