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December 20, 2014

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Q&A: Bob Coyle, vice president of Republic Services

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Justin M. Bowen

Bob Coyle, vice president of public affairs and government relations at Republic Services, says the company is seeing good results in its pilot program of commingled recyclables.

Almost every day at the crack of dawn — and sometimes before that — an armada of Republic Services trash-hauling trucks begins its rounds on the streets of Southern Nevada.

One of the corporate leaders of Republic, Clark County’s contracted waste management company, is Bob Coyle, vice president of public affairs and government relations.

Coyle began his career in the waste industry in 1969 with Waste Management Inc. and has worked in California, Chicago, Hawaii and Europe. He was part of the solid-waste collection team for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where he helped service the equivalent of a city of 50,000 people with a start up and shut down in six weeks.

Coyle is on the board of directors of the Henderson Boys and Girls Club, and is a member of the President’s Advisory Board of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

He talked with In Business Las Vegas about Republic Services’ operation, and its push to expand recycling.

IBLV: Republic Services is part of a vast network of 400 trash-hauling operations in 40 states. How does the Southern Nevada operation stack up with the rest of the company, and do you have other resources in other states?

Coyle: Let’s start by talking about Republic Services. Republic is an $8 billion company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. We have 34,000 employees nationwide. We operate 400 waste collection and recycling companies, 242 transfer stations, 79 recycling facilities and 213 landfills in the United States. In 2009, we recycled 3.3 million tons of material. That’s more than 200 pounds a second. The environmental benefits of recycling material is that we reduced 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

For your readers, what does that mean? It’s the equivalent of removing 1.7 million passenger cars from the roads each year, conserving a billion gallons of gasoline, conserving 3.8 billion cylinders of propane used for home barbecues or conserving 48,000 railroad cars of coal. That information came out of our 2010 sustainability report for our results from 2009. In terms of how that helps us at the local level, as with any publicly owned company, Republic provides us with access to capital markets as well as regional and corporate management expertise to further enhance our day-to-day operations and on special projects, such as the implementation of our landfill-gas-to-energy project that we currently have in the permitting stage and should be operational in 2011.

Republic Services of Southern Nevada operates three waste collection and recycling companies, three transfer stations, two material recovery facilities and two landfills. They’re all located in Clark County. We have approximately 1,400 employees of which 1,100 are members of the Teamsters Union. Combined, the divisions of the Nevada area are one of the largest integrated operations for Republic Services in the country.

Many of us don’t know the process that occurs from the time we put a trash bin on the curb to the moment it hits the landfill. Describe the trip trash takes in Southern Nevada.

From the time you put the trash out at 6 at night when you get home, what happens is that 6 the following morning all of our drivers and helpers report into the office and by 6:30 they go through a short safety briefing and then head out to their trucks by 6:45. Generally, they enter your community between 7 and 7:15, and they start collecting the trash of about 1,000 homes a day. They’ll make two loads to a transfer station so they’ll fill their truck once and sometime between 9:30 and 11, they will leave the local route.

What happens at the transfer stations?

At the transfer station, the waste is dumped and compacted and it’s loaded onto 120-cubic-yard semi-tractor transfer trailers that transfer the material from the local area all the way up to the Apex regional landfill. We have three transfer stations, one in Henderson at Interstate 515 at Sunset Road, and one in Sloan at the Sloan exit off Interstate 15, and our largest is on Cheyenne Avenue, about a mile east of I-15. So our local route drivers, by having the transfer stations, can cut down on the number of trucks we have to have operating in the marketplace instead of the direct transporting of trash to the landfill. We would probably have to have 50 percent more trucks if we didn’t have the transfer stations.

On the recycling routes, it’s a similar process. People put out their red, white and blue crates every other week. Drivers leave the transfer stations about 6:45 in the morning and pick up the recyclables, and they then deliver them to our material recovery recycling center at the corner of Gowan (Road) and Commerce (Street) in North Las Vegas.

Southern Nevada is one of the few places many people have seen that has twice-weekly trash pickup. Why is that done? How much does that add to the cost customers pay? Has Republic considered going to once-a-week hauling to cut costs?

