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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Item 1. Business.
Waste Management, Inc. is a holding company and all operations are conducted by its subsidiaries. When the terms “the Company,” “we,” “us” or “our” are used in this document, those terms refer to Waste Management, Inc., its consolidated subsidiaries and consolidated variable interest entities. When we use the term “WM,” we are referring only to Waste Management, Inc., the parent holding company.
WM was incorporated in Oklahoma in 1987 under the name “USA Waste Services, Inc.” and was reincorporated as a Delaware company in 1995. In a 1998 merger, the Illinois-based waste services company formerly known as Waste Management, Inc. became a wholly-owned subsidiary of WM and changed its name to Waste Management Holdings, Inc. (“WM Holdings”). At the same time, our parent holding company changed its name from USA Waste Services to Waste Management, Inc. Like WM, WM Holdings is a holding company and all operations are conducted by subsidiaries.
Our principal executive offices are located at 800 Capitol Street, Houston, Texas 77002. Our telephone number is (713) 512-6200. Our website address is www.wm.com. Our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and current reports on Form 8-K are all available, free of charge, on our website as soon as practicable after we file the reports with the SEC. Our stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “WM.”
We are North America’s leading provider of comprehensive waste management environmental services, providing services throughout the United States (“U.S.”) and Canada. We partner with our residential, commercial, industrial and municipal customers and the communities we serve to manage and reduce waste at each stage from collection to disposal, while recovering valuable resources and creating clean, renewable energy. Our “Solid Waste” business is operated and managed locally by our subsidiaries that focus on distinct geographic areas and provide collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling and resource recovery services. Through our subsidiaries, we are also a leading developer, operator and owner of landfill gas-to-energy facilities in the U.S. During 2020, our largest customer represented less than 5% of annual revenues. We employed approximately 48,250 people as of December 31, 2020.
We own or operate 268 landfill sites, which is the largest network of landfills in the U.S. and Canada. In order to make disposal more practical for larger urban markets, where the distance to landfills is typically farther, we manage 348 transfer stations that consolidate, compact and transport waste efficiently and economically. We also use waste to create energy, recovering the gas produced naturally as waste decomposes in landfills and using the gas in generators to make electricity. We are a leading recycler in the U.S. and Canada, handling materials that include cardboard, paper, glass, plastic and metal. We provide cost-efficient, environmentally sound recycling programs for municipalities, businesses and households across the U.S. and Canada as well as other services that supplement our Solid Waste business.
Our Company’s goals are targeted at putting our people first, positioning them to serve and care for our customers, the environment, the communities in which we work and our stockholders. Increasingly, our industry-leading focus on environmental sustainability aligns with demand from our customers who want more of their waste materials recovered. Waste streams are becoming more complex, and our aim is to address current needs, while anticipating the expanding and evolving needs of our customers.
We believe we are uniquely equipped to meet the challenges of the changing waste industry and our customers’ waste management needs, both today and as we work together to envision and create a more sustainable future. As the waste industry leader, we have the expertise necessary to collect and handle our customers’ waste efficiently and responsibly by delivering environmental performance — maximizing resource value, while minimizing environmental impact — so that both our economy and our environment can thrive.
Our fundamental strategy has not changed; we remain dedicated to providing long-term value to our stockholders by successfully executing our core strategy of focused differentiation and continuous improvement. We have enabled a
people-first, technology-led focus, that leverages and sustains the strongest asset network in the industry to drive best-in-class customer experience and growth. Our strategic planning processes appropriately consider that the future of our business and the industry can be influenced by changes in economic conditions, the competitive landscape, the regulatory environment, asset and resource availability and technology. We believe that focused differentiation, which is driven by capitalizing on our unique and extensive network of assets, will deliver profitable growth and position us to leverage competitive advantages. Simultaneously, we believe the combination of cost control, process improvement and operational efficiency will deliver on the Company’s strategy of continuous improvement and yield an attractive total cost structure and enhanced service quality. While we will continue to monitor emerging diversion technologies that may generate additional value and related market dynamics, our current attention will be on improving existing diversion technologies, such as our recycling operations.
We believe that execution of our strategy will deliver shareholder value and leadership in a dynamic industry and challenging economic environment. In addition, we intend to continue to return value to our stockholders through dividend payments and our common stock repurchase program. In December 2020, we announced that our Board of Directors expects to increase the quarterly dividend from $0.545 to $0.575 per share for dividends declared in 2021, which is a 5.5% increase from the quarterly dividends we declared in 2020. This is an indication of our ability to generate strong and consistent cash flows and marks the 18th consecutive year of dividend increases. All quarterly dividends will be declared at the discretion of our Board of Directors and depend on various factors, including our net earnings, financial condition, cash required for future business plans, growth and acquisitions and other factors the Board of Directors may deem relevant.
We evaluate, oversee and manage the financial performance of our Solid Waste business subsidiaries through our 17 Areas. See Note 20 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information about our reportable segments. We also provide expanded service offerings and solutions that are not managed through our Solid Waste business, as described below. These operations are presented in this report as “Other.” The services we currently provide include collection, landfill (solid and hazardous waste landfills), transfer, recycling and resource recovery and other services, as described below.
On October 30, 2020, we completed the acquisition of all outstanding shares of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“Advanced Disposal”). This acquisition expanded our collection and disposal business in a number of markets in the Eastern half of the U.S. The acquisition is discussed further in Note 18 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Collection. Our commitment to customers begins with a vast waste collection network. Collection involves picking up and transporting waste and recyclable materials from where it was generated to a transfer station, material recovery facility (“MRF”) or disposal site. We generally provide collection services under one of two types of arrangements:
|●||For commercial and industrial collection services, typically we have three-year service agreements. The fees under the agreements are influenced by factors such as collection frequency, type of collection equipment we furnish, type and volume or weight of the waste collected, distance to the disposal facility, labor costs, cost of disposal and general market factors. As part of the service, we provide steel containers to most customers to store their solid waste between pick-up dates. Containers vary in size and type according to the needs of our customers and the restrictions of their communities. Many are designed to be lifted mechanically and either emptied into a truck’s compaction hopper or directly into a disposal site. By using these containers, we can service most of our commercial and industrial customers with trucks operated by only one employee.|
|●||For most residential collection services, we have a contract with, or a franchise granted by, a municipality, homeowners’ association or some other regional authority that gives us the exclusive right to service all or a portion of the homes in an area. These contracts or franchises are typically for periods of three to ten years. We also provide services under individual monthly subscriptions directly to households. The fees for residential collection are either paid by the municipality or authority from their tax revenues or service charges, or are paid|
|directly by the residents receiving the service. The Company is generally phasing out traditional manual systems and moving to further automate residential collection services. Benefits of automation include enhanced worker safety, improved service delivery to the customer and an overall reduction in the cost to provide services.|
Landfill. Landfills are the main depositories for solid waste in North America. As of December 31, 2020, we owned or operated 263 solid waste landfills and five secure hazardous waste landfills, which represents the largest network of landfills in the U.S. and Canada. Solid waste landfills are constructed and operated on land with engineering safeguards that limit the possibility of water and air pollution, and are operated under procedures prescribed by regulation. A landfill must meet federal, state or provincial, and local regulations during its design, construction, operation and closure. The operation and closure activities of a solid waste landfill include excavation, construction of liners, continuous spreading and compacting of waste, covering of waste with earth or other acceptable material and constructing final capping of the landfill. These operations are carefully planned to maintain environmentally safe conditions and to maximize the use of the airspace.
All solid waste management companies must have access to a disposal facility, such as a solid waste landfill. The significant capital requirements of developing and operating a landfill serve as a barrier to landfill ownership and, thus, third-party haulers often dispose of waste at our landfills. It is usually preferable for our collection operations to use disposal facilities that we own or operate, a practice we refer to as internalization, rather than using third-party disposal facilities. Internalization generally allows us to realize higher consolidated margins and stronger operating cash flows. The fees charged at disposal facilities, which are referred to as tipping fees, are based on several factors, including our cost to construct, maintain and close the landfill, the distance to an alternative disposal facility, the type and weight or volume of solid waste deposited and competition.
Under environmental laws, the federal government (or states with delegated authority) must issue permits for all hazardous waste landfills. All of our hazardous waste landfills have obtained the required permits, although some can accept only certain types of hazardous waste. These landfills must also comply with specialized operating standards. Only hazardous waste in a stable, solid form, which meets regulatory requirements, can be deposited in our secure disposal cells. In some cases, hazardous waste can be treated before disposal. Generally, these treatments involve the separation or removal of solid materials from liquids and chemical treatments that transform waste into inert materials that are no longer hazardous. Our hazardous waste landfills are sited, constructed and operated in a manner designed to provide long-term containment of waste. We also operate a hazardous waste facility at which we isolate treated hazardous waste in liquid form by injection into deep wells that have been drilled in certain acceptable geologic formations far below the base of fresh water to a point that is safely separated by other substantial geological confining layers.
