Moving Materials Up the Waste Hierarchy
CHALLENGE: As a society, we consume a large amount of materials. Materials and energy go into extracting, transporting and processing raw materials to create products. Products are then distributed, consumed and then largely disposed of as waste. This linear process has adverse impacts on the environment along the entire value-chain, including from end-of-life management. However, more sustainable waste and materials management can significantly reduce these impacts. Covanta delivers practical solutions at scale to meet this challenge.
SOLUTION: Moving up the waste management hierarchy toward waste reduction, reuse and recycling remains our best pathway for reducing impacts along the materials value chain. For over 40 years, Covanta has created environmental and social benefits by recycling materials, recovering energy and avoiding greenhouse gases. Our facilities and people provide solutions to manage waste by first diverting it from landfills to higher and better uses. Our zero waste-to-landfill services keep valuable materials out of the least preferred means of end-of-life management so we can put those materials back into the economy as recovered materials or energy. Covanta manages waste in a sustainable manner to support waste reduction goals for businesses and communities.
It is more than just an ambition. Our teams put practical solutions into play every day:
- Consumer goods like liquid hand soap and alcohol are repurposed for uses like marine and truck washing and transformed into ethanol-grade fuel. Original packaging like glass bottles and metal cans are recycled, with electricity generation from non-recyclables.
- Wastewater from manufacturing cleanouts is treated and can be reused in Covanta facilities.
- Metal recovered from trash and industrial wastes by Covanta Waste-to-Energy operations is recycled.
- Waste materials that cannot be reused or recycled become alternative fuel supporting decarbonization of other industry sectors such as cement manufacturing.
- Environmental scientists from Covanta work with our clients to better understand the trade-offs and dynamics inherent in advancing more sustainable waste and materials management through lifecycle assessment and data analysis.
Through collaborative execution, Covanta leads the way to sustainable material management.
Driving Change Through Sustainable Finance
Committed to Matching Our Finances to Our Purpose
Our private equity owner, EQT, finances a portfolio with resources that link to sustainability outcomes. The deployment of sustainability-linked finance is a powerful tool for mobilizing capital as the world moves toward a greener future and converts investment resources to purpose. As part of this commitment, the purchase of Covanta was completed with the first-ever sustainability-linked leveraged buyout (LBO) financing in the U.S. This agreement features environmentally focused Key Performance Indicators (KPI) with financial linkages to drive meaningful progress. EQT’s investments target impact, which sits at the heart of Covanta’s work and the KPIs align future investment with sustainability outcomes.
Learn more about sustainability linked financing.
Creating Value from Waste
Do you know where your garbage goes? Let’s take a journey together...
You hosted a birthday party and have finally finished cleaning up, filling a garbage bag with cake crumbs, disposable plates, utensils and napkins. You can breathe a sigh of relief once you’ve put it on the curb for pickup. But where does it go now?
Depending on where you live, municipal waste either goes to a landfill or a Waste-To-Energy facility.
At a landfill, the biodegradable materials break down over hundreds of years, emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates the warming of our planet. Everything else is stored in the landfill without the possibility of recycling or reuse.
At a Covanta facility, however, that material is offered a chance to be reused, recycled or recovered for energy.
Now, imagine doing this with almost everything you can’t easily recycle, from soiled paper to that three-ring binder that’s falling apart, to the worn out clothes that can’t be donated or mended.
Last year, Covanta captured more than 1 million tons of waste for recycling and reuse, including over 500,000 tons of metals both ferrous metals like steel, and non-ferrous metals like aluminum, that would have otherwise been lost in a landfill forever. That’s enough steel to build more than 400,000 automobiles and enough aluminum for more than 2.5 billion beverage cans.
Learn more about the differences between waste-to-energy and landfills.
Awarding Innovation at Covanta
Covanta is constantly looking for innovative ways to help our clients become more sustainable. In 2022, Covanta awarded its first-ever Blue Star Awards to teams within the company that successfully helped our customers move up the waste management hierarchy by prioritizing reuse and recycling before other waste treatments. As a leader in sustainable waste management, our teams’ ability to think outside the box and solve these complex and pressing challenges for our customers is the key to our success.
Repurposing Expired Consumer Products
A large retail and pharmaceutical company used to rely on landfills as their waste management option. Despite budget constraints, the company favored our alternate sustainable waste management options to manage 13 truckloads of expired hand soap. Looking through a sustainable materials management lens, Covanta provided a way for the soap to be depackaged from its plastic bottles and cardboard cases. Once extracted, the antibacterial hand soap was repurposed and used as an industrial truck wash. The cardboard packaging was recycled, and the contaminated plastic material with soap residue was used as an alternative fuel in cement kilns, displacing fossil fuels.
From Drinks to Specialty Fuels
A manufacturer of premium alcoholic beverages was in the market to manage expired products using sustainable options. Covanta provided reuse and recycling options by separating the high-proof alcohol from packaging, partnering with 3rd parties to transform the material into an ethanol-grade fuel and antifreeze and recycling the remaining glass and metal packaging.
Serving Up Sustainability at the Repair Café
What if you knew how to repurpose or fix common household items? What if you could get a few more years out of that beloved sweater or coffee pot? Covanta Long Island employees know, and they passed along their knowledge and skills at a “Repair café" to promote reuse and circularity for New York residents.