Twice-a-week trash collection is a bit unusual in the United States. Very few companies provide that. Is it more expensive? The real problem with twice-a-week trash — and I can give you statistics showing you this — is that of the total residential trash collected on a weekly basis, 65 percent of it is at the curb Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we’re only collecting 35 percent so what in essence happens is that we run trucks through your streets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for one-third of the trash. The question becomes, “Why can’t we put all 100 percent of it out one day a week?”

That’s where we’ve gone with our pilot recycling program. We’ve offered the pilot recycling program so that every residence gets a large wheeled cart for trash and a large wheeled cart for recycling. The recycling cart has a lid with pictures and descriptions of the materials that can be recycled. The customer can put commingled materials into the cart with the blue lid. They don’t have to separate them anymore. They don’t have to remember what their collection day is because it’s the same day as their trash collection. What we’re finding is that we’re seeing recyclables increase by five or six times what we get with the red, white and blue crates.

Earlier this year, Clark County, as part of its review of the pilot recycling program commissioned two studies. One was by RSM McGladrey, an accounting firm affiliated with H&R Block. McGladrey was tasked with evaluating the results of the pilot recycling program and to evaluate the costs of the three pilot programs in comparison with our existing twice-a-week pickup. What McGladrey discovered is that the results of the once-a-week (trash), once-a-week (recyclables) pilot were the highest. They exceeded 25 percent (of the waste being recycled). For the twice-a-week, once-a-week pilot program, the results were about 19 percent. And the twice-a-week, every-other-week program resulted in about 16 percent of the waste being recycled. So all three pilot programs actually showed a big increase because they used the carts, and they were able to commingle items without separating them. However, the program with the highest result was the once-a-week, once-a-week program. That program was 20 percent higher than the next closest program.

Part 2 of the McGladrey study was to look at the cost analysis compared with our existing program. What they looked at was our existing twice-a-week program. The direct cost for that is $14.21 a month (per customer). For the twice-a-week, every-other-week program, the cost was $15.07. And, for the twice-a-week, once-a-week program, the cost was $16.34. For the once-a-week, once-a-week program, it had the least cost impact compared to our existing program. It cost $14.66, so it was only 45 cents more. So when you look at the three pilot programs, the bottom line is that the once-a-week program gives you the best result at the lowest cost. So we pick up trash and recycling one day a week on the same day and we’re only once in the neighborhood, not twice. But in order to make it convenient for people, every other week we come by with a bulky-item truck for any materials that won’t fit in the cart. So if you have some furniture you’re throwing out or some big pieces of broomstick, you can put it out on your bulky-item day.

When does that start?

Well, in North Las Vegas, we have about 40,000 homes in the program. In unincorporated Clark County, we have about 6,000 homes on the program and in Las Vegas, we have about 1,900 homes. So it’s still in the testing stage. In Henderson, the city asked us to implement 20,000 homes for its pilot programs and we plan to start delivering carts and start implementing the program in the second half of October.

Will every customer have this eventually?

The expansion is strictly up to the decisions of the elected officials in each city. In North Las Vegas, we’re in about two-thirds of the homes. The city just received a proposal from UNLV’s Cannon Survey Center. (Action was expected last week.) Assuming that the city council approves the list of questions, UNLV will begin making phone calls to customers probably the first week of October and anticipates having the customer satisfaction study completed with a report back to the city council by Nov. 1. I think the city council is waiting for that report so it can get a better feel for how satisfied residents are with the program before it makes a decision to move further with it. As I mentioned, Clark County commissioned two reports and I can give you the results of that one. They were in the field making phone calls to customers who were in the pilot program in early May, and they delivered the report in early June. They were asking three key questions. Sixty-seven percent of the people said they recycled more, and 72 percent said they had no odor problems whatsoever with the program, and 81 percent said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the results.

What’s the biggest complaint your company receives from customers and how are you resolving it?

