In a recent interview with Recycling Today magazine, William Caesar, the new president of Houston-based Waste Management Recycle America (WMRA), discussed WMRA's future direction and the state of secondary commodity markets.
Recycling Today (RT): Where do you see markets for recyclables headed this year?
William Caesar (WC): After what felt like a bit of a market correction in Q4 2011, we have begun to see a rebound in many material grades, much as we anticipated. We expect the recyclables market in 2012 to be relatively stable, with prices generally above five-year averages with some seasonal fluctuations. If there is continued improvement in the macro economic cycle, we think there is the potential for an upside surprise.
RT: It seems that the company has invested a significant amount of time converting/opening single-stream operations throughout the country. Do you expect to continue this strategy?
WC: Yes, the conversion of nonsingle-stream MRFs (material recovery facilities) and the opening of new single-stream plants is a priority for Waste Management as we pursue our goal to process 20 million tons of recyclable material by 2020. When we combine all the materials we recycle today (including C&D, organics, e-waste, mercury lamps, etc.), we are more than half the way there. Residential and commercial customers have clearly indicated that single stream is the preferred approach to recycling, and we want to satisfy the needs of our customers.
RT: Will WMRA look to establish more vertical partnerships with consumers to strengthen end markets for the material?
WC: We think vertical partnerships represent a particularly interesting opportunity for us and we will explore opportunities as they present themselves. As we look to improve the efficiency of our recycling operations, these types of partnerships provide an opportunity to either increase volumes or create new markets for materials that we previously landfilled. I don’t know that we will see this on a widespread basis, but we expect to find niche opportunities with smaller components of the material stream.
RT: Any interest in bidding on Veolia’s North American operations?
WC: We are continually evaluating acquisition opportunities that can create shareholder value. For the last few years we have acquired numerous recycling and collection operations and are always looking for opportunities to expand our service offerings so we can better meet our customers’ needs.
RT: Can you talk about how your background as Waste Management's (WM's) chief strategy officer will be used to grow WMRA’s recycling business in 2012.
WC: My time as WM’s chief strategy officer gave me the opportunity to gain a solid understanding of the needs of different customer segments and what we needed to do to grow with them. I was in a position to work with our teams operating in different geographic areas and across our different lines of business to develop growth strategies and to prioritize investments.
RT: How about your background with McKinsey?
WC: The time I spent with McKinsey enabled me to learn what it takes to grow and manage a business—how to interact effectively with people, how to be a demanding partner and how to identify opportunities. While I provided guidance and support to numerous clients during my 13 years at the firm, I also learned tremendously from the senior client leaders with whom I interacted.
RT: Where do you see some of the biggest upsides in the recycling industry in 2012?
WC: The EPA’s latest report on the solid waste industry showed that the recycling rate in the United States, while higher than at any other time, is only about 34 percent—there is a tremendous opportunity in this industry to work with our customers to increase recycling rates. WM’s recent investment in Recyclebank demonstrates our recognition that we need to explore new ways to move the needle on recycling rates. I also think that the industry will begin to see new technologies emerge at commercial scales that will enable us to either process different materials or convert materials we already collect into higher value products.
RT: What are the biggest concerns/challenges you see in regard to the recycling industry?
WC: Improving inbound material quality is a continual challenge—success here helps drive operational efficiencies and improves the quality of outbound materials.
Our customers are also looking well beyond traditional materials to recycle, and we need to find ways to expand our offerings. Perhaps the largest challenges we face in the recycling industry—beyond generating additional volumes—is managing through commodity price fluctuations and the restructuring of the North American pulp and paper industry.
RT: Renewable energy is a growing issue with many companies. Will you be involved in growing this part of WM’s business?
WC: Growing WM’s renewable energy platform is a key part of WM’s overall growth strategy and we are pursuing a number of different opportunities. As a member of WM’s senior leadership team, I will likely be involved in determining our future direction in this growing area.