Moving forward

Features - Industry Leaders Q&A

Bill Rumpke Jr., president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste & Recycling, outlines how the family business plans to continue to move forward.

As the third generation leading Rumpke Waste & Recycling, Bill Rumpke Jr. says it is his mission to keep the Cincinnati-based company a family business.

Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste & Recycling is the epitome of a family business. Third-generation leader Bill Rumpke Jr., who serves as president and CEO, says each generation along the way has made its mark on the company, helping to grow and improve operations over the years. Rumpke Waste & Recycling celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2017.

Rumpke works alongside his brothers and sisters, while the fourth generation—his sons and his siblings’ and cousins’ children—get more involved in day-to-day business.

“It’s very important to me that we continue to move forward as a family business,” Rumpke says. “It’s who we are and what we do, and we have a lot of pride in what we do. We are all involved every day in day-to-day operations, and I feel like that’s the reason we’ve been around for 85 years.”

Rumpke also advocates for a family-like work environment among the company’s 2,800 employees. He refers to them as “ambassadors.”

Rumpke explains, “Despite our quick growth, we value our employees, and that’s what makes this business go. A very large percentage of them act like family members. While their names aren’t Rumpke, we are all one family here at this business, and they all contribute to our success. We’re all a team.”

Started by Rumpke’s grandfather William F. Rumpke in 1932, the company has grown considerably in its 85-year history. Today, Rumpke Waste & Recycling is one of largest privately owned residential and commercial waste and recycling firms in the United States. The company provides service to areas of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. Rumpke divisions include Rumpke Recycling, Rumpke Portable Restrooms, The William-Thomas Group, Rumpke Hydraulics and Rumpke Haul-it-Away.

As for recycling services, Rumpke says his company’s goal is to be viewed as “the total waste solution.” The company has introduced innovations and equipment into its plants to accomplish this goal.

In celebration of America Recycles Day in November 2016, Rumpke Waste & Recycling Dayton unveiled a $1 million renovation at its mixed glass recycling center. Rumpke Recycling’s Dayton Glass Facility processes 60,000 tons of glass per year, with the processed raw materials heading to bottle manufacturers and the insulation manufacturing industry.

“We’re considering some alterations to the plant to handle even more material,” Rumpke says of the glass facility.

He adds, “It’s working well for us and, quite frankly, I view it as a differentiator for us as a recycling hauling company.”

As far as its recently opened material recovery facility (MRF) in Cincinnati, Rumpke says, “We’ve built our newer plant to be adaptable to some of the changing volumes that are happening within the world today.”

The company also plans to open a $20 million corporate headquarters in November 2018, Rumpke says. The new building will bring the team together under one roof in Colerain Township, just north of Cincinnati.

In the edited Q&A that follows, Rumpke discusses other ways his company is aiming to be “the total waste solution” through investments in equipment and partnerships.

Recycling Today (RT): A number of the MRFs on RT’s list of the largest MRFs in North America increased the tonnage of recyclables they recovered and shipped in 2016, including Rumpke Recycling’s Cincinnati MRF. What factors contributed to Rumpke’s increase?

Bill Rumpke (BR): It’s a combination of things. We continue to see an increase in residential and commercial customers as our regular subscription customers, and our municipalities are more interested in recycling and want it built into their service agreements. We’re seeing them generally looking for ways to recycle more, and we’ve been able to market 90-gallon carts as opposed to the older and small recycling bins.

We’ve really seen an increase in our recycling volume and a decrease in our waste volume, which is good for everybody. We have considered the limited resource of landfills, so if we can recycle more, it’s a good thing, and our customers want to see that as well.

A lot of communication from my communication team to our customers and to our municipalities also raised awareness to drive more recycling into the plants. A few years ago when the markets were really low and challenging and prices were down, we pushed forward and did a lot of improvements in our recycling plants, particularly in our Cincinnati plant that we rebuilt. We’re now in the fruits of that because we’re able to process more material more efficiently, and it has helped us to lead the way in the Midwest.