The biggest complaint that I get is, “Why aren’t you expanding the recycling? I’m from California, I’m from Seattle, I’m from Portland and we have these large carts there for recycling that makes it so much easier and I didn’t have to separate my material, and I didn’t have to remember what day of the week or which week my collection was. I don’t have enough room in my red, white and blue crates, I could recycle three, four, five times as much.” That’s really the biggest complaint I get. And we’re trying to address that. Commissioner (Chris) Giunchigliani has a recycling committee that she established, and it has met three or four times now. She has members of each of the cities we service in Clark County as well as she and (County Commissioner Steve) Sisolak sit on it. They are looking at what they believe will be the best recommendation for future recycling programs.

What’s one thing customers can do to make life easier for trash-haulers?

(Long pause.) When I get phone calls about our drivers, 99 out of 100 are compliments. When I go into the grocery store wearing a Republic Services golf shirt or baseball hat, what I get mostly is, “You guys are so great. Your drivers wave at my children, they smile at me, they do it and they’re happy when they do it.” I think what our employees do is provide a great, great customer service at an extremely low rate. I think embracing the new recycling program is probably the thing that would be the best thing that the drivers could expect. We would be going from manual collection to collection with an automated truck with a mechanical arm that actually picks up the large wheeled carts.

We actually had a unique experience in this past couple of weeks. We had one of our drivers who works in construction-type container trucks and he was injured off the job several months ago and he came back to work a couple of weeks ago. When he went through the testing to come back to work in that particular truck, he couldn’t pass the test because he injured his back. On those trucks, you have to have the capability of putting a tarp over the container so you can take it on the freeway without things blowing out of it. He has a reaching problem now. As a result of that, he was going to lose his job. He’s a 66-year-old grandfather raising two grandchildren and as a result of the new pilot recycling program using automated collection, we actually had the doctors test him to see if he would be able to drive that truck. He passed the test and he’s going to be able to stay with us. He actually testified to Commissioner Giunchigliani and the recycling committee about how happy he is that he can continue to work because he can’t afford retirement.

Some of your drivers have received some national recognition.

One of the special things about Las Vegas is that in the past four years, we’ve had five national Solid Waste Management Association (safety and customer service) drivers of the year. (There are seven categories, so more than one driver is recognized each year.) Each year, one of our drivers has been selected out of 130,000 trash collection drivers nationwide as the most exemplary driver in the country. That is pretty phenomenal to have five of those drivers in four years.

Why do you think the concentration is so heavy here?

Your application is submitted in a blind draw. We complete the application, but the way it’s submitted, there is no name or location — just a safety record, their years of driving experience and their technical qualifications for their truck. A committee reviews that and selects a list of finalists. Then, they come out with a package of other things you can submit. In each case with each of these five drivers, I made sure we went out to their customers and solicited comments from them. The company doesn’t need to tell people how good our drivers are. We’re very proud of them. But when the customer will submit comments, letter or e-mails telling that national board what this gentleman is like … We had one driver whose route sent some 200-plus e-mails talking about what his customer service was like. We had a driver whose commercial customers submitted 100-plus compliments recommending him to be a finalist. Once they’re selected as a finalist, we let their customers talk for them, and that’s what got them those awards.

How would you rate Southern Nevada’s recycling efforts today compared with other places?

On the residential side, very poorly, but it’s not the population’s or the customers’ fault. It’s the fault of the program. The program with the three colored crates is just very inconvenient, you have to separate it out, you only have 36 gallons of capacity every other week. You have to remember which week is my week. In the pilot programs, you get 96 gallons of capacity on a weekly basis. By increasing that capacity to recycle, it just makes it so much easier. I put my trash out last night and the lid on the recycling was tilted up just a little bit because it was so full and my trash was just three-quarters full. I could have put another two or three bags of daily garbage in there.

When will recycling be expanded so that it is curbside all over the valley and in apartment complexes as well?

Apartment complexes are another question. The residential expansion will vary based on Commissioner Giunchigliani’s committee results. Based on the customer satisfaction survey in North Las Vegas and the whether Henderson has a similar survey — I would anticipate it would have one by spring — and the Las Vegas City Council is about to get an agenda item, I’d say it’s getting close. Multifamily units, apartments, has always been a struggle. It’s been a struggle for Republic, but it’s also been a struggle for property management companies and apartment complexes because they don’t have space for lots of recycling containers. Over the past couple of years, we’ve done a number of pilot programs with property managers, and we think we’ve come up with a solution to multifamily recycling. We just signed up Camden Property Management, one of the big ones, with 21 complexes. They are going to have special recycling containers in or next to their mail rooms. The object is to capture all the junk mail, brochures and catalogs and things that people don’t want in their homes right at the source where they get it.

