Waste Management — from its employees’ innovative new recycled uniforms to its first chief sustainability hire and a star-studded visionary event — is looking more and more fashionable.
“If you look back 25 years, the waste industry was a collect-and-disposal model. Today, the industry has evolved — and WM is at the forefront of circular solutions for our customers,” said Tara Hemmer, chief sustainability officer at Waste Management.
The deployment of advanced technologies like volumetric scanners (for weighing heavy loads), optical sorters (for sorting) and robotics (for every other need imaginable) are among the company’s recent advancements.
“WM manages more post-consumer recyclables than any other company in North America,” Hemmer said. “As you would expect, the types of materials we manage are changing as a result of consumer behavior, education and legislation in the U.S. and globally.”
The organization revealed its inaugural “Sustainability Green Index” survey on Thursday, done in part with global intelligence company, Morning Consult. The survey looks at the latest sustainability perceptions and expectations among adults in the U.S., starting with the stat that 72 percent of Americans are “overwhelmed” by sustainability today.
Equally telling, half of adults aren’t composting their food waste and more than half, or 56 percent, of adults said they equate sustainability with recycling — meaning factors of circularity like reuse and repair are obscured solutions.
While three in four adults say they feel confident in knowing what can and can’t be recycled, there’s confusion around what to recycle among first-timers (sometimes dubbed “wish-cycling,” where the individual chucks their item into the designated recycling receptacle and hopes for the best).
Renewable energy’s origins are another sore spot of conversation.
“The most important takeaway from the WM Sustainability Green Index survey data is that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to consumers understanding what they can do to make an impact around things like recycling right, disposing of food waste properly and more,” Hemmer said. “However, consumers care. They want to make sustainable choices when it comes to the products they purchase and how they live their day-to-day lives. WM Sustainability Green Index data shows they are looking for governments, corporations and individuals to take action and they expect brands to commit to a range of meaningful sustainability initiatives. It’s encouraging to see consumers want to be part of the solution when it comes to sustainability.”
As consumers get on board, WM also eyes its sustainability event set to be held digitally on Feb. 9, with no cost to attend. Speakers include sustainability “visionaries” Paul Polman, formerly of Unilever, and circular economy expert George Bandy, to name just some.
“One session I’m excited about will highlight the next generation of innovators committed to creating a circular economy,” Hemmer said. “The session will showcase work from the WM Design Challenge, featuring an interview with one designer. Powered by Slow Factory, the WM Design Challenge gave six individuals/teams an opportunity to create design solutions for products, materials and/or systems that embrace regenerative practices. Participants also received grants to develop their ideas and were mentored by industry leaders in the textile recycling supply chain, education and marketing realms.”