Commercial volumes are down dramatically in many markets, employee hours are being cut and contract terms are tested. How service providers respond could have lasting implications.
What looked like it would be another boom year for waste and recycling companies has dramatically shifted within a matter of weeks to become the year of COVID-19. Business continues, as the industry’s services have been deemed essential during the pandemic, but no one can predict what it will look like on the other side.
Protecting employees from the coronavirus is said to remain the industry’s top priority, with significant attention focused in recent weeks on new procedures for frontline workers and shifting thousands of administrative personnel to remote arrangements. But with commerce largely shut down in many parts of the United States, some companies are faced with the existential issue of maintaining those jobs in the first place.
Regardless of their size or financial reserves, all of the industry’s service providers are still navigating a host of largely unforeseen questions about how to do business. Waste Dive spoke with more than a dozen executives and analysts over the past week to learn more about how they are pivoting to life in the new coronavirus economy.
Across the country, retail stores, bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, hotels, entertainment venues, sports arenas, airports, office towers, casinos and construction projects have largely gone dark. Their containers have emptied out in turn, leading to a dramatic reduction in bedrock commercial and industrial volumes.
«Commercial for us is at a complete halt,» said Gregory Lettieri, CEO of New York-based Recycle Track Systems (RTS), last Monday. While Lettieri noted demand continues from certain customers such as grocery stores, and interest in on-demand services has increased, he described activity at many sites across the company’s multi-city footprint as essentially frozen.
Other companies working in New York, a market where the private sector has limited diversification in residential business unless it’s outside the five boroughs, have made major cuts to the number of routes they are running and are processing less material at their facilities.
Interstate Waste Services (IWS) has laid off staff at its MRF in the Bronx, partially due to operational factors around social distancing but also because commercial recycling volumes are down significantly. Ron Bergamini, executive vice president of government relations, said clean cardboard is still a priority, but the limited volume of material has meant IWS needs to temporarily dedicate its attention elsewhere.
«Recycling is an important part of our business and mission, but at this time let’s focus on priorities of the moment — social distancing and allocating resources,» he said. «We are making sure we can serve hospitals and new health facilities. If recycling suffers for a few weeks, so be it.»
In addition to healthcare facilities, demand is also steady across other essential sites in the Northeast including grocery stores, bodegas, convenience stores and food manufacturing facilities.
In one sign of this sudden shift, Vanguard Renewables — the largest anaerobic digester operator in the Northeast — has seen inbound organics volumes increase during recent weeks…WASTE DIVE