Don’t forget the election mailings.

Yes, every one of them. For the recyclable junk mail market, this is the best time of the year. The maintenance staff at the apartment complexes will maintain the containers. They’ll take the bags of recycled material. We’re providing a large commercial recycling bin farther out in the complex away from the parking areas. That will be locked so the material can’t be contaminated. We’ll provide Camden with as many keys for residents as they want. So if residents want to recycle their plastic bottles and containers, they’ll be able to take their recyclables to the commercial container, open it up and put their items in. So we’re very excited about Camden being the first large property management company to sign up, and we’re actually in the process of delivering those mailroom containers as we speak.

Are other big apartment developments in the works?

We have our customer service representatives out talking with all of them. You know, they’re all challenged, too, because their vacancies are up and their rents are down and there is an expense to the apartment recycling program. It’s minimal — $125 a month for the special mailroom carts as well as the large commercial containers. But just like everybody else in the recession, they’re trying to watch their pennies, nickels and dimes. But the fact that Camden stepped up to the plate and became the first one, we think that will allow us to penetrate more of that market.

One of the big things about the new recycling program is that we will be able to commingle materials. Why did we separate those things out in the colored bins for so long?

There are two things. First, let’s talk about the commingled recyclables. Over the last 4 1/2 years, as we began to implement the commingled pilot program, we’ve invested $5.5 million into our recycling facility on Gowan Avenue in North Las Vegas. The investment was for new state-of-the-art equipment that will enable us to process the commingled material and do a better job of sorting it. That was important as we moved through having 50,000 homes on the pilot program and anticipating that someone was going to say, “Why don’t we commingle it all?”

So we just finished putting in the final $1.5 million of new equipment about two weeks ago. We’re now fully capable of handling all of the commingled material that we get. However, because we’ve only implemented the commingled program in about 50,000 homes, we’ve gotten a little schizophrenic because the trucks that collect the red, white and blue crates are not capable of collecting commingled material. They have three separate compartments, one for fiber, one for plastics and metal cans and one for glass. So, because if we told everybody to just commingle it, it wouldn’t go in the truck the right way so it’s very difficult to be educating people about two different types of programs that are in operation at the same time. So it’s a work in progress.

One of the things we installed at the recycling center more than a year ago was the optical scanner. The optical scanner is a marvel. I’m no scientist, but the plastic containers go through the optical scanner and it can read the density of different kinds of plastic material so that your plastic water bottles go in one direction while your detergent bottles or milk bottles goes in a different direction. It does that in a tenth of a second. Those were the types of upgrades we needed to do to even be able to handle the commingled material. Now, we’re ready to move forward. We’re kind of waiting to see if they want to go to a full commingled system or the type of system we have now.

Some people who put out their recycling bins have discovered that there are people who have come around picking things up ahead of Republic. Presumably, these people are recycling materials for their own profit. Is this a problem? Considering that Republic can generate revenue when recycling materials, is this a form of theft?

It is. But bigger than stealing the small volume of recyclables that are out in the red, white and blue crates, the bigger piece of it is that it’s a security issue for the neighborhood. If they’re going to come around and steal 10 or 20 aluminum cans, what happens if your little boy or little girl leaves their bicycle on the front lawn? Is that not going to be gone, too? That’s got a lot more value. We’re not the recycling police, but if people see that and can get a vehicle license plate number, they can call the Southern Nevada Health District, which will enforce that. The police departments won’t because there’s a lot of other crime going on out there and the theft of recyclable material isn’t on the top of Metro’s list. But the Southern Nevada Health District will go after people who are reported stealing the material. Another great reason for the commingled program is that it’s way too much work to go out and steal aluminum cans out of that big 96-gallon wheeled cart when they’re all commingled with newspapers. That’s hard work. It’s no longer easy to just dump all the aluminum cans into the back of a pickup truck. California filed a criminal fraud charge against 33 people about four months ago for defrauding the state out of in excess of $30 million in California redemption value — the fees that California pays for bringing back aluminum cans and plastic water bottles.