At last year’s annual New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling conference (NYSAR3), Covanta employees ran a fully operational Repair Café in the conference’s exhibition hall, working on several items- including a very large snow blower, a lamp, a dust buster, and more. The Repair Cafe provided a chance to see firsthand how they can repair their own broken or damaged household items while also learning the importance of implementing a reuse culture in their communities. With reuse and recycling being the most effective ways to prevent waste, our Long Island employees know teaching necessary repurposing skills is vital to the sustainability of our planet.
The NYSAR3 conference gave Covanta employees the chance to show attendees how repairing and repurposing items is not only a sustainable solution for New York – a state with a large production of waste – but gave them the tools to implement this mindset in the communities they serve.
Helping California Manage Sharps
As of the end of 2022, Covanta cumulatively destroyed 15 million pounds of unused prescription medication waste collected from communities, working in collaboration with community members, local leaders, and local Covanta facilities to truly make a change.
This long-standing program is what led Covanta to assist the state of California with the first statewide sharps mail-back program in the country. Using our municipal connections developed by dedicated internal teams, and our strategic partners, we were able to assist the state government with both the ordinance and program execution.
Though the program had only two short months to launch, our team at Biologic Environmental Services and Waste Solutions, a recent Covanta acquisition, and Covanta’s Signal Hill facility took on the challenge and hit the ground running. Partnering with American Security Cabinets (manufacturer of secure cabinets used for drug drop offs) and American Rx Group (supporting mail-back solutions), we developed a fulfillment system for the Signal Hill facility to process the post-consumer waste.
This program gave sharps producers a secure and compliant solution for post-consumer sharps and gave California residents opportunities to dispose of their medical waste in a safe and sustainable way for a challenging waste stream.
Decarbonizing the Cement Industry Through Alternative Fuels
Our recent acquisition of SGS Recovery and Buffalo Fuel Corporation provides us with game-changing opportunities to supply alternative fuel options to local industrial complexes in the Niagara Falls area and help shape their local circular economy.
The acquisitions significantly expand our customer base in the area and diversify our waste-to-product and carbon negative capabilities.
SGS Recovery provides total logistics and transportation solutions for a wide variety of waste streams across many commercial industries — a major component of our materials capture mission.
Buffalo Fuel Corporation’s innovative technology provides an alternative low carbon fuel made from waste materials to replace fossil fuel typically used to produce cement in lime kilns, a carbon-intense process.
The cement industry is vital to society but carbon intensive, representing about eight percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions. Switching to lower-carbon alternative fuels made from waste materials is one of the key strategies to cut carbon emissions in cement production.
Working with the Drug Enforcement Administration
When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) needed help with a significant quantity of seized contraband, the Healthcare Solutions team and Covanta Fairfax jumped into action. With short notice, the Fairfax team was able to make an extraordinary effort to complete the destruction of the seized drugs in expedited fashion. Thanks to the diligent and efficient work of the Covanta team, we have strengthened the partnership with the DEA.
Investing in the Camden Green Initiative
The Camden Green Initiative is a major project to upgrade the air quality control system at our Camden facility, which will further decrease our already low emissions. The upgrades will provide up to 95% in emissions reductions and give Covanta Camden the ability to propose lower emissions limits for the facility. The project is demonstrative of the company's commitment to continuous improvement and reducing emissions in Environmental Justice communities.
However, this initiative is not a project we began alone. Through meetings with and listening to various community members across Camden, we were able to bring the community into conversation when discussions surrounding the air-quality system upgrades began. The public’s keen interest in the work we are doing helped us create the Covanta Camden Community Benefits Agreement (CCCBA). This agreement gave residents the ability to become influential in our operations and gave us the opportunity to listen and learn from the people we serve. This initiative and agreement with Camden have not only increased our transparency and trust in our community but have also given Covanta the framework for how we approach community outreach in the future.
Learn more about the Camden Green Initiative.
Bringing a Personal and Professional Commitment to Sustainability
When you ask Damon Dozier why he chose to work for Covanta, you get a multifaceted response, but one that carries a central theme — caring for our most precious resource, the planet.
“When I found Covanta, I was seeking a place that aligned with my personal mission to do work that has an impact on the environment for People of Color,” said Dozier, Director of Government Relations at Covanta. “Then, I learned about Covanta’s solutions along with the depth and breadth of their commitment. I knew this was the place for me.” Dozier, and other men and women of color at Covanta, bring an important perspective to the company’s work, providing a unique community and cultural lens, while sharing their experience and varied areas of expertise. He is inspired to see people who look like him represented in the company’s leadership and recognizes Covanta’s work as an opportunity to change the narrative about what it means to be a good corporate citizen.
“I’m proud of the fact that Covanta goes above and beyond what is required,” said Dozier. “We are going beyond because it is the right thing to do for the communities we serve.”
In addition to caring for communities of color, Dozier wants to provide education, acknowledging that Black and Brown communities have often faced disproportionate environmental burdens, which in some cases were specifically related to waste management facilities. As a result, the relationship with waste management facilities, even modern WTE facilities operated under strict environmental controls, can be complex. Dozier feels education and dialogue are critical to moving beyond this legacy to facilitate further discussion on sustainable waste management.
Beyond his work at Covanta, Dozier is a minister. His work with Covanta honors his religion’s tradition of caring for the Earth. “My part of Covanta’s commitment to solutions that sustain our environment gives me the perfect opportunity to bring the perspective of my people and merge it with passion and purpose.”