Transfer. As of December 31, 2020, we owned or operated 348 transfer stations in the U.S. and Canada. We deposit waste at these stations, as do other waste haulers. The solid waste is then consolidated and compacted to reduce the volume and increase the density of the waste and transported by transfer trucks or by rail to disposal sites.
Access to transfer stations is critical to haulers who collect waste in areas not in close proximity to disposal facilities. Fees charged to third parties at transfer stations are usually based on the type and volume or weight of the waste deposited at the transfer station, the distance to the disposal site, market rates for disposal costs and other general market factors.
The utilization of our transfer stations by our own collection operations improves internalization by allowing us to retain fees that we would otherwise pay to third parties for the disposal of the waste we collect. It enables us to manage costs associated with waste disposal because (i) transfer trucks, railcars or rail containers have larger capacities than collection trucks, allowing us to deliver more waste to the disposal facility in each trip; (ii) waste is accumulated and compacted at transfer stations that are strategically located to increase the efficiency of our network of operations and (iii) we can retain the volume by managing the transfer of the waste to one of our own disposal sites.
The transfer stations that we operate but do not own generally are operated through lease agreements under which we lease property from third parties. There are some instances where transfer stations are operated under contract, generally for municipalities. In most cases, we own the permits and will be responsible for any regulatory requirements relating to the operation and closure of the transfer station.
Recycling. Our recycling operations provide communities and businesses with an alternative to traditional landfill disposal and support our strategic goals to extract more value from the materials we manage. We were the first major solid waste company to focus on residential single-stream recycling, which allows customers to mix clean bottles, cans, paper and cardboard in one bin. Residential single-stream programs have greatly increased the recycling volumes. Single-stream recycling is possible through the use of various mechanized screens and optical sorting technologies. We have also been advancing the single-stream recycling programs for commercial applications. Recycling involves the separation of reusable materials from the waste stream for processing and resale or other disposition. Our recycling operations include the following:
Materials processing — Through our collection operations and third-party customer base, we collect recyclable materials from residential, commercial and industrial customers and direct these materials to one of our MRFs for processing. As of December 31, 2020, we operated 103 MRFs where cardboard, paper, glass, metals, plastics, construction and demolition materials and other recycling commodities are recovered for resale or redirected for other purposes.
Recycling commodities — We market and resell recycling commodities globally. We manage the marketing of recycling commodities that are processed in our facilities by maintaining comprehensive service centers that continuously analyze market prices, logistics, market demands and product quality.
Recycling brokerage services — We also provide recycling brokerage services, which involve managing the marketing of recyclable materials for third parties. The experience of our recycling operations in managing recycling commodities for our own operations gives us the expertise needed to effectively manage volumes for third parties. Utilizing the resources and knowledge of our recycling operations’ service centers, we can assist customers in marketing and selling their recycling commodities with minimal capital requirements.
The recyclable materials processed in our MRFs are received from various sources, including third parties and our own operations. In recent years, we have been focused on reducing dependency on market prices for recycled commodities by recovering our processing costs first. Over time we have been transitioning our customer base from the traditional rebate model, where we paid suppliers for the inbound material, to a fee-for-service model that ensures the cost of processing the recyclable materials is covered along with an acceptable margin. With our current fee-for-service model, the pricing for these recyclable materials can either be a charge or “tip fee” when commodity pricing does not cover our cost to process the recyclable materials or a “rebate” when commodity pricing is higher than our processing costs and we are able to share this benefit with the customers generating recyclable materials. In some cases, our pricing is based on fixed contractual rates or on defined minimum per-ton rates. Generally, this pricing also considers the price we receive for sales of processed goods, market conditions and transportation costs. As a result, changes in commodity prices for recycled materials also significantly affect the pricing to our suppliers. Depending on the key terms of the arrangement, these “rebates” are recorded as either operating expenses or a reduction in operating revenues within our Consolidated Statements of Operations. If the key terms result in a charge to the customer, the associated “tip fees” would be recorded as operating revenues within our Consolidated Statements of Operations.
Other. Other services we provide include the following:
Although many waste management services such as collection and disposal are local services, our Strategic Business Solutions (“WMSBS”) business works with customers whose locations span the U.S. and Canada. Our strategic accounts program provides centralized customer service, billing and management of accounts to streamline the administration of customers’ waste management needs across multiple locations.
Our Energy and Environmental Services (“EES”) business offers our customers a variety of services in collaboration with our Area and strategic accounts programs, including (i) construction and remediation services; (ii) services associated with the disposal of fly ash, residue generated from the combustion of coal and other fuel stocks; (iii) in-plant services, where our employees work full-time inside our customers’ facilities to provide full-service waste management solutions and consulting services (this service is managed through our EES business but reflected principally in our collection line of business) and (iv) specialized disposal services for oil and gas exploration and production operations (revenues for this
service are also reflected principally in our collection line of business). Our vertically integrated waste management operations enable us to provide customers with full management of their waste. The breadth of our service offerings and the familiarity we have with waste management practices gives us the unique ability to assist customers in minimizing the amount of waste they generate, identifying recycling opportunities, determining the most efficient means available for waste collection and disposal and ensuring that disposal is achieved in a manner that is both reflective of the current regulatory environment and environmentally friendly.
We develop, operate and promote projects for the beneficial use of landfill gas through our WM Renewable Energy business. Landfill gas is produced naturally as waste decomposes in a landfill. The methane component of the landfill gas is a readily available, renewable energy source that can be gathered and used beneficially as an alternative to fossil fuel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) endorses landfill gas as a renewable energy resource, in the same category as wind, solar and geothermal resources. As of December 31, 2020, we had 146 landfill gas beneficial use projects producing commercial quantities of methane gas at owned or operated landfills. For 104 of these projects, the processed gas is used to fuel electricity generators. The electricity is then sold to public utilities, municipal utilities or power cooperatives. For 16 of these projects, the landfill gas is processed to pipeline-quality natural gas and then sold to natural gas suppliers. For 26 of these projects, the gas is used at the landfill or delivered by pipeline to industrial customers as a direct substitute for fossil fuels in industrial processes.
We provide expanded service offerings and solutions that are not managed through our Solid Waste business including the collection of project waste, including construction debris and household or yard waste, through our Bagster® business.
We continue to invest in businesses and technologies that are designed to offer services and solutions ancillary or supplementary to our current operations. While most of these investments are in the form of minority equity stakes, they can also include joint ventures, joint development agreements or majority equity stakes. The solutions and services include (i) waste collection, processing, and recycling; (ii) the development, operation and marketing of waste processing facilities and technologies; (iii) operation of renewable natural gas plants and (iv) the development and operation of organic recycling technologies. Furthermore, we continually scout, evaluate and run proof-of-concepts of innovative technologies within our core operations to improve safety, operational efficiencies and customer solutions.
We encounter intense competition from governmental, quasi-governmental and private sources in all aspects of our operations. We principally compete with large national waste management companies, counties and municipalities that maintain their own waste collection and disposal operations and regional and local companies of varying sizes and financial resources. The industry also includes companies that specialize in certain discrete areas of waste management, operators of alternative disposal facilities, companies that seek to use parts of the waste stream as feedstock for renewable energy and other by-products, and waste brokers that rely upon haulers in local markets to address customer needs. In recent years, the industry has seen some additional consolidation, though the industry remains intensely competitive.
Operating costs, disposal costs and collection fees vary widely throughout the Areas in which we operate. The prices that we charge are determined locally, and typically vary by volume and weight, type of waste collected, treatment requirements, risk of handling or disposal, frequency of collections, distance to final disposal sites, the availability of airspace within the geographic region, labor costs and amount and type of equipment furnished to the customer. We face intense competition in our Solid Waste business based on pricing and quality of service. We have also begun competing for business based on breadth of service offerings. As companies, individuals and communities look for ways to be more sustainable, we are promoting our comprehensive services that go beyond our core business of collecting and disposing of waste in order to meet their needs.
Our operating revenues tend to be somewhat higher in summer months, primarily due to higher construction and demolition waste volumes. The volumes of industrial and residential waste in certain regions where we operate also tend
to increase during the summer months. Our second and third quarter revenues and results of operations typically reflect these seasonal trends.
Service disruptions caused by severe storms, extended periods of inclement weather or climate events can significantly affect the operating results of the Areas impacted. On the other hand, certain destructive weather and climate conditions, such as wildfires in the Western U.S. and hurricanes that most often impact our operations in the Southern and Eastern U.S. during the second half of the year, can increase our revenues in the Areas affected as a result of the waste volumes generated by these events. While weather-related and other event driven special projects can boost revenues through additional work for a limited time, due to significant start-up costs and other factors, such revenue can generate earnings at comparatively lower margins.
