Republic Services Issues Recycling Report Requested by Investors

Republic Services Inc. has issued a report describing its plastic collection and recycling activities, and highlighting actions needed to increase plastics recycling in the U.S. Following the filing of a shareholder proposal by As You Sow and engagement earlier this year, the company agreed to publish the report.

“This report provides some initial insight into ways to expand recycling and improve plastics end markets,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow. “But overall, it missed an opportunity to provide a detailed discussion on the kinds of factors that would induce it to invest more in plastics recycling and examples of successful business models to boost development of end markets. This is disappointing, given that it acknowledges it collects some plastics for which there are limited or no end markets.”

China’s 2018 ban on plastic waste imports exposed the fragility of parts of the U.S. recycling collection and processing system. Media reports suggest significant gaps in U.S. recycling markets due to historical reliance on China for processing plastic, underdeveloped domestic markets, and low prices offered for recovered plastics.

In an effort to understand better how to resolve these problems, As You Sow engaged the two largest U.S. publicly traded waste collection/recycling companies — Republic Service and Waste Management Inc. — asking them to provide perspective on the current state of their plastics recycling activities, how to boost recycling efforts, and how better end markets could be developed.

One conclusion of the Republic Services’ report is that recycled content standards for plastics are imperative to creating durable end markets. The company supports minimum recycled content legislation such as California’s recently passed AB 793, which mandates 15% post-consumer content by 2022, 25% by 2025, and 50% by 2030.

Here are some highlights of the report, “Republic Services: Advancing Plastics Recycling through Investment, Innovation and Education”:

  • The company processes about 6 million tons of recyclable materials per year, making it one of the largest processors of recovered residential and commercial recyclables in the world.
  • It aims to process all the recyclables it collects, but acknowledges that as much as 12% of plastics collected (#3, 4, 6, and 7) “have limited or no end markets” and may be landfilled.
  • It has invested nearly $63 million in the last four years in projects to improve recovery of plastics and other recyclables in 26 of its processing facilities.
  • Just 59% of U.S. households have direct access to recycling collection programs, so one key to increased recycling is that more consumers must be able and willing to participate in recycling.
  • Republic Services eliminated the export of plastics to all overseas markets in 2019.
  • It gives qualified support to extended producer responsibility systems as a way to finance improved recycling operations.

Waste Management Inc. published a similar report in September.

The report provides data on national and regional generation, collection, and end markets for plastics and the amount of plastics collected and recovered by Republic Services. It discusses how some of its materials recovery facilities have been upgraded to more efficiently process recyclable materials.

Source: Republic Services (Berkeley, CA, December 2, 2020)