Chief financial officers (CFOs) from the waste and recycling industry shared their perspectives on the sector in a panel discussion May 7 at WasteExpo 2019 titled CFO Insights: A Look at the Waste & Recycling Industry. Allia Saydjari of WCA Waste Corp., Houston, moderated the session, which included Dianna Cervantes of WCA Waste Corp.; Devina Rankin of Waste Management, Houston; Chuck Serrianni of Republic Services, Phoenix; Mary Anne Whitney of Waste Connections, Ontario; and Ned Coletta of Casella Waste Systems, Rutland, Vermont.
Saydjari mentioned the strength of the solid waste industry, asking attendees what they believed to be the contributing factors.
“It is the best shape the industry has been in since my time with Waste Management,” said Rankin, who has been with that company for more than 16 years. She said she believed the industry’s focus on people, process, environmental stewardship and customer service were the primary factors contributing to this strength. “People and relationships is what industry is about, and that has not changed.”
Cervantes mentioned the industry’s commitment to safety, saying, “We can be super competitive about everything we do, but when it comes to safety, we have a unified approach.”
“I see safety as an opportunity,” Whitney said, adding that waste and recycling companies will benefit in the face of the current labor shorting if they show how safety in the industry has improved. She also expressed a desire to make the industry attractive to more potential employees, particularly to women.
Whitney said the driver shortage the industry is facing is “not new but worsened by low unemployment.” She also said she didn’t not view it as wage issue but as a labor availability issue.
Regarding hiring, Serrianni said millennials don’t necessarily want a lot of student debt, but they do want the opportunity to make good money. He added that a career in waste and recycling can give millennials a purpose in life. “What better purpose than to protect mother Earth,” he added.
The discussion included the influence of sustainability on the industry, with Coletta saying recycling was required but also had to be economically viable. “Sustainability is not sustainable unless the economic model works.”
He said the industry has experienced a number of shocks in the area of recycling over the last several years. “Programs like recycling need to stand on their own.”
Coletta said material recovery facility (MRF) operators were not in a position to take on all of the risk associated with fluctuating secondary commodity markets. He added that the current environment presents the opportunity to create recycling programs that balance the risks and returns among the parties involved.
Whitney also said it was important for people to understand the cost of recycling and the importance of end markets.
Rankin added that people want to do the right thing. “We need to continue to do a good job communicating and educating.”
WasteExpo 2019 is May 6-9 in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Convention Center.