Human Capital Resources
As of December 31, 2020, we had approximately 48,250 full-time employees across the U.S., Canada and India. Approximately 45,200 employees were located within the U.S. and 3,050 employees were located outside of the U.S. Approximately 9,100 employees were employed in administrative and sales positions with the remainder in operations. Approximately 8,750 of our employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Additional information about our workforce can be found in our 2020 Sustainability Report at https://sustainability.wm.com. Our 2020 Sustainability Report does not constitute a part of, and is not incorporated by reference into, this report or any other report we file with (or furnish to) the SEC, whether made before or after the date of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
People First Commitment
Our Company is committed to People First, knowing that the daily contributions of our team members are what enable us to play a vital role in the communities we serve. Our success depends upon effective leadership, the contributions of each employee, and our ability to give them the tools they need to safely execute their roles as well as to develop and excel in their careers. As our industry and workforce evolve, we are focused on our imperatives of keeping our employees safe, improving diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of our Company, managing employee turnover and increasing retention and supporting ongoing cultural integration and knowledge transfer. We regularly focus on these objectives when managing our business. Refer to COVID-19 Update within Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations for discussion regarding our focus on employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We strive to be a workplace of choice through competitive pay, comprehensive benefits for long-term financial and personal health and opportunities for growth across our ranks. Being an employer of choice is critical to our efforts to attract and retain a high-quality workforce, while motivating us to sharpen our focus on our values that help us empower and develop good employees. By promoting from within and offering training opportunities, we help employees maximize their effectiveness and grow in their careers.
Safety as a Core Value
At the Company, safety is a core value, with no compromise. A large number of our employee population work as drivers, heavy equipment operators and sorters, which are essential jobs that carry inherent risks. For nearly 20 years, we have engaged employees on safety through our Mission to Zero (“M2Z”) program. The “Zero” in M2Z represents zero tolerance for unsafe behaviors. Employees learn safety best practices through new-hire and ongoing training. To build upon lessons learned in training, we conduct structured observations of frontline employees that cover all aspects of our collection and post-collection operations, including driving, loading, unloading, lifting and lowering and arriving prepared for work.
Learning and Development
We offer expansive learning and development solutions to meet the development needs of our people and supporting opportunities for growth and improvement. Our talent management strategy is designed to reach employees at all levels. Given the wide variety of employee roles and skill sets in our Company, our training and development programs are varied but generally fall into the following categories: (i) compliance, including Code of Conduct and cybersecurity training; (ii) safety; (iii) environmental excellence; (iv) professional development and leadership and (v) job-specific.
Inclusion and Diversity
Fostering mutual trust and respect for one another is a cornerstone of being an inclusive and welcoming workplace, one that is well-positioned to serve our customers and communities. Inclusion and diversity (“I&D”) are part of the Company’s core values; we embrace and cultivate respect, trust, open communication and diversity of thought and people. We are continually working to further embed I&D as central pillars of our culture. To this end, we established two aspirational goals to achieve by 2025: (i) achieve ethnic diversity in each segment of our workforce, with an emphasis on improving representation of minorities in all aspects of our business, including leadership and (ii) lead the industry in female representation at all levels, with a special emphasis on operations and leadership. To enable us to achieve these goals, we have established a cross-functional Inclusion and Diversity Leadership Council aimed at ensuring all of the Company’s policies, practices and procedures support these efforts.
Compensation and Benefits
The objective of our compensation and benefit programs is to attract, engage, reward and incentivize valuable employees who will support the successful execution of our strategy. We pay the full cost to provide employees with short-term disability benefits, long-term disability benefits, basic life insurance for the employee and their dependents, and employee and family assistance benefits. The costs for medical and dental coverage are shared with employees, with the Company paying for a majority of the premium expense. The Company offers other important benefits such as paid vacation and holidays, legal services, flexible spending accounts, dependent care assistance, adoption assistance, employee discounts and student loan refinancing services. We also provide plans to help employees save for their future; refer to Note 10 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information on our employee benefit plans.
Financial Assurance and Insurance Obligations
Municipal and governmental waste service contracts generally require contracting parties to demonstrate financial responsibility for their obligations under the contract. Financial assurance is also a requirement for (i) obtaining or retaining disposal site or transfer station operating permits; (ii) supporting certain variable-rate tax-exempt debt and (iii) estimated final capping, closure, post-closure and environmental remedial obligations at many of our landfills. We establish financial assurance using surety bonds, letters of credit, insurance policies, trust and escrow agreements and financial guarantees. The type of assurance used is based on several factors, most importantly: the jurisdiction, contractual requirements, market factors and availability of credit capacity.
Surety bonds and insurance policies are supported by (i) a diverse group of third-party surety and insurance companies; (ii) an entity in which we have a noncontrolling financial interest or (iii) a wholly-owned insurance captive, the sole business of which is to issue surety bonds and/or insurance policies on our behalf. Letters of credit generally are supported by our long-term U.S. and Canadian revolving credit facility (“$3.5 billion revolving credit facility”) and other credit lines established for that purpose.
We carry a broad range of insurance coverages, including health and welfare, general liability, automobile liability, workers’ compensation, real and personal property, directors’ and officers’ liability, pollution legal liability, cyber incident
liability and other coverages we believe are customary to the industry. Our exposure to loss for insurance claims is generally limited to the per-incident deductible under the related insurance policy. We use a wholly-owned insurance captive to insure the deductibles for our general liability, automobile liability and workers’ compensation claims programs. As of December 31, 2020, both our commercial General Liability Insurance Policy and our workers’ compensation insurance program carried self-insurance exposures of up to $5 million per incident. As of December 31, 2020, our automobile liability insurance program included a per-incident deductible of up to $10 million. We do not expect the impact of any known casualty, property, environmental or other contingency to have a material impact on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. Our estimated insurance liabilities as of December 31, 2020 are summarized in Note 11 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Our business is subject to extensive and evolving federal, state or provincial and local environmental, health, safety and transportation laws and regulations. These laws and regulations are administered by the EPA, Environment Canada, and various other federal, state, provincial and local environmental, zoning, transportation, land use, health and safety agencies in the U.S. and Canada. Many of these agencies regularly examine our operations to monitor compliance with these laws and regulations and have the power to enforce compliance, obtain injunctions or impose civil or criminal penalties in cases of violations.
Because the primary mission of our business is to collect and manage solid waste in an environmentally sound manner, a significant amount of our capital expenditures are related, either directly or indirectly, to environmental protection measures, including compliance with federal, state, provincial and local rules. There are costs associated with siting, design, permitting, operations, monitoring, site maintenance, corrective actions, financial assurance, and facility closure and post-closure obligations. With acquisition, development or expansion of a waste management or disposal facility or transfer station, we must often spend considerable time, effort and money to obtain or maintain required permits and approvals. There are no assurances that we will be able to obtain or maintain required governmental approvals. Once obtained, operating permits are subject to renewal, modification, suspension or revocation by the issuing agency. Compliance with current regulations and future requirements could require us to make significant capital and operating expenditures. However, most of these expenditures are made in the normal course of business and do not place us at any competitive disadvantage.
The regulatory environment in which we operate is influenced by changes in leadership at the federal, state, provincial and local levels. The policies set forth under the previous U.S. administration, for example, generally were in favor of reducing regulation and corporate taxation. While it is anticipated that the new U.S. administration will reverse course on regulatory policies impacting our Company, we cannot predict what impact the change in administrations will have on specific regulations, nor can we predict the timing of any such changes. Reduction of regulation may have a favorable impact on our operating costs, but the extensive environmental regulation applicable to the waste sector is a barrier to rapid entry that benefits our Company. Moreover, the risk reduction provided by stringent regulation is valuable to our customers and the communities we serve.
