Waste Management, Inc: A mixed, but mostly positive review

Starboard brought up on our local chat that Waste Management, Inc. (WM) had purchased our local garbage company.

I’m always curious, so looked into WM.[wikipedia.org] Niches, such as waste management, have sometimes been controlled by organized crime networks, so I was even more curious. What I read showed a mixed record. Some concerns along with what looks to be a fairly good environmental record. I haven’t dug very far.

The concerns:

In 1968, Wayne Huizenga, Dean Buntrock, and Larry Beck founded Waste Management, Inc. and began aggressively purchasing many of the smaller garbage collection services across the country, as the descendant firm of Harm Huizenga. In 1971, Waste Management went public, and by 1972, the company had made 133 acquisitions with $82M in revenue. It had 60,000 commercial and industrial accounts and 600,000 residential customers in 19 states and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. In the 1980s, Waste Management acquired Service Corporation of America (SCA) to become the largest waste hauler in the country.

That’s a lot of consolidations in 4 years time. In 12 years, WM, with its acquisition of SCA, became the #1 waste hauler in the U.S. That’s quite a feat.

WM began “cooking the books” in 1992 in many ways:

Between the years of 1992 and 1997, the executive officers of Waste Management, Inc. began “cooking” the accounting books by refusing to record expenses necessary to write off the costs of unsuccessful and abandoned landfill development projects; establishing inflated environmental reserves (liabilities) in connection with acquisitions so that the excess reserves could be used to avoid recording unrelated operating expenses, improperly capitalizing a variety of expenses; failing to establish sufficient reserves (liabilities) to pay for income taxes and other expenses; avoiding depreciation expenses on their garbage trucks by both assigning unsupported and inflating salvage values and extending their useful lives; assigned arbitrary salvage values to other assets that previously had no salvage value; failed to record expenses for decreases in the value of landfills as they were filled with waste, used netting to eliminate approximately $490 million in current period operating expenses and accumulated prior period accounting misstatements by offsetting them against unrelated one-time gains on the sale or exchange of assets; and used geography entries to move tens of millions of dollars between various line items on the Company’s income statement.[7] Officers were accused of making “the financials look the way we want to show them.” The top officers settled with the federal government for $30.8 million in 2005, without admitting guilt.

Makes me wonder how much trust I should place with WM.

Another accounting scandal in 1998 doesn’t make trusting any easier.

On February 7, 2010, CBS debuted a new TV series called Undercover Boss after the Super Bowl. Waste Management COO Lawrence O’Donnell III participated in this first episode and got a chance to see up close the inner workings of the company he helped run. O’Donnell left Waste Management on July 1, 2010.

Did Undercover Boss cause Lawrence O’Donnell III to quit? Someone want to take the time to look into that and let me know?

The good:

“Waste Management currently manages the recycling of more than 8.5 million tons of materials, including metal, plastic, glass, electronics and paper at 128 facilities.”

Potential to be added to The Bad: That’s a lot of control over recyclables. Could that control lead to price controls? Just wondering.

The company currently operates 30 single-stream recycling facilities throughout North America. Because the single-stream recycling process eliminates the need for customers to separate items before they are collected, it usually leads to higher recycling participation rates in local communities.

Increasing participation rates for recycling gets a ♥

The company operates approximately 150 e-cycling centers throughout the country through its subsidiary, WM Recycle America.[17] It January 2010, the company announced that WM Recycle America was implementing the Responsible Recycling (R2) Program for electronics recyclers, which establishes accepted practices to help protect the environment and workers’ health and safety while e-waste is handled.[18] In addition these practices allow third parties to monitor activity and create greater transparency in the e-cycling sector.

Another kudo.

WM also has invested in recycling organic and construction waste, developing biogas facilities and efforts to reduce the amount of plastics required for consumer goods.

They also market Big Belly Compactors. Solar powered trash compactors. Might be something that our local governments would be interested in taking a look at.

Waste Management owns and operates sixteen waste-to-energy facilities and five independent power-production facilities, which specialize in collecting municipal solid waste and transforming it into renewable electric power.[28]

Waste Management is also involved in landfill gas utilization, including landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) production. The company has over 115 LFGTE facilities, and plans to add another 60 facilities by 2012.[29] LFGTE facilities collect methane and carbon dioxide gases emitted during the natural anaerobic decomposition of organic waste in the landfill. These gases are then used to fuel engines or turbines that generate electricity to power surrounding areas.

Any capture of CO2 and methane is welcome. I don’t know, offhand, what burning the results emits, so I’m holding off judgement.

Waste Management launched a joint venture with Oregon-based company InEnTec to form S4 Energy Solutions.[32][33][34] S4 uses a process called plasma gasification (also known as plasma arc waste disposal) to heat waste materials until they break down to produce a synthesis gas, or syngas. The syngas can be converted into transportation fuels, such as ethanol or diesel, or can be used as a substitute for natural-gas heating and electricity.

I would suppose there is less energy involved in heating the waste compared to the energy derived from this process. But with subsidies, it might make it worthwhile for a corporation to produce energy at a net energy loss. Something to look into, along with any downsides to syngas itself.

I guess my cynicism is showing.

There’s more good and not-so-good at the Waste Management Wikipedia article.

I appears that WM is doing some good things environmentally, but I wonder at what cost to taxpayers. A concern that I also have is with the monopolization of waste management. WM is acquiring waste management companies globally.

With monopolistic control comes less choice and often higher rates because there are fewer choices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *