Director of Sustainability Kristin Steiner says the recycling and waste disposal company continues to innovate on sustainability in terms of its services, its fleet, and its workforce.
With over 900 locations across 47 states, Republic Services (NYSE: RSG) has a long history in the environmental services industry. The company has provided residential
and business customers with recycling, waste collection, processing, and disposal services since the 1990s.
“We service residential customers as well as commercial customers like offices, restaurants, and hotels,” Steiner explains. “Municipalities are major customers of ours. We also service industrial customers like manufacturers and construction job sites.”
The company has built a stellar reputation among these manufacturers across the states it serves. In fact, the Arizona Manufacturers Council
recently awarded Republic Services the Excellence in Sustainability Award — an honor that Steiner says has definitely been taken to heart. “Manufacturers are a key customer that we value,” she adds. “[The award] told us that we’re doing the right things that are aligned with their needs.”
Steiner notes that sustainability has been a priority for Republic Services since 2014. “Our sustainability platform is something we’ve been iterating and building on for many years now,” she continues. A recent initiative that she believes factored into the council’s award decision is the company’s new polymer recycling center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that plastics today are often downcycled into materials like carpet and plastic park benches, which is a great use,” Steiner says. “But an even better use is to give that plastic multiple lives through what we call a circular economy — going from a plastic bottle to another plastic bottle to another plastic bottle, for example. The polymer center is going to enable greater circularity as it aggregates recycled materials from Arizona and neighboring states. It’s going to further separate and do some secondary processing, hot washing, and shredding of that material to produce a far better, higher quality plastic feedstock to go into new bottles. I think the polymer center is a great case study of how we are thinking about innovating around our manufacturers’ commitments to sustainability.”
Other ways in which Republic Services has helped its manufacturing customers reduce and divert waste include waste and recycling assessments, recycling education, identification of markets for specialty materials that a manufacturer might want to divert from a landfill, and assistance in calculating their carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions.
“Investors in many large companies want those companies to disclose their carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions,” Steiner says. “That can be identified in in Scope Three Category Five [of the EPA’s emissions factors], which is waste generated in operations. As they’re putting together their greenhouse gas reports, we can help them quantify or estimate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste.”
Steiner says this service has helped Republic Services’ customers visualize their companies’ environmental impact and make decisions that can reduce their operational footprints. “For example, if they were to divert more material away from the landfill to a recycling facility, they can see what this would change in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents,” she explains.
Challenges: “Like many other companies, we’re consistently focused on keeping our workforce engaged, keeping ourselves competitive in a very competitive market, and making sure that we are the best place that our employees want to come to work,” Steiner says. “We want to stand out to them as being a company that is invested in them and that wants to see them develop.”
Opportunities: “I think we have an opportunity to continue to educate society,” says Steiner. “A lot of folks don’t know what happens to their recycling or waste after it leaves their home or facility. We’ve launched campaigns and issued media communications around this. We think it’s a responsibility of ours — not only as a leader in this industry but if we want to be a trusted source of truth — to facilitate that education and transparency.”
Additionally, Steiner notes that Republic Services is making significant investments in collecting renewable natural gas from its landfills and in electrifying its fleet. “We currently have seven or eight electric vehicles running as a pilot test,” she continues, “and I see that growing very rapidly in coming years.”
Needs: Steiner says that Republic Services had been finding it challenging to recruit employees for driver and mechanic positions. So, they innovated a solution, launching both a commercial driving training program and a technical institute.
“We’re really proud of our technical institute that we built from the ground up in Dallas, Texas,” she continues. “The program trains folks to be mechanics for us and then places them in a business unit with the skills they need to perform the technician duties.”
Republic Services’ technical institute is tuition-free and provides students with full-time pay throughout the 12-week program. Subsidized housing accommodations are also available for eligible students. Upon graduation, students receive immediate placement as a full-time technician.