The primary U.S. federal statutes affecting our business are summarized below:
|●||The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (“RCRA”), as amended, regulates handling, transporting and disposing of hazardous and non-hazardous waste and delegates authority to states to develop programs to ensure the safe disposal of solid waste. Landfills are regulated under Subtitle D of RCRA, which sets forth minimum federal performance and design criteria for solid waste landfills, and Subtitle C of RCRA, which establishes a federal program to manage hazardous wastes from cradle to grave. These regulations are typically implemented by the states, although states can impose requirements that are more stringent than the federal standards. We incur costs in complying with these standards in the ordinary course of our operations.|
|●||The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”), as amended, which is also known as Superfund, provides for federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances into the environment that have created actual or potential environmental hazards. CERCLA’s primary means for addressing such releases is to impose strict liability for|
|cleanup of disposal sites upon current and former site owners and operators, generators of the hazardous substances at the site and transporters who selected the disposal site and transported substances thereto. Liability under CERCLA is not dependent on the intentional release of hazardous substances; it can be based upon the release or threatened release of hazardous substances, even resulting from lawful, unintentional and attentive action, as the term is defined by CERCLA and other applicable statutes and regulations. The EPA may issue orders requiring responsible parties to perform response actions at sites, or the EPA may seek recovery of funds expended or to be expended in the future at sites. Liability may include contribution for cleanup costs incurred by a defendant in a CERCLA civil action or by an entity that has previously resolved its liability to federal or state regulators in an administrative or judicially-approved settlement. Liability under CERCLA could also include obligations to a potentially responsible party (“PRP”) that voluntarily expends site clean-up costs. Further, liability for damage to publicly-owned natural resources may also be imposed. We are subject to potential liability under CERCLA as an owner or operator of facilities at which hazardous substances have been disposed and as a generator or transporter of hazardous substances disposed of at other locations.|
|●||The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, as amended, known as the Clean Water Act, regulates the discharge of pollutants into streams, rivers, groundwater, or other surface waters from a variety of sources, including solid and hazardous waste disposal sites. If our operations discharge any pollutants into surface waters, the Clean Water Act requires us to apply for and obtain discharge permits, conduct sampling and monitoring, and, under certain circumstances, reduce the quantity of pollutants in those discharges. In 1990, the EPA issued additional standards for management of storm water run-off that require landfills and other waste-handling facilities to obtain storm water discharge permits. Also, if a landfill or other facility discharges wastewater through a sewage system to a publicly-owned treatment works, the facility must comply with discharge limits imposed by the treatment works. Further, before the development or expansion of a landfill can alter or affect “wetlands,” a permit may have to be obtained providing for mitigation or replacement wetlands. The Clean Water Act provides for civil, criminal and administrative penalties for violations of its provisions.|
|●||The Clean Air Act of 1970, as amended, provides for federal, state and local regulation of the emission of air pollutants. Certain of our operations are subject to the requirements of the Clean Air Act, including municipal solid waste (“MSW”) landfills and landfill gas-to-energy facilities. In 1996, the EPA issued new source performance standards (“NSPS”) and emission guidelines (“EG”) controlling landfill gases from new and existing MSW landfills larger than specified size thresholds. In January 2003, the EPA issued Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) standards for municipal solid waste landfills subject to the NSPS and EG. The EPA issued two new rules that serve to update the 1996 NSPS and EG regulatory requirements in August 2016 and updated its MACT regulations in 2020. These NSPS, EG and MACT regulations impose performance standards to minimize air emissions from regulated MSW landfills, subject those landfills to certain operating permit requirements under Title V of the Clean Air Act and, in many instances, require installation of landfill gas collection and control systems to control emissions or to treat and utilize landfill gas on- or off-site.|
|●||The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSHA”), as amended, establishes certain employer responsibilities, including maintenance of a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious injury, compliance with standards promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and various reporting and record keeping obligations as well as disclosure and procedural requirements. Various standards for notices of hazards, safety in excavation and demolition work and the handling of asbestos, may apply to our operations. The Department of Transportation and OSHA, along with other federal agencies, have jurisdiction over certain aspects of hazardous materials and hazardous waste, including safety, movement and disposal. Various state and local agencies with jurisdiction over disposal of hazardous waste may seek to regulate movement of hazardous materials in areas not otherwise preempted by federal law.|
We are also actively monitoring the following recent federal regulatory developments affecting our business:
|●||With regard to regulatory developments under RCRA, the EPA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in December 2018 to consider whether to propose revisions to the municipal solid waste landfill criteria to support advances in liquids management. Although the notice does not reopen any existing regulations, we have been working closely with the EPA to ensure that the agency is aware of how future regulation could impact our industry. In July 2019, the EPA announced increases in the user fees accompanying the system that|
|the agency uses to track hazardous waste shipments electronically. The U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) has responsibility under the Mercury Export Ban Act to designate a government facility to consolidate the long-term storage and disposal of elemental mercury and establish a fee structure to cover the facility’s operating costs. Our Company continues to store mercury, largely on behalf of our customers, in anticipation of the planned DOE announcements. We cannot predict what cost we will incur in connection with these regulations, but we do not anticipate a material impact to our hazardous waste business units. We are working closely with the EPA and DOE to minimize risks more broadly to our industry.|
|●||With regard to regulatory requirements pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions, since 2014, decisions from the U.S Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit, as well as EPA policy memoranda, have significantly narrowed the applicability and scope of EPA permitting requirements for GHGs from stationary sources, including with respect to biogenic carbon dioxide (“CO2”) permitting. In 2016, the EPA proposed revisions to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) and Title V Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) permitting regulations establishing a significant emissions rate (“SER”) threshold, below which sources would not be required to implement additional control technologies for their GHG emissions. This SER threshold should prevent most of our operational changes, such as landfill expansions and beneficial gas recovery projects, from being subject to PSD or Title V permit requirements due to our GHG emissions – assuming the EPA classifies biogenic CO2 emissions from municipal solid waste and landfill gas as carbon neutral. The EPA has not yet finalized this rulemaking, although the EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board has recommended that the agency treat waste-derived CO2 emissions as carbon neutral. These judicial and regulatory actions have reduced, and are expected to continue to reduce, the potential impact of the GHG-related PSD and Title V regulations on our air permits, compliance and operating requirements. Future GHG regulations may require landfill gas emission quantification and/or emission reduction requirements beyond what is currently required, and such amendments could have an adverse effect on our operating costs.|
Potential climate change, GHG regulatory, and corporate sustainability initiatives have influenced our business strategy to provide low-carbon services to our customers, and we increasingly view our ability to offer lower carbon services as a key component of our business growth. We continue to anticipate the needs of our customers, which include investing in and developing ever-more-advanced recycling and reuse technologies. As the U.S. and Canada continue to explore various forms of GHG regulation that increase demand for low-carbon service offerings, the services we are developing are becoming increasingly valuable.
|●||We continue to monitor periodic regulatory actions to increase the stringency of certain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) which could affect the cost, timeliness and availability of air permits for new and modified large municipal solid waste landfills and landfill gas-to-energy facilities. While we cannot predict the ultimate outcome of potential revisions to NAAQS, we do not believe that the such requirements will have a material adverse impact on our business as a whole.|
|●||In December 2014, the EPA issued a final rule regulating the disposal and beneficial use of coal combustion residuals (“CCR”). This codification of the CCR rule provides utilities with a stable regulatory regime and encourages beneficial use of CCR in encapsulated uses (e.g., used in cement or wallboard), and use according to established industry standards (e.g., application of sludge for agricultural enrichment). The EPA also deemed disposal and beneficial use of CCR at permitted municipal solid waste landfills exempt from the new regulations because the RCRA Subtitle D standards applicable at municipal solid waste landfills provide at least equivalent protection. These standards are consistent with our approach to handling CCR at our sites currently, and the new standards have provided a growth opportunity for the Company. In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit vacated significant portions of the 2014 final rule and remanded the rule to the EPA for further revision. As of December 2020, the EPA had finalized two rules and is in the process of developing three other rules aimed at providing utilities with some flexibility in closing or retrofitting unlined storage ponds and in regulating onsite storage of CCR for beneficial reuse. The Company will monitor whether the new administration intends to revisit these rules as we continue to evaluate opportunities to provide CCR disposal services.|
|●||In May 2016, the EPA established lifetime health advisories for certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used globally since the 1940s in products such as textiles, fire suppressants, cookware, packaging and plastics. PFAS are typically very persistent in the environment and can be found in water, soil and air. Citing concerns about potential adverse human health|
|effects from exposure to PFAS, the EPA announced its “PFAS Action Plan” in February 2019 and has taken various actions to address PFAS contamination. Meanwhile, an increasing number of states have enacted new drinking water, surface water and/or groundwater limits for various PFAS, which has led to a patchwork of PFAS standards across the U.S. The EPA is expected to increase its regulatory oversight of PFAS in 2021, with proposals anticipated that would establish drinking water standards, expand authority for PFAS remediation, impose chemical release reporting obligations, and provide guidance on PFAS disposal. Compliance with new and proposed PFAS standards is anticipated to result in additional expense to the Company, but such standards are also anticipated to present potential business opportunities in the area of PFAS management, treatment and disposal.|
|●||In August 2016, the EPA published two rules to update the 1996 standards with new requirements for landfill gas control and monitoring at both new municipal solid waste landfills (constructed or modified after July 17, 2014) as well as existing landfills (operating after November 8, 1987, and not modified after July 17, 2014). Working with our trade associations and other landfill owners and operators, we identified significant legal, technical and implementation concerns with the rules and together filed a judicial appeal of the rules while also filing administrative petitions asking that the EPA stay the rules and initiate a rulemaking process. We also alerted the EPA that its August 2016 rulemakings led to an inconsistent regulatory structure in which six separate overlapping and inconsistent sets of work practices now govern the disposal industry. In May 2017, the EPA granted our industry’s administrative petitions for reconsideration and rulemaking, signaling its intent to reconsider its 2016 rulemakings. In March 2020, the EPA updated its regulations to its 2003 MACT standards, adding further confusion to this regulatory scheme, while declining to address many of the ongoing issues that our industry has identified as problematic. Meanwhile, the agency continues to move forward with an additional rulemaking package (a federal plan to implement the 2016 rule for existing landfills) that could also lead to further regulatory confusion. We cannot predict the outcome of any of these ongoing rulemaking processes; however, we do not believe any such regulatory changes will have a material adverse impact on our business as a whole.|
State, Provincial and Local Regulations
There are also various state or provincial and local regulations that affect our operations. Each state and province in which we operate has its own laws and regulations governing solid waste disposal, water and air pollution, and, in most cases, releases and cleanup of hazardous substances and liabilities for such matters. States and provinces have also adopted regulations governing the design, operation, maintenance and closure of landfills and transfer stations. Some counties, municipalities and other local governments have adopted similar laws and regulations. Our facilities and operations are likely to be subject to these types of requirements.