That reminds me of a “Seinfeld” episode. So why did Republic acquire Evergreen Recycling? How can it be good for consumers to have fewer competitors in the market?

The reason we acquired Evergreen Recycling is that it is a great recycling company. Just as important as the company is that we were able to retain the services of the management team, (President) Rob Dorinson and (CEO) Len Christopher, who created Evergreen in the mid-1990s and developed it into one of the premier recycling companies in Clark County. From Republic’s standpoint, the investment in Evergreen includes the recycling facility and it broadened our recycling infrastructure so that we can provide more types of recycling and recycle more types of material for our commercial and industrial customers. That was important to us.

We were already in the process of developing our EcoCentre at the Cheyenne Transfer Station, and when Evergreen became available, our corporate and regional management agreed with our local management team that this was a great opportunity to add to our infrastructure as well as get some great management talent in the recycling business. As a result of the Evergreen acquisition, we had to take a step back on our EcoCentre development. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to develop the EcoCentre, we’re definitely going to move forward on it, but what we want to do now on the EcoCentre is to make sure that the equipment we have at the Republic Services MRF (material recovery facility) and the equipment we have at the Evergreen MRF is complimentary so that whatever we’re going to install at our EcoCentre also needs to be complimentary to those two facilities so that we can broaden and expand the kinds of materials we can recycle for our customers. The reason for that is because our customers want to recycle more. So in addition to finding outlets for the material, we have to be able to reprocess that material to make it clean enough to be able to sell it into the recycling markets. So we’ve had to take a short step back on the EcoCentre just to make sure that we work with our regional management staff and our specialists in the recycling business to make sure that we put the proper type of equipment to broaden and expand the materials we can go after.

But what did that do for competition?

There’s still plenty of competition in the recycling business in Clark County. There’s probably about another 15 or 20 companies out there.

Do you have a new timetable on the EcoCentre and what exactly will it do?

We think it will still be under construction in 2011. What we want to be able to do is to be able to process more recycling material without our commercial and industrial customers having to go through the separation process. There may be customers out there who can’t afford or don’t have enough material to have a trash container and a recycling container, but they really want to know that their material is being processed. What we want to be able to do is commingle recyclable material that also has solid waste in it and be able to clean it up for a customer give them the certification they need. You don’t have to have two containers. You don’t have to go through all the labor of separating out the recyclables. We’ll take care of that for you, and it won’t cost any more money and here’s the certification that we’re doing the recycling for you.

There’s a plan to build a power plant in Apex using landfill gas as a fuel. Will we be seeing more of that in the future?

I think you’ll see a lot more of it. We’re very proud of the Apex Regional Landfill. It’s the largest landfill in acreage in the country at 2,200 acres. It’s one of the largest in volume, taking in between 8,000 and 8,500 tons a day, although our volume is down substantially since 2007 when the economy really began to falter. We’re still taking in more than 2 million tons of solid waste material a year. As part of that, the landfill opened in 1993. But when you have a landfill like that, just the decomposition of solid waste is going to generate methane gas. What we do now with the methane gas is that we have gas collection wells in the landfill. We collect that gas and take it to a flare system and we burn that gas to eliminate it so that we control the gases. It’s just like flipping a cigarette lighter. What we’re doing now is we’ve worked with a company called Energenics. It has a contract with NV Energy to take our landfill gas and put it into two solar, turbines and it is going to generate between 9.5 and 10 megawatts of electricity for NV Energy. We will be expanding the gas-collection system so that we can collect more gas to deliver to them. That energy plant will be able to generate enough electricity to power some 10,000 homes a day. We talk about recycling on the front end, but at the back end when you’re decomposing solid waste and you’re generating this byproduct, it actually has a beneficial reuse and a recycled reuse as electricity. So we’re pretty excited about that.

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