What ideas will most transform the waste industry? New markets for recycled materials? New technologies to capture landfill gas? New ways to keep workers safe?
While we have witnessed significant technological advances in recent years, it’s very likely that the most disruptive waste solutions are yet to be invented. Waste Management is continuing to accelerate the pace of change. We’ve done so for many years by investing externally in early-stage companies focused on developing new technologies and solutions. We are also driving change within our own walls by identifying and scaling game-changing solutions quickly and effectively.
Corporate Development & Innovation (CD&I) uses a disciplined and strategic approach to focus on investments connected to our core business. CD&I makes targeted direct investments and shepherds concepts from ideation through development and licensing to help our business grow and expand its beneficial impact on customers and the environment.
Innovating Through Customer Feedback
CD&I spurs innovation through our internal Technology, Innovation and Strategic Alliances (TISA) group, which works with Waste Management’s largest customers to gather their voices and better anticipate and meet their needs. For the past three years, TISA has led the Waste Management Innovation Lab, an interactive event that gives a select group of customers the opportunity to collaborate to solve their biggest challenges. During the multiday, facilitated collaboration, Waste Management shares intelligence on current trends and technologies impacting our industry, steering the group toward productive conversations and action-oriented outcomes.
Between 2018 and 2020, 55 individuals from over 40 different companies have participated, representing a wide array of industries, including major retailers, food and beverage distributors, hoteliers and resort operators, manufacturing facilities, transportation and commercial real estate companies.
Waste Management will stay at the forefront of emerging technology and innovative processes by promoting innovation among employees, customers and community members. A new Business Accelerator Lab will be a “maker space” where employees can discuss and pilot new ideas, such as improved ways to maintain our trucks or address safety issues.
Our Innovation work is also producing results through collaboration with other businesses. For example, alongside equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, we are piloting the use of remote-operated bulldozers and compactors at Waste Management’s Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site Landfill in Colorado. The machines are controlled from a command station located close to the landfill, and we may eventually use this station to operate equipment at a second landfill 85 miles away. Removing the operator from the cab of these machines has multiple benefits, including increased efficiency, employee safety and lower costs. It also allows us to expand our potential labor pool to include mobility-impaired candidates who would not otherwise be able to operate heavy equipment.
Beyond exploring possible solutions within our company, we are scouting out disruptive ideas in other businesses and even other industries. Waste Management has committed a total of $16 million to four externally managed venture funds that give us exposure to potentially disruptive technologies that we might not discover on our own. These funds are focused on clean energy, water efficiency, industrial technology and process innovation. In addition, we have made 12 direct investments in solutions that span collection, recycling, product manufacturing, gasification and landfill gas.
CD&I also conducts informal reviews of hundreds of companies to identify potential breakthrough technologies and processes. One example of an area of opportunity for Waste Management is the creation of solutions for post-consumer textile waste.
There is a universe of opportunity for Waste Management to help start up new companies, with the goal of eventually licensing the technology that is created. We are currently focused on markets that solve customer problems and have the potential to grow quickly, such as wastewater, biosolid management, plastics and packaging solutions.
One ambitious new investment is Continuus Materials, which developed Everboard, a roof covering made from hard to recycle paper and plastics. Continuus is finalizing the development of its first commercial manufacturing plant, which may be co-located at Waste Management’s Fairless Landfill in Philadelphia. When fully operational, the plant will divert approximately 320 tons of materials per day from landfills to convert them into new building products.