Our landfill operations are affected by the increasing preference for alternatives to landfill disposal. Many state and local governments mandate recycling and waste reduction at the source and prohibit the disposal of certain types of waste, such as yard waste, food waste and electronics at landfills. The number of state and local governments with recycling requirements and disposal bans continues to grow, while the logistics and economics of recycling the items remain challenging.
Various states have enacted, or are considering enacting, laws that restrict the disposal within the state of solid waste generated outside the state. While laws that overtly discriminate against out-of-state waste have been found to be unconstitutional, some laws that are less overtly discriminatory have been upheld in court. From time to time, the U.S. Congress has considered legislation authorizing states to adopt regulations, restrictions, or taxes on the importation of out-of-state or out-of-jurisdiction waste. Additionally, several state and local governments have enacted “flow control” regulations, which attempt to require that all waste generated within the state or local jurisdiction be deposited at specific sites. In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a flow control ordinance that gave preference to a local facility that was privately owned was unconstitutional, but in 2007, the Court ruled that an ordinance directing waste to a facility owned by the local government was constitutional. The U.S. Congress’ adoption of legislation allowing restrictions on interstate transportation of out-of-state or out-of-jurisdiction waste or certain types of flow control, or courts’ interpretations of interstate waste and flow control legislation, could adversely affect our solid and hazardous waste management services.
Additionally, regulations establishing extended producer responsibility (“EPR”) are being considered or implemented in many places around the world, including in the U.S. and Canada. EPR regulations are designed to place either partial or total responsibility on producers to fund the post-use life cycle of the products they create. Along with the funding responsibility, producers may be required to undertake additional responsibilities, such as taking over management of local recycling programs by taking back their products from end users or managing the collection operations and recycling processing infrastructure. There is no federal law establishing EPR in the U.S. or Canada; however, federal, state, provincial and local governments could take, and in some cases have taken, steps to implement EPR regulations for packaging, including traditional recyclables such as cardboard, bottles and cans. If wide-ranging EPR regulations were adopted, they could have a fundamental impact on the waste, recycling and other streams we manage and how we operate our business, including contract terms and pricing.
Many states, provinces and local jurisdictions have enacted “fitness” laws that allow the agencies that have jurisdiction over waste services contracts or permits to deny or revoke these contracts or permits based on the applicant’s or permit holder’s compliance history. Some states, provinces and local jurisdictions go further and consider the compliance history of the parent, subsidiaries or affiliated companies, in addition to the applicant or permit holder. These laws authorize the agencies to make determinations of an applicant’s or permit holder’s fitness to be awarded a contract to operate, and to deny or revoke a contract or permit because of unfitness, unless there is a showing that the applicant or permit holder has been rehabilitated through the adoption of various operating policies and procedures put in place to assure future compliance with applicable laws and regulations. While fitness laws can present potential increased costs and barriers to entry into market areas, these laws have not, and are not expected to have a material adverse impact on our business as a whole.
States and municipalities are also increasingly adopting requirements for environmental justice reviews as part of certain permitting decisions. These policies generally require permitting agencies to give heightened attention to the potential for projects to disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities. Our Company supports policies seeking to advance high standards of environmental performance and the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes. Nevertheless, we are actively monitoring recent regulatory developments in this area as additional conditions imposed on permitting decisions could increase the time and cost involved to pursue and maintain necessary permits.
Recycling; Foreign Import and Export Regulations and Material Restrictions
Enforcement or implementation of foreign and domestic regulations can affect our ability to export products. In 2017, the Chinese government announced bans on certain scrap materials and begun to enforce extremely restrictive quality and other requirements, which significantly reduced China’s import of recyclables. As of January 1, 2021, China ceased importing virtually all recyclables, including those exported by us. Many other markets, both domestic and foreign, have also tightened their quality expectations and limited or restricted the import of certain recyclables. As an example, on January 1, 2021, new restrictions on the trade of most plastics went into effect as part of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, but most countries to which we export are, which may limit exports of certain plastics. The impact of Basel Convention restrictions is unknown at this time, but it will be mitigated by the fact that we no longer export residential recyclables.
Such trade restrictions have disrupted the global trade of recyclables, particularly fiber, creating excess supply and decreasing recyclable commodity prices. The heightened quality requirements have been difficult for the industry to achieve and have driven up operating costs. In particular, single-stream MRFs process a wide range of commingled materials and tend to receive a higher percentage of non-recyclables, which results in increased processing and residual disposal costs to achieve quality standards. As recyclable commodity prices have fallen and operating costs have increased, recyclers are passing cost increases through to customers. The resulting price increase for recycling services in communities and at businesses in the U.S. has resulted in some customers reducing or eliminating their recycling service. COVID-19 placed additional financial stress on municipalities, resulting in recycling programs being paused or eliminated. When combined with the impacts of the global markets shifts caused by China’s termination of imports, the most recent financial stress has led to a number of states considering EPR regulations, which would shift the financial burden of recycling to the producers of products and goods. Industry trade organizations and government agencies are engaged in discussions to mitigate long-term impacts to recycling programs and the industry as a whole.
For the past several years, we have been working with stakeholders to educate the public on the need to recycle properly. We are investing time and labor and working with customers to help improve quality and have seen improvement in the quality of material that we receive at our facilities. We have continued our focus on developing a sustainable recycling business model that meets customers’ environmental needs by passing through the increasing cost of processing and higher contamination rates, and these efforts had a positive impact on the operating results for our recycling business in 2020.
With a heightened awareness of the global problems caused by plastic waste in the environment, an increasing number of cities and states across the country have passed ordinances banning certain types of plastics from sale or use. The most common materials banned include plastic straws, polystyrene plastic and single use packaging. These bans have increased pressure by manufacturers on our recycling facilities to accept a broader array of materials in curbside recycling programs to alleviate public pressures to ban the sale of those materials. However, with no viable end markets for recycling these materials, we and other recyclers are working to educate and remind customers of the need for end market demand and economic viability to support sustainable recycling programs. With increased focus on responsible management of plastics, our procurement team has taken a proactive approach to ensure environmental sustainability goals are prioritized in managing the products we buy.
Regulation of Oil and Gas Exploration, Production and Disposal
Our EES business provides specialized environmental management and disposal services for fluids used and wastes generated by customers engaged in oil and gas exploration and production, and these disposal services include use of underground injection wells. There is heightened federal regulatory focus on emissions of methane that occur during drilling and transportation of natural gas, as well as state attention to protective disposal of drilling residuals. There also remains heightened attention from the public, some states and the EPA to the alleged potential for hydraulic fracturing that occurs during drilling to impact drinking water supplies. Increased regulation of oil and gas exploration and production, including GHG emissions or hydraulic fracturing, could make it more difficult or cost-prohibitive for our EES customers to continue operations, adversely affecting our business.
Additionally, any new regulations regarding the treatment and disposal of wastes associated with exploration and production operations, including through use of injection wells, could increase our costs to provide oilfield services and reduce our margins and revenue from such services. Conversely, any loosening of regulations regarding how such wastes are handled or disposed of could adversely affect our business, as we believe the size, capital structure, regulatory sophistication and established reliability of our Company provide us with an advantage in providing services that must comply with any complex regulatory regime that may govern providing oilfield waste services.
