Water Conservation

We recognize that fresh water supplies are an increasingly scarce resource in our world. Though our operations are not relatively water intensive, we nevertheless work to use water sparingly and responsibly in our operations. Primary water uses include dust control and soil compaction at our landfills; cleaning and maintenance in our fleets; and drinking and sanitation in our facilities.

Since our facilities are spread throughout North America, water-risk assessments are conducted regionally and sometimes locally, depending on the risk level for potential water scarcity. Using the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Global Water Tool, we have found that 27 percent of our market areas, comprising approximately 840 facilities, are located in water-stressed regions.

Water-related weather patterns also present another risk. Because land-based facilities are exposed to the elements, landscape vegetation can be a challenge in times of drought or flood – and virtually all our landfills in North America are vulnerable to these weather events. Flooding can impede the collection of landfill gas by filling collection wells with water, while drought can reduce the rate of the process of organic material decay, for which water is essential. This creates roadblocks for the productivity of the landfill gas-to-energy portion of our business.

Tracking Our Usage

Our Austin Community Landfill in Texas uses recycled water under high pressure to remove mud from truck tires before the vehicles enter nearby public roads. Water from the tire wash system is directed into a large concrete collection basin, and impurities are removed before the water is reused.

We are planning to develop a more systematic approach to data collection and, at the same time, better understand our water use by establishing a consumption baseline based on our actual use. Our water scarcity mapping primarily uses the World Business Council for Sustainable Development global water tool and the World Resources Institute water stress definition to identify vulnerable areas where our facilities and operations are located. This is done through our proprietary GIS service mapping called WAVE. We use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines to estimate potable water use based on “gallons per employee per day” methodology.

Our water management practices have been enhanced recently through the use of a third-party vendor to provide a higher level of oversight into our utility data that helps sites better measure and manage consumption. The vendor notifies facilities when there is an unexpected consumption spike or higher-than-normal usage. For example, a deviation report was sent to alert our Mill Seat Landfill in Bergen, New York, of a spike earlier this year. As a result, the landfill was able to identify the issue immediately, replace a malfunctioning valve, and monitor its effectiveness.

Mitigating Water Impacts

Our approach to water conservation is guided by our company-wide conservation policy, which counsels facilities to consistently look for opportunities to reduce our water usage. These opportunities include:

  • Installing high-efficiency plumbing fixtures during building retrofits and fixture change-outs.
  • Reducing the amount of water needed for landscape irrigation at facilities.
  • Using rainwater and nonpotable water to wash trucks and control dust.
  • Installing biotreatment systems at some facilities to capture and reuse 100 percent of the water used to wash our trucks.
  • Reusing reclaimed wastewater in boilers for steam turbines at select renewable energy projects.
  • Using wastewater instead of potable water when constructing landfill units, where environmentally appropriate and allowed under state regulation.

We also review facility design and operation in areas potentially prone to flooding to avoid impacts on operations. In addition, we have a program of best practices and protocols to minimize the potential for rain to come into contact with waste materials.

In addition to conserving water, Waste Management works to maintain or improve the quality of local water supplies and to replenish subsurface water supplies. In some instances, we use methods such as reverse osmosis purification to treat and return water from industrial use into the environment at drinking-water quality and, at some facilities, we design "zero discharge" stormwater management infrastructure (e.g., infiltration galleries, percolation basins).

Making Our Buildings More Sustainable

Our efforts to conserve water and energy and use renewable energy come together in our buildings, where we implement a range of sustainability practices to reduce environmental impacts, improve operational efficiencies and achieve cost savings. Although only some of our facilities are certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards, we usually build to LEED standards, regardless of whether we seek certification. Read more about our LEED-certified sites in our Operations Appendix.