It’s a total comprehensive approach to try to drive recycling volumes to our facilities. Particularly at our newer Cincinnati plant, we have capacity to bring more volume in, so we’re trying to fill that void in volume. We’ve been able to increase that volume, and we’re getting very aggressive looking for more volume to bring into that plant.

RT: What are you doing? How are you attempting to fill that void in volume?

BR: We are going hard after our residential business to add more recycling. We also have recycling sales reps that visit our commercial customers who have a larger mix of recycling and putting it in separate containers or provide separate services to pull their recycling out at the source at the businesses and bring it into our plant to process. Our company has always envisioned ourselves to be the total waste solution. That doesn’t mean only picking the garbage up and bringing it to the landfill. It means looking for other options to recycle other material and to manage their waste stream, and that’s what our efforts are.

RT: How has Rumpke managed the changing nature of the incoming residential recycling stream?

BR: It’s a challenge. A lot of it is through education. It’s just about letting our customers know through educational resources what our plants are equipped to take. We have to truly be a partner with our customers, whether they be municipal or commercial, because we want to make sure whatever they are putting out on the curb, we have somewhere to go with it. We don’t want to be taking material in that we can’t recycle. We try to be honest with our customers and do the right thing in regard to that. As things change, particularly on the fiber and plastic side, we’ve built our newer plant to be adaptable to some of the changing volumes.

The biggest change, and we recognized this when we rebuilt our biggest plant in Cincinnati, is what we call the “Amazon effect.” There is so much more residential cardboard that is being put in a 90-gallon recycling cart as bigger carts can handle that material. We now have more cardboard coming in our single-stream residential collection than we did in the past. In the past, the biggest volume of cardboard came from commercial, either front-load or roll-off, routes. That cardboard is now coming in the residential stream, so our plants have to be prepared to take that material and sort it from the residential stream because we don’t want to miss that volume, and we want to make sure we recycle that material as well.

Additionally, we have the ever-increasing challenge on the plastic side of the different resins. I’m not talking about PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles or HDPE (high-density polyethylene); I’m talking about the other new, unique containers that might have mixed resins in them. How do we handle that? How can we recycle that? Again, we have to have an end user, because if we don’t have someone to sell it to, we don’t want to be letting our customers think that we’re taking that material and we’re recycling it, so communication is a key.

RT: Rumpke is building a new $20 million corporate headquarters. Talk about how the company got to this point of success.

BR: 2017 is our 85th anniversary, so it is a good year actually to kick off the building of our new corporate headquarters. As we celebrate the history, we have to think about the future of the company, so it’s a great opportunity to build the new corporate headquarters. Quite frankly, we’re in some older facilities right now, and our team is not all together, and I want our team to be one nice, new building together, and that’s what we’re shooting for. The building should open in November of next year.

Another important thing in regard to this, this development keeps all of our jobs here in Colerain Township, which is north of Cincinnati. It’s the home of our largest landfill, it’s where I was born and grew up. A lot of my family is here, so we have special connections in Colerain Township. We want to be in this township, and we’re excited about that building moving forward.

RT: Where you are right now, has that always been where the company has worked out of?

BR: The previous CEO, my dad, and his partner, the co-CEOs, they actually built this building that we’re in right now in the mid-‘70s. it’s an older facility and we don’t have enough office space. Our company has really grown, obviously, since then, but even in the last 10 years our company has grown. We need a lot more space for administrative-type folks and senior management, and that’s who’s going to be all in one place in this new building. Right now, they’re scattered around at different facilities around this campus here in Colerain Township.

RT: How do you see China’s ban on certain scrap imports affecting U.S. recyclers? What alternatives are there?
BR: Well, there’s going to be an impact—there’s no doubt about it—and we’re already feeling the impact. As things change, we’re going to have to look at slowing our processing down to make sure our material is clean that we send there, investing in more sorting technology, increasing the auditing of our customers and educating even more. If it gets to the point where we have trouble marketing or our prices drop, we may have to potentially charge our customers more for collection.