Investment in Natural Gas Vehicles and Infrastructure
We operate a large fleet of natural gas vehicles, and we plan to continue to invest in these assets for our collection fleet. Natural gas fueling infrastructure is not yet broadly available in the U.S. and Canada; as a result, we have constructed and operate natural gas fueling stations, some of which also serve the public or pre-approved third parties. Concerns have been raised about the potential for emissions from the fueling stations and infrastructure that serve natural gas-fueled vehicles. Additional regulation of, or restrictions on, natural gas fueling infrastructure or reductions in associated tax incentives could increase our operating costs. We are not yet able to evaluate potential operating changes or costs associated with such regulations, but we do not anticipate that such regulations would have a material adverse impact on our business.
There is increasing pressure to reduce the use of fossil fuel in the heavy-duty truck industry, and some cities and states are beginning to discuss requirements for using more advanced engine technology, such as electric powered vehicles, rather than natural gas or diesel vehicles. This is resulting in a reduction in tax incentives and grants for natural gas trucks. Although current options for heavy-duty electric vehicles lack sufficient range and proven experience for our operations, we proactively engage in pilots of electric powered heavy duty vehicles and anticipate that we could redirect future planned capital investments in our fleet toward these assets when the vehicles prove economically and operationally viable. Should regulation mandate an accelerated transition to electric powered vehicles, our cost to acquire vehicles needed to service
our customers could increase, capital investment required to establish sufficient charging infrastructure could be significant and investments we have made in an industry-leading natural gas fleet and infrastructure could be impaired.
Renewable Fuel Production
We have invested, and continue to invest, in facilities to capture and treat renewable natural gas (“RNG”) from the Company’s landfills, and RNG from landfill and dairy biogas is a significant source of fuel for our natural gas collection vehicles. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 and Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 authorize the Renewable Fuels Standards (“RFS”) program that promotes the production and use of renewable transportation fuels. The Company is an EPA-registered producer of transportation fuel making compressed and liquefied RNG from landfill biogas, which qualifies as a cellulosic biofuel under the RFS program. Oil refiners and importers are required through the RFS program to blend specified volumes of various categories of renewable transportation fuels with gasoline or buy credits, referred to as renewable identification numbers (“RINs”), from renewable fuel producers. Market uncertainty related to the EPA’s implementation of the RFS program led to volatility and a decline in the price of RINs between 2017 and 2020. RIN prices rebounded in 2020 in response to a court ruling limiting the number of small refinery exemptions that the EPA could grant to renewable fuel obligations, and later following the November 2020 federal elections on the belief that the newly elected presidential administration would result in stronger enforcement of mandates for RNG and other advanced and conventional biofuels.
Federal, State and Local Climate Change Initiatives; Sustainability
In light of regulatory and business developments related to concerns about climate change, we have identified a strategic business opportunity to provide our public and private sector customers with sustainable solutions to reduce their GHG emissions. As part of our on-going marketing evaluations, we assess customer demand for and opportunities to develop waste services offering verifiable carbon reductions, such as waste reduction, increased recycling, and conversion of landfill gas and discarded materials into electricity and fuel. We use carbon life cycle tools in evaluating potential new services and in establishing the value proposition that makes us attractive as an environmental service provider. We are active in support of public policies that encourage development and use of lower carbon energy and waste services that lower users’ carbon footprints. We understand the importance of broad stakeholder engagement in these endeavors, and actively seek opportunities for public policy discussion on more sustainable materials management practices. In addition, we work with stakeholders at the federal and state level in support of legislation that encourages production and use of renewable, low-carbon fuels and electricity.
We continue to assess the physical risks to company operations from the effects of severe weather events and use risk mitigation planning to increase our resiliency in the face of such events. We are investing in infrastructure to withstand more severe storm events, which may afford us a competitive advantage and reinforce our reputation as a reliable service provider through continued service in the aftermath of such events.
Consistent with our Company’s long-standing commitment to corporate sustainability and environmental stewardship, we have published our 2020 Sustainability Report, which details the GHG emissions reductions we have facilitated to date and our determination to expand these reductions in the future, as well as our commitment to help make the communities in which we live and work safe, resilient and sustainable. Our 2020 Sustainability Report can be found at https://sustainability.wm.com, but it does not constitute a part of, and is not incorporated by reference into, this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The Company actively participates in a number of sustainability reporting programs and frameworks, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, where we are “Sector Leader” for Commercial Services, the CDP, where we are among “A List” companies, and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, on which we serve as a member of the Board’s advisory group.
Item 1A. Risk Factors.
In an effort to keep our stockholders and the public informed about our business, we may make “forward-looking statements.” Forward-looking statements are often identified by the words, “will,” “may,” “should,” “continue,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “expect,” “plan,” “forecast,” “project,” “estimate,” “intend” and words of a similar nature and generally include statements regarding:
|●||future results of operations, including revenues, earnings or cash flows;|
|●||plans and objectives for the future;|
|●||projections, estimates or assumptions relating to our operational or financial performance; or|
|●||our opinions, views or beliefs about the effects of current or future events, circumstances or performance.|
You should view these statements with caution. These statements are not guarantees of future performance, circumstances or events. They are based on facts and circumstances known to us as of the date the statements are made. All aspects of our business are subject to uncertainties, risks and other influences, many of which we do not control. Any of these factors, either alone or taken together, could have a material adverse effect on us and could change whether any forward-looking statement ultimately turns out to be true. Additionally, we assume no obligation to update any forward-looking statement as a result of future events, circumstances or developments. The following discussion should be read together with the Consolidated Financial Statements and the notes thereto. Outlined below are some of the risks that we believe could affect our business and financial statements for 2021 and beyond and could cause actual results to be materially different from those that may be set forth in forward-looking statements made by the Company. In addition to the following risks, there may be additional risks and uncertainties that adversely affect our business, performance, or financial condition in the future that are not presently known or are not currently believed to be material.
Strategy and Operational Risks
If we fail to implement our business strategy, our financial performance and our growth could be materially and adversely affected.
Our future financial performance and success are dependent in large part upon our ability to implement our business strategy successfully. Implementation of our strategy will require effective management of our operational, financial and human resources and will place significant demands on those resources. See Item 1. Business for more information on our business strategy.
There are risks involved in pursuing our strategy, including the following:
|●||Our employees, customers or investors may not embrace and support our strategy.|
|●||We may not be able to hire or retain the personnel necessary to manage our strategy effectively.|
|●||A key element of our strategy is yield management through focus on price leadership, which has presented challenges to keep existing business and win new business at reasonable returns. We have also continued our environmental fee, fuel surcharge and regulatory recovery fee to offset costs. The loss of volumes as a result of price increases and our unwillingness to pursue lower margin volumes may negatively affect our cash flows or results of operations. Additionally, we have in the past and may in the future face purported class action lawsuits related to our customer service agreements, prices and fees.|
|●||We may be unsuccessful in implementing improvements to operational efficiency and such efforts may not yield the intended result.|
|●||We may not be able to maintain cost savings achieved through optimization efforts.|
|●||Strategic decisions with respect to our asset portfolio may result in impairments to our assets. See Item 1A. Risk Factors — We may record material charges against our earnings due to impairments to our assets.|
|●||Our ability to make strategic acquisitions depends on our ability to identify desirable acquisition targets, negotiate advantageous transactions despite competition for such opportunities, fund such acquisitions on favorable terms, obtain regulatory approvals and realize the benefits we expect from those transactions.|
|●||Acquisitions, investments and/or new service offerings may not increase our earnings in the timeframe anticipated, or at all, due to difficulties operating in new markets or providing new service offerings, failure of emerging technologies to perform as expected, failure to operate within budget, integration issues, or regulatory issues, among others.|
|●||Integration of acquisitions and/or new services offerings could increase our exposure to the risk of inadvertent noncompliance with applicable laws and regulations.|
|●||Liabilities associated with acquisitions, including ones that may exist only because of past operations of an acquired business, may prove to be more difficult or costly to address than anticipated.|
|●||Execution of our strategy, particularly growth through acquisitions, may cause us to incur substantial additional indebtedness, which may divert capital away from our traditional business operations and other financial plans.|
|●||We continue to seek to divest underperforming and non-strategic assets if we cannot improve their profitability. We may not be able to successfully negotiate the divestiture of underperforming and non-strategic operations, which could result in asset impairments or the continued operation of low-margin businesses.|
In addition to the risks set forth above, implementation of our business strategy could also be affected by other factors beyond our control, such as increased competition, legal developments, government regulation, general economic conditions, increased operating costs or expenses, subcontractor costs and availability and changes in industry trends. We may decide to alter or discontinue certain aspects of our business strategy at any time. If we are not able to implement our business strategy successfully, our long-term growth and profitability may be adversely affected. Even if we are able to implement some or all of the initiatives of our business strategy successfully, our operating results may not improve to the extent we anticipate, or at all.
We may not realize the strategic benefits and cost synergies that are anticipated from our acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“Advanced Disposal”), and we may encounter difficulties integrating Advanced Disposal’s operations and systems that could impact the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting.
