Waste groups watch possible Veolia sale, flow control
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By Jim Johnson | WRN senior reporter

Jan. 11 — Some of the biggest stories from late 2011 will end up being the biggest stories of 2012, leaders of two groups representing the solid waste industry agree.

Folks at the National Solid Wastes Management Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of an issue just by nature of their groups. NSWMA represents private companies in the solid waste industry while SWANA represents public sector solid waste employees.

So a topic like flow control, where local governments determine where waste is disposed, will be an issue where the two groups will never see eye-to-eye.

But NSWMA CEO Bruce J. Parker and SWANA CEO John H. Skinner both say that the impending sale of Veolia ES Solid Waste Inc. could have a significant impact on the solid waste business this year.

Veolia ES Solid Waste´s Paris-based parent company, Veolia Environnement, in December revealed plans to jettison its U.S. solid waste operations as part of an effort to raise billions in cash to help pay down its sizeable debt.

There are plenty of questions about the impending sale, but new ownership of such substantial operations will have an impact from both of their perspectives. Exactly how things change is still up in the air, because it is unclear whether Veolia will be sold lock, stock and barrel or broken up and sold in pieces.

Either way, the landscape of the industry will change as Veolia ES Solid Waste, based in Milwaukee, has about $ 822 million in sales spread across several states.

“We don´t know what´s going to happen, who´s going to buy,” Parker said. “You´re definitely going to see some more consolidation, obviously, which has been going on fast and furious over the last couple of years.”

From Skinner´s perspective, the future sale has caught the attention of local governments in Veolia ES Solid Waste markets.

“There is a lot of interest in the Veolia sale,” Skinner said. “Everybody is watching that. à That´s an issue for local governments as well as to whether that´s going to result in more consolidation in the industry or whether that sale will be broken up and spread out among a number of players in the industry.

“And the concern that we always have, and local governments always share, is the impact upon consolidation and the industry and competition,” Skinner said.

Local governments that bid out their trash services want increased competition for that work so that they can receive the best pricing possible from private companies.

“From a local government perspective, something that increases competition in the industry is much better than something that does not, so we´ll be watching it,” Skinner said.

Veolia ES Solid Waste´s eventual sale continues a trend, said David Biderman, general counsel at NSWMA.

“I think we´ve seen an acceleration in transactions over the last 18 months, and I think we´re going to continue to see acquisitions occur at a relatively robust rate in the coming year,” he said.

Skinner also predicted that 2012 will be a down year regarding federal interest in environmental issues, as politicians concern themselves with being reelected.

“This generally happens in an election year. Anything that is controversial or that would benefit one side or the other in an election is generally stopped and they don´t get a consensus across the aisles of Congress in order to pass something,” Skinner said.

A slowdown at the federal level means there will be more of a focus on state and local issues, Skinner said.

One area that both Skinner and Parker pointed to is a continuing interest in product stewardship, where manufacturers take responsibility for their goods and packaging throughout their lifecycle.

Skinner also said that 2012 will see a continued growing interest in waste-to-energy projects around the country.

He pointed to new projects in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Hamilton, Ontario, as well as expansion of existing facilities as proof that waste-to-energy is enjoying a resurgence.

“For a while, it was in a state of doldrums. Now I see a renewed interest,” Skinner said about waste-to-energy plants.

Solid waste drivers also will have to adapt to new federal rules that prohibit the use of handheld mobile phones while they are driving.

“Commercial drivers are going to have to learn not to be on a handheld phone while they are driving or they may face a very significant fine,” Biderman said. “And the company they work for, if they do not have a policy governing cell phone usage, will also potentially face a very significant fine.”

Wired two-way radios are not covered by the new rules.

Drivers violating the new rules face civil penalties of up to $ 2,750 for each offense, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Companies allowing drivers to use handheld cell phones face an $ 11,000 penalty.

Contact Waste & Recycling News senior reporter Jim Johnson at [email protected] or 937-964-1289.


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