Our recycling plants are very dependent on the Chinese market, though. China imports about 30 percent of all the paper collected for recycling in the country, so, obviously, if that gets shut off, there’s going to be a big impact for a period of time. As it gets shut off, I’m expecting more avenues for us to find and for domestic plants to open. I’m not gloom and doom, but maybe short term we’re going to take a hit; but, I can tell you our company is committed to recycling, and that’s what we do as part of the total waste solution. We will stay committed to it, but over the next couple of years, I can see an impact definitely on what we’re getting paid for the material that we’re recycling and also just having trouble selling the material at all. We’ll see how it goes, and I’m confident we’ll work through it. It will be a challenge.

We have very good relationships with the plants we provide material to. Maybe it’s a matter of our volume and size, but so far we haven’t had an issue selling paper.

Companies like Pratt make a difference. We know that they have future plans to do more domestically in the United States. I look to them as one company that could provide a solution for recycling companies to sell material to.

I do know there are some plants in the planning stages to be built to handle more paper material, actually not that far from here, which would be a good thing.

RT: I’ve heard from talking to my sources in this sector that they are saying what you’re saying: Right now we’re going to have to deal with these price changes but it’s going to have to grow the domestic market and that could be a good thing if we’re keeping material closer to where it’s being generated.
BR: I very much expect it will. Getting back to the conversation in regard to Amazon, they need cardboard, and somebody has to produce it. It’s going to happen. The demand will cause it to happen.

RT: While MRFs across the U.S. have varying viewpoints on glass collection, Rumpke continues to invest in glass. What potential do you see in this material and how do you manage it?

BR: It’s a challenge. One of our major goals is to be the total recycling solution. We know that we can recycle glass. We built a plant that’s doing it and right now we’re easily handling all of our own material. We’re considering some alterations to the plant to handle even more material. Obviously, glass is abrasive. It’s a challenge. We know it’s a challenge, but we feel like we came up with our own solution to handle our own material when our other vendors weren’t able to take our material, and we feel very good about it. We’ve focused on it, we’re going to stay focused on it and, actually, we’re doing very well with it right now. We’re not to the point where we can take a lot of other people’s material, but we clearly are able to handle our own to create bottle grades that we’re selling back to the bottle industry and the finer grade that we’re selling to the insulation manufacturing industry. It’s working well for us and, quite frankly, I view it as a differentiator for us as a recycling hauling company. I think we’re one of very few that’s doing this in the country.

RT: Rumpke has experienced a fire that was caused by batteries being mixed in with a load of fiber. What can be done to lessen the opportunity for fires to occur?

BR: It depends on which fire you’re talking about.

The big fire that we had in 2011, we don’t believe that was caused by batteries but by some mixture of chemicals that was collected off the recycling route. We don’t know that for sure, but we think that’s what it was. It was not a battery; we know that.

We’ve had multiple small fires that nobody knows about this year that happen constantly because people are putting lithium batteries in with their recycling. It’s a major, major issue for us.

Again, we’re addressing that through communication and driver education. Our recycling plant employees are very much focused on paying attention and making sure that when those lithium batteries get into the plant, we handle them properly and we don’t cause a fire.

It is a major industry concern, and the industry needs to come up with a solution to recycle these batteries so they do not end up in these single-stream plants because that’s where the problem is. Batteries get on the tipping floor, they get pushed around and fires happen, and they can be catastrophic.

Paying attention to what’s going on inside those plants is very high on our radar so we don’t have another catastrophic fire. We have infrared cameras and different devices in our plants to identify when there is smoke or when heat is rising so we can identify fires as they break out. That has allowed us to get ahead of a fire before it gets to be catastrophic.

RT: New technologies are creating new market opportunities for businesses— what potential for MRFs do you see related to new equipment?

