What is in this article?:
Recology blazes a trail to zero waste with recycling and food composting programs.
In 2008, San Francisco reached a landfill diversion rate of 77 percent, the highest of any city in the United States. It still is.
The story behind that important accomplishment is the story of a trash company doing its best to render trash extinct — San Francisco-based Recology, Inc., formerly Norcal Waste Systems, Inc.
Owned 100 percent by its employees, Recology people don’t seem to believe in trash. “My father was a garbage man, and when I was growing up, I couldn’t understand why people threw all that stuff out,” says Mike Sangiacomo, Recology’s president and CEO.
Can a trash company thrive when its executives think people throw out too much trash? The numbers would seem to indicate that it can.
In 2010, Recology generated $539 million in annual revenues, up from $350 million in 2000. Today, the company employs 2,600 people and operates 1,300 collection trucks in more than 50 cities, mostly in Northern California, with several recently acquired municipal customers in Oregon.
(Recology’s latest move is a merger with Seattle-based hauler CleanScapes. See related sidebar.)
The idea that people shouldn’t throw all that stuff out is exactly what San Francisco needed in 2002, when city officials set out to achieve zero waste by 2020.
The goal was set in response to a serious problem that threatened to send the city’s trash disposal costs spiraling out of control. “We were probably the first city in California to run out of close-in disposal capacity and begin exporting waste,” Sangiacomo says.
With no room for another landfill, city officials deemed it too expensive to transport trash to remote landfills and sought alternatives.
Recology provided one: Instead of exporting trash, the company would help the city pare down its waste stream through recycling and composting.