The benefits that are expected to result from our acquisition of Advanced Disposal will depend, in part, on our ability to successfully integrate Advanced Disposal’s operations and systems and realize anticipated cost synergies. There is a significant degree of difficulty and management distraction inherent in the process of integrating an acquisition of this size. The process of integrating operations could cause business interruption and distraction. Some members of our management may be required to devote considerable time to this integration process, which will decrease the time they will have to manage our Company, service existing customers, attract new customers and develop new products or strategies. If management is not able to effectively manage the integration process, or if any significant business activities are interrupted as a result of the integration process, our business, financial condition and results of operations could suffer. The acquisition of Advanced Disposal may not result in realization of the benefits and cost synergies that we currently expect, and we cannot guarantee that these benefits and cost synergies will be achieved within anticipated time frames or at all. Additionally, we may incur substantial expenses in connection with the ongoing integration of Advanced Disposal, which may exceed expectations and offset certain benefits.
As described further in Item 9A. Controls and Procedures, in accordance with SEC staff guidance, we have excluded Advanced Disposal from the assessment of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020 contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K; however, this exclusion may not extend beyond one year from the October 30, 2020 closing date. We are in the process of integrating Advanced Disposal’s operations and systems to ensure the effectiveness of the internal control over financial reporting for this acquired business. Establishing, testing and maintaining an effective system of internal control over financial reporting requires significant resources and time commitments on the part of our management and our finance staff, and the time and expenditures needed may exceed our expectations. If we encounter difficulties integrating Advanced Disposal operations and systems into our system of internal control over financial reporting, and if we are unable to correct any issues encountered in a timely manner, our ability to record, process, summarize, and report financial data may be adversely affected, which may impact the accuracy,
quality and completeness of our financial statements. Such failure could materially and adversely impact our business and subject us to potential investigations, liability, and penalties. Additionally, if we are unable to conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is effective in any future period (or if our auditors are unable to express an opinion on the effectiveness of our internal controls or conclude that our internal controls are ineffective), we could lose investor confidence and suffer an adverse effect on our stock price.
Our operations must comply with extensive existing regulations, and changes in regulations and/or enforcement of regulations can restrict or alter our operations, increase our operating costs, increase our tax rate, or require us to make additional capital expenditures.
Stringent government regulations at the federal, state, provincial and local level in the U.S. and Canada have a substantial impact on our operations, and compliance with such regulations is costly. Many complex laws, rules, orders and interpretations govern environmental protection, health, safety, land use, zoning, transportation and related matters. Among other things, governmental regulations and enforcement actions restrict our operations at times and may adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows by imposing conditions such as:
|●||limitations on siting and constructing new waste disposal, transfer, recycling or processing facilities or on expanding existing facilities;|
|●||limitations, regulations or levies on collection and disposal prices, rates and volumes;|
|●||limitations or bans on disposal or transportation of out-of-state waste or certain categories of waste;|
|●||mandates regarding the management of solid waste, including requirements to recycle, divert or otherwise process certain waste, recycling and other streams; or|
|●||limitations or restrictions on the recycling, processing or transformation of waste, recycling and other streams.|
Regulations affecting the siting, design and closure of landfills require us, at times, to undertake investigatory or remedial activities, curtail operations or close landfills temporarily or permanently. We have significant financial obligations relating to final capping, closure, post-closure and environmental remediation at our existing landfills and we establish accruals for these estimated costs. Expenditures could be accelerated or materially exceed our accruals due to the types of waste collected and manner in which it is transported and disposed of, including actions taken in the past by companies we have acquired or third-party landfill operators; environmental regulatory changes; new information about waste types previously collected, such as PFAS or other emerging contaminates, and other reasons.
Various states have enacted, or are considering enacting, laws that restrict the disposal within the state of solid waste generated outside the state. From time to time, the U.S. Congress has considered legislation authorizing states to adopt regulations, restrictions, or taxes on the importation of out-of-state or out-of-jurisdiction waste. Additionally, several state and local governments have enacted “flow control” regulations, which attempt to require that all waste generated within the state or local jurisdiction be deposited at specific sites. The U.S. Congress’ adoption of legislation allowing restrictions on interstate transportation of out-of-state or out-of-jurisdiction waste certain types of flow control, or courts’ interpretations of interstate waste and flow control legislation, could adversely affect our solid and hazardous waste management services.
Additionally, regulations establishing extended producer responsibility (“EPR”) are being considered or implemented in many places around the world, including in the U.S. and Canada. EPR regulations are designed to place either partial or total responsibility on producers to fund the post-use life cycle of the products they create. Along with the funding responsibility, producers may be required to undertake additional responsibilities, such as taking over management of local recycling programs by taking back their products from end users or managing the collection operations and recycling processing infrastructure. There is no federal law establishing EPR in the U.S. or Canada; however, federal, state, provincial and local governments could, and in some cases have, taken steps to implement EPR regulations for packaging, including traditional recyclables such as cardboard, bottles and cans. If wide-ranging EPR regulations were adopted, they could have a fundamental impact on the waste streams we manage and how we operate our business, including contract terms and pricing. A significant reduction in the waste, recycling and other streams we manage could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
The regulatory environment in which we operate is influenced by changes in leadership at the federal, state, provincial and local levels. The policies set forth under the previous U.S. administration, for example, included substantial changes to foreign trade policy and generally were in favor of reducing regulation and corporate taxation. While it is anticipated that the new administration will reverse course on various regulatory policies impacting our Company, we cannot predict what impact the change in administrations will have on specific regulations, nor can we predict the timing of any such changes. It is likely that some policies adopted by the new administration will benefit us and others will negatively affect us.
Our business is subject to operational and safety risks, including the risk of personal injury to employees and others.
Providing environmental and waste management services, including constructing and operating landfills, transfer stations, MRFs and other disposal facilities, involves risks such as truck accidents, equipment defects, malfunctions and failures. Additionally, we closely monitor and manage landfills to minimize the risk of waste mass instability, releases of hazardous materials, and odors that are sometimes triggered by weather or natural disasters. There are also risks presented by the potential for subsurface heat reactions causing elevated landfill temperatures and increased production of leachate, landfill gas and odors. We also build and operate natural gas fueling stations, some of which also serve the public or third parties. Operation of fueling stations and landfill gas collection and control systems involves additional risks of fire and explosion. Any of these risks could potentially result in injury or death of employees and others, a need to shut down or reduce operation of facilities, increased operating expense and exposure to liability for pollution and other environmental damage, and property damage or destruction.
While we seek to minimize our exposure to such risks through comprehensive training, compliance and response and recovery programs, as well as vehicle and equipment maintenance programs, if we were to incur substantial liabilities in excess of any applicable insurance, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected. Any such incidents could also tarnish our reputation and reduce the value of our brand. Additionally, a major operational failure, even if suffered by a competitor, may bring enhanced scrutiny and regulation of our industry, with a corresponding increase in operating expense.
We may be unable to obtain or maintain required permits or expand existing permitted capacity of our landfills, which could decrease our revenue and increase our costs.
Our ability to meet our financial and operating objectives depends in part on our ability to obtain and maintain the permits necessary to operate landfill sites. Permits to build, operate and expand solid waste management facilities, including landfills and transfer stations, have become more difficult and expensive to obtain and maintain. Permits often take years to obtain as a result of numerous hearings and compliance requirements with regard to zoning, environmental and other regulations. These permits are also often subject to resistance from citizen or other groups and other political pressures. Local communities and citizen groups, adjacent landowners or governmental agencies may oppose the issuance of a permit or approval we may need, allege violations of the permits under which we currently operate or laws or regulations to which we are subjected, or seek to impose liability on us for environmental damage. States and municipalities are also increasingly adopting requirements for environmental justice reviews as part of certain permitting decisions. These policies generally require permitting agencies to give heightened attention to the potential for projects to disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities. Responding to permit challenges has, at times, increased our costs and extended the time associated with establishing new facilities and expanding existing facilities. In addition, failure to receive regulatory and zoning approval may prohibit us from establishing new facilities or expanding existing facilities. Our failure to obtain the required permits to operate our landfills could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
If we are unable to attract, hire or retain key team members and a high-quality workforce, or if our succession planning does not develop an adequate pipeline of future leaders, it could disrupt our business, jeopardize our strategic priorities and result in increased costs, negatively impacting our results of operations.