BR: Probably one of the better examples that we’ve dealt with is we have a partnership with the Carton Council, and they helped subsidize the optical scanners in our plant so we’re able to pull out the aseptic cartons. One part of our line has that sorting mechanism in it. It’s a partnership. We’re working together. So, they’re creating a product that they’re standing behind making sure it gets recycled by subsidizing part of our line to put that separation equipment in. That’s new technology, and we have to keep our eye on any other newer technology. Optical scanners, we add those everywhere to the plant we need.

The most recent technology that we’re looking at, and we will likely invest in maybe next year, is robotics in some areas of our plants. There are a lot of opportunities with that because we can speed up the line with robotics, increase the quality of the product, get more consistency in processing and the overall plant efficiency will improve, including our ability to make our final product cleaner and pull out any more things that don’t belong in recycling.

We’re able to keep our products marketable and deal with the issues we talked about earlier with the Green Fence and other stuff China has going on.

RT: Events like America Recycles Day help to raise awareness among residents on the value of recycling. How does Rumpke motivate/encourage residents to recycle right?

BR: America Recycles Day is a day where we can easily get in front of the news and, quite frankly, get it done. It’s really good PR and (Rumpke’s Director of Corporate Communications) Amanda (Pratt’s) communication team is busy during this time period because we get out in front of the cameras, we talk about the issues we just mentioned—the issues with the batteries—or we want our customers to understand what we can recycle in our plants, and they can help us by putting the proper materials out at the curb. It’s an invitation for us to get out in front and collaborate with municipalities, other environmental organizations and our customers through the media. It’s just a good opportunity, that’s how I see it.

RT: At any point has Rumpke done a marketing campaign?

BR: We do mailers and a lot of social media communications through multiple avenues. Our recycling carts list what we can take and what we can’t take. There’s the public communication at multiple different levels from on television to radio to getting in front of city councils or communities. It is a full-out effort that we constantly are pushing forward.

I look at it also as giving us an opportunity to allow the public to see that we are committed to our mission to be an ultimate waste solution. It’s not just about picking garbage up and putting it in landfill, it’s about totally managing the waste. If we’re telling them what we can recycle and what we can recycle right, then they’re going to better understand our key message.

RT: As the third generation leading the family business, what’s in store for Rumpke’s future?

BR: I’m the third generation. The fourth generation works here. My grandfather started the business in 1932. His name was William Rumpke. My father totally took it over from him in the late ‘70s along with his partner, his cousin, Tom Rumpke. I became COO (chief operating officer) in 2002 and in 2014 I became CEO. I have two brothers working in the business in high-level management positions. I have two sons and other people in the next generation, my cousin’s children that are involved in the business, so it’s very important to me that we continue to move forward as a family business. It’s who we are and what we do, and we have a lot of pride in what we do. We are all involved every day in day-to-day operations and what’s going on, and I feel like that’s the reason we’ve been around for 85 years. Each generation along the way has made its mark on the business and grew the business and improved the business, so I’m expecting more out of the next generation, out of my sons, out of my brothers’ and sisters’ children as they get more heavily involved in the business.

Another thing I advocate here is cultivating a family work environment with our people. Despite our quick growth, we value our employees, and that’s what makes this business go. Our 2,800 employees are our ambassadors every day. A very large percentage of them act like family members. While their names aren’t Rumpke, we are all one family here at this business, and they all contribute to our success; we’re all a team. That’s how I look at things.

We’re poised to continue growing everywhere we’re at, and we’re looking forward to some additional growth opportunities in the next couple of years, focusing on that right now but growing right as we move forward. More recently, I’ve moved my management structure around a little bit to facilitate additional growth, to look for infrastructure improvements, acquisitions, other R&D and new technology. We need to be more creative and figure out ways to expand our solid waste solutions to our customers to new technology, more recycling and whatever else we can do to improve our customer experience. That’s what it’s all about.

Keep this as a family business, and that is our mission.

Bill Rumpke Jr. is president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste & Recycling.