U.S. Solid Waste Industry Reaches $55 Billion in Revenues - Innovative conversion technologies poised to shake up the industry


News Release -- San Diego, Calif. -- The U.S. solid waste industry grew just 2% in 2011 to $55 billion in revenues, with leaders Waste Management and Republic Services accounting for 39% market share, according Environmental Business Journal's 2012 analysis of trends in the solid waste and resource recovery markets. Municipalities represent 23% of a U.S. solid waste management market in which close to 10,000 companies participate.

Purchase EBJ's 2012 edition on Solid Waste & Recycling for $150

"The solid waste industry is typically a late-cycler, meaning it's slow to reflect economic recovery because the basis of its revenue stream-i.e., waste-directly reflects consumption and construction," said George Stubbs, EBJ's senior editor. "But while pricing remains under pressure, especially in the municipal solid waste sector due to budgetary constraints, it appears that waste volumes are now holding steady."

Strong Interest in Waste Diversion and Energy Generation
As the solid waste industry inches its way back to health, there is a strong interest in waste diversion and the generation of energy from waste, with new conversion technologies such as gasification, plasma arc gasification, hydrolysis, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion vying for investors' attention. "For now, investment is more likely to come from strategic rather than institutional investors, because companies don't want to wait until waste-to-energy or waste diversion programs are legislated before they take a position," Stubbs noted. Waste Management, Convanta and others are making a number of major investments in diversion options, ranging from composting operations to developers of biological conversion technologies. However, in this young field the jury is still out on what qualifies as the best conversion technologies, feedstocks, and business models.

Modest Resurgence in Traditional WTE Plants
Meanwhile, the traditional waste-to-energy (WTE) business is enjoying a limited resurgence in the United States, as landfills in parts of the country reach capacity and plans move forward for the development of a small number of U.S. facilities for the first time in many years. Mass-burn technology (incineration) will dominate thermal treatment around the globe as WTE grows this decade, EBJ reported. By contrast, opportunity in landfill gas to energy projects has been limited by the low price of natural gas.

Organic Waste: Energy Recovery Versus Reuse
Among the trends covered in detail in this edition of EBJ is a revival of activity in the organic waste management sector. "The question being asked is, should we be extracting maximum energy value from food waste and yard trimmings or should they be diverted from landfills and incinerators and processed into fertilizer and soil amendment?" observed Stubbs. In between, of course, is anaerobic digestion, an option that's very mature in Europe but slower to catch on in North America.

The percentage of solid waste that ends up in a landfill in 2010 was 54%, down from 94% in 1960, according to EBJ, and even less waste will be disposed of in landfills in the future: "Economics, public opinion, and government mandates will increasingly demand that more value is recovered from our waste materials," said Stubbs. "Municipalities are moving forward with diversion programs-in many cases motivated by state mandates. And leading solid waste companies will continue the process of re-branding themselves as businesses that also extract value from the materials they collect."

Also in this issue of Environmental Business Journal:

  • M&A Spike Forecast for 2012: A higher than average number of transactions is forecast this year due largely to the expected increase in capital gains taxes in 2013 and the desire by owners to complete deals before then. EBJ looks at major deals completed and pending.
  • E-Waste Market: The size of the U.S. e-waste management market has been estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion annually, but it remains a very fragmented market with no dominant market leader. The market presents a roll-up opportunity and has attracted strategic investors from outside the waste industry.
  • Company Profiles: C&E firms SCS Engineers, HDR, ET Environmental and WIH Resource Group find major roles in solid waste niches.

Purchase EBJ's 2012 edition on Solid Waste & Recycling for $150

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