Our operations require us to attract, hire, develop and retain a high-quality workforce to provide a superior customer experience. This includes key individuals in leadership and specialty roles, as well as a very large number of drivers,
technicians and other front-line and back-office team members necessary to provide our environmental services. We experience significant competition to hire and retain individuals for certain front-line positions, such as commercial truck drivers, from within and outside our industry. Additionally, the market for employees that serve on our digital team is highly competitive. As we have accelerated our investments in our digital platform, it is increasingly important that we are able to attract and retain employees with the skills and expertise necessary to implement and manage our technology-led strategy. We also compete to attract skilled business leaders, and our own key team members are sought after by our competitors and other companies. We make significant investments, and engage in extensive internal succession planning, to provide us with a robust pipeline of future leaders. If we are not able to attract, hire, develop and retain a high-quality workforce with the necessary skills and expertise, as well as key leaders, or if we experience significant employee turnover, it can result in business and strategic disruption, increased costs, and loss of institutional knowledge, which could negatively impact our results of operations.
Our business depends on our reputation and the value of our brand.
We believe we have developed a reputation for high-quality service, reliability and social and environmental responsibility, and we believe our brand symbolizes these attributes. The Waste Management brand name, trademarks and logos and our reputation are powerful sales and marketing tools, and we devote significant resources to promoting and protecting them. Adverse publicity, whether or not justified, relating to activities by our operations, employees or agents could tarnish our reputation and reduce the value of our brand. Damage to our reputation and loss of brand equity could reduce demand for our services. This reduction in demand, together with the dedication of time and expense necessary to defend our reputation, could have an adverse effect on our financial condition, liquidity and results of operations, as well as require additional resources to rebuild our reputation and restore the value of our brand.
We have made significant investments in an extensive natural gas truck fleet, which makes us partially dependent on the availability of natural gas and fueling infrastructure and vulnerable to natural gas prices, and requirements to transition to other vehicle types could impair these investments.
We operate a large fleet of natural gas vehicles, and we plan to continue to invest in these assets for our collection fleet. However, natural gas fueling infrastructure is not yet broadly available in the U.S. and Canada; as a result, we have constructed and operate natural gas fueling stations, some of which also serve the public or pre-approved third parties. It will remain necessary for us to invest capital in fueling infrastructure in order to power our natural gas fleet. Concerns have been raised about the potential for emissions from fueling infrastructure that serve natural gas-fueled vehicles. New regulation of, or restrictions on, natural gas fueling infrastructure or reductions in associated tax incentives could increase our operating costs. Additionally, fluctuations in the price and supply of natural gas could substantially increase our operating expenses; a reduction in the existing cost differential between natural gas and diesel fuel could materially reduce the benefits we anticipate from our investment in natural gas vehicles. Further, our fuel surcharge program is currently indexed to diesel fuel prices, and price fluctuations for natural gas may not effectively be recovered by this program.
There is increasing pressure to reduce the use of fossil fuel in the heavy-duty truck industry, and some cities and states are beginning to discuss requirements for using more advanced engine technology, such as electric powered vehicles, rather than natural gas or diesel vehicles. This is resulting in a reduction in tax incentives and grants for natural gas trucks. Although current options for heavy-duty electric vehicles lack sufficient range and proven experience for our operations, we proactively engage in pilots of electric powered heavy duty vehicles and anticipate that we could redirect future planned capital investments in our fleet toward these assets when the vehicles prove economically and operationally viable. Should regulation mandate an accelerated transition to electric powered vehicles, our cost to acquire vehicles needed to service our customers could increase, capital investment required to establish sufficient charging infrastructure could be significant and investments we have made in an industry-leading natural gas fleet and infrastructure could be impaired.
Increases in our labor costs as a result of labor unions organizing, changes in regulations related to labor unions or increases in employee minimum wages, could adversely affect our future results.
Labor unions continually attempt to organize our employees, and these efforts will likely continue in the future. Certain groups of our employees are currently represented by unions, and we have negotiated collective bargaining
agreements with these unions. Additional groups of employees may seek union representation in the future, and, if successful, would enhance organized labor’s leverage to obtain higher than expected wage and benefits costs and resist the introduction of new technology and other initiatives, which can result in increased operating expenses and lower net income. If we are unable to negotiate acceptable collective bargaining agreements, our operating expenses could increase significantly as a result of work stoppages, including strikes. Additionally, a large portion of our workforce are hourly personnel, and many of these individuals, particularly in our recycling business, are paid at rates related to federal and state minimum wages. Increases in minimum wage rates, or the enactment of new wage-related legislation, may significantly increase our labor costs. Any of these matters could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
The seasonal nature of our business, severe weather events resulting from climate change and event driven special projects cause our results to fluctuate, and prior performance is not necessarily indicative of our future results.
Our operating revenues tend to be somewhat higher in summer months, primarily due to the higher construction and demolition waste volumes. The volumes of industrial and residential waste in certain regions where we operate also tend to increase during the summer months. Our second and third quarter revenues and results of operations typically reflect these seasonal trends.
Service disruptions caused by severe storms, extended periods of inclement weather or climate events can significantly affect the operating results of the Areas affected. On the other hand, certain destructive weather and climate conditions, such as wildfires in the Western U.S. and hurricanes that most often impact our operations in the Southern and Eastern U.S. during the second half of the year, can increase our revenues in the Areas affected as a result of the waste volumes generated by these events. While weather-related and other event driven special projects can boost revenues through additional work for a limited time, due to significant start-up costs and other factors, such revenue can generate earnings at comparatively lower margins.
For these and other reasons, operating results in any interim period are not necessarily indicative of operating results for an entire year, and operating results for any historical period are not necessarily indicative of operating results for a future period. Our stock price may be negatively impacted by interim variations in our results.
External Economic and Industry Risks
The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused a significant disruption in social and commercial activity throughout North America, and the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, or other similar pandemic conditions, may have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
During 2020 and continuing into 2021, federal, state and local governments throughout North America have imposed varying degrees of restriction on social and commercial activity to promote social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic and related measures have had a significant adverse impact on many sectors of the economy, including environmental services. The resulting business closures, increases in unemployment and loss of consumer financial stability and confidence has resulted in volume declines and reductions in customers’ waste service needs, which has negatively impacted our results of operations and cash flows.
We have incurred costs related to health, safety and financial security of our workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included transitioning back-office employees to work-from-home and providing financial certainty to employees by guaranteeing all full-time hourly employees compensation for a 40-hour work week regardless of service decreases and reduced work schedules that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be necessary for us to incur additional such costs in the future related to pandemic conditions. If a large portion of our employee base were to become ill, it could impact our ability to provide timely and reliable service. Additionally, the transition of most of our back-office employees to work-from-home increases various operational risks, including potential exposure to cyber incidents, loss of data, fraud, internal control challenges and other disruptions as a consequence of more employees accessing Company systems and information remotely in the course of their ordinary work.
A broad-based economic slowdown resulting from prolonged negative effects of COVID-19 could have significant adverse consequences for the financial condition of our customers or suppliers. As a result, customers may seek to reduce service levels or terminate our contracts, or they may be unable to timely pay outstanding receivables owed to us, each of which would adversely affect our results of operations and cash flows. Additionally, such factors have made it more challenging to implement our pricing strategy and are likely to negatively impact our ability to negotiate, renew or expand service contracts with acceptable margins. Volume changes can fluctuate dramatically by line of business and decreases in volumes in higher margin businesses, such as what we have seen with COVID-19, can impact key financial metrics. Additionally, as stay-at-home orders and work from home trends continue, the costs to service our residential customers could continue to negatively impact our margins. To the extent our suppliers experience a deterioration in financial condition or operational capability as a result of the impacts of COVID-19, we may experience material supply chain disruptions and delays, which could also increase our operating costs.
We are not able to estimate the full impact of COVID-19 on our business, but we expect that this situation will continue to have an adverse impact on the economy in general and on the Company’s results of operations until a substantial portion of the U.S. population is vaccinated and social distancing restrictions are lifted. Should these or similar pandemic-related conditions persist for a prolonged period, it may have a material adverse impact on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows and hinder our ability to grow our business and execute our business strategy.
The waste industry is highly competitive, and if we cannot successfully compete in the marketplace, our business, financial condition and operating results may be materially adversely affected.
We encounter intense competition from governmental, quasi-governmental and private sources in all aspects of our operations. We principally compete with large national waste management companies, counties and municipalities that maintain their own waste collection and disposal operations and regional and local companies of varying sizes and financial resources. The industry also includes companies that specialize in certain discrete areas of waste management, operators of alternative disposal facilities, companies that seek to use parts of the waste stream as feedstock for renewable energy and other by-products, and waste brokers that rely upon haulers in local markets to address customer needs. In recent years, the industry has seen some additional consolidation, though the industry remains intensely competitive. Counties and municipalities may have financial competitive advantages because tax revenues are available to them and tax-exempt financing is more readily available to them. Also, such governmental units may attempt to impose flow control or other restrictions that would give them a competitive advantage. In addition, some of our competitors may have lower financial expectations, allowing them to reduce their prices to expand sales volume or to win competitively-bid contracts, including large national accounts and exclