WRN´s top stories of 2011
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Dec. 30 — The stories of the year, as voted on by Waste & Recycling News editors and reporters:

1. Ashes in landfill

The motto of the military’s mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware promises three things to America’s fallen soldiers: dignity, honor and respect.

The consensus among veterans, military families and lawmakers is that the people entrusted to care for the nation’s war dead have failed on all three.

Americans learned hours before Veterans Day that cremated body parts of fallen soldiers were sent to a landfill for disposal from 2003 until 2008.

The Washington Post reported that ashen remains from 274 military men and women were sent was King George County Landfill in Virginia, which is owned by the county and operated by Waste Management Inc.

Both county officials and Waste Management personnel told Waste & Recycling News they had no idea the practice was occurring until the news broke.

Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Kardell said that her company still has not heard from the U.S. Air Force despite repeated calls from company lawyers.

Gari-Lynn Smith, whose husband was killed in Iraq in 2006, found out that portions of his cremated remains ended up in the landfill when she received a letter from an official at Dover.

“My only peace of mind in losing my husband was that he was taken to Dover and that he was handled with dignity, love, respect and honor,” Smith told the Post. “That was completely shattered for me when I was told that he was thrown in the trash.”

The military is still investigating problems with the mortuary at the air base, and WRN will continue to follow the story in 2012.

2. Veolia to sell

A dozen years after making a billion-dollar splash into the U.S. trash industry, Veolia plans to exit the business after realizing the company can never reach a “critical mass” in this market.

Paris-based Veolia Environnement, during an investor presentation on Dec. 6, revealed plans to sell its Veolia ES Solid Waste Inc. business in the United States, a unit that has 2,800 trucks, 3,375 employees and more than 150 locations.

Veolia ES Solid Waste’s business is essentially concentrated along a swath stretching from Florida to the upper Midwest, with a significant presence in Wisconsin stemming from its roots as a Milwaukee area-based operation called Superior Services Inc.

A number of companies could get pieces of Veolia ES Solid Waste or the solid waste business could be sold entirely to a private equity group or a large company in the industry. Decisions are expected to be made in the next 24 months and analysts say it will be sooner rather than later. See pages 1-2.

3. WM buys Oakleaf

A small nonprofit group challenged the legitimacy of Waste Management Inc.’s purchase of the nation’s largest waste broker on antitrust grounds, but the deal went through anyway.

Waste Management made headlines in July with the $ 425 million acquisition of Windsor, Conn.-based Oakleaf, a provider of waste and recycling services to about 115,000 customers through about 800 national accounts. Oakleaf contracts with customers and then hires third-party haulers around the country to do the actual work.

Waste Management executives say the deal will positively impact its earnings early in 2012.

4. Back in the game

H. Wayne Huizenga, arguably the most recognized name in the modern day history of solid waste management, is back in the garbage business.

These days, Huizenga is chairman of Swisher Hygiene Inc., which made its first acquisition in the trash business in January with Choice Environmental Services Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

But don’t expect Swisher Hygiene to start rolling up the garbage industry like Huizenga did in past stints leading Waste Management Inc. and Republic Services Inc., now the two largest trash companies in the country.

This time around, Swisher Hygiene is looking for more strategic acquisitions that can complement its existing hygiene and sanitation services provided to commercial customers – although a play for Veolia ES Solid Waste isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

5. Dallas flow law challenge

Dallas plans to “vigorously” defend its flow control ordinance after the National Solid Wastes Management Association, along with Waste Management Inc., Republic Services Inc. and several other haulers filed a lawsuit against the city.

The Dallas City Council approved the ordinance Sept. 28, which would force all waste collected at commercial and industrial facilities to be disposed at the city-owned McCommas Bluff Landfill. Most residential waste is already collected by the city and taken to the McCommas Bluff Landfill.

NSWMA and the haulers are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the ordinance from going into effect. The first of what promises to be a long legal battle begins in January.

6. Calif. compost deaths

It’s a tragedy that has rippled through a California town and around the composting community – two brothers are dead after apparently inhaling fatal gases while cleaning out a drainage tunnel at a composting facility.

Sixteen-year-old Armando Ra-mirez, who was working under false papers that said he was 30, and his 22-year-old brother Eladio Ramirez were the victims at Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc. in Lamont, Calif., on Oct. 12.

Autopsies were performed on the two brothers by the Kern County Coroner’s Office, but proved inconclusive as to cause of death, said Ray Pruitt, public information officer for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Further toxicology and microscopic testing are being performed and the results are expected to be released early in 2012. Meanwhile, the composting facility was ordered to close by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, and Community Recycling is challenging that order, with a court date scheduled for Jan. 24.

7. E-waste developments

The growing U.S. electronic waste problem reached the White House.

The long-awaited report on electronic stewardship from the Obama administration was met with mixed feelings from industry experts, with some calling it practical and others saying it didn’t go far enough.

The 34-page report, titled “National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship,” was released as Obama administration officials gathered in Austin, Texas, on July 20 to discuss the findings. Among other issues, it banned federal government electronics equipment from being landfilled.

Officials from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) lauded the report, saying it took concrete, practical steps to address end-of-life electronics and how they could be reused.

Other groups complained that the law did not address the health hazardous associated with e-waste exports to developing countries. In an exclusive op-ed written for Waste & Recycling News, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who proposed a ban, said the U.S. should keep recycling jobs at home.

8. Safety

On-the-job fatalities among trash and recycling collectors spiked 30% in 2010, an increase called troubling and disappointing by the National Solid Wastes Management Association trade group.

Collecting trash and recyclables remained the seventh most dangerous job in America for the second consecutive year. Preliminary federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate 26 people died while working their collection jobs in 2010, up from 20 such workers in 2009.

“Younger drivers in particular are texting with increased frequency,” said David Biderman, safety director for NSWMA. “And their distracted driving leads them to run into people and trucks.”

9. Harrisburg WTE plant

The waste incinerator in Harrisburg, Pa., has burned through more than just garbage over the past four decades. It’s burned through money, the patience of residents and now the city’s solvency.

Harrisburg became the first state capital in memory – perhaps in history — to declare bankruptcy, thanks to the $ 310 million debt that hangs over the Harrisburg Resource Recovery Facility.

The incinerator has been a money pit in Harrisburg since it was built in 1972, with the biggest chunk of investment coming when the city spent $ 125 million to rebuild the facility in 2003.

Finally, on Oct. 12, with $ 65 million of its debt due, the City Council voted to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy instead of adopting a recovery plan developed by the state and Mayor Linda Thompson.

The decision has touched off a legal battle. The mayor refused to sign the declaration, calling it illegal, and a week later, the state enacted a takeover of the city’s finances.

10. Coke

Coca-Cola Co. had a number of problems this year.

First, the joint-venture PET recycling plant that the company opened with great fanfare two years ago in Spartanburg, S.C., stopped making food-grade recycled PET.

Then, an error in a sustainability report said Coke was thinking about lightening its stance on bottle deposit laws, but that turned out not to be true at all.

And finally, in November, news broke that officials at Grand Canyon National Park had halted plans to ban water bottles after discussions with Coke, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

Compiled by Vince Bond Jr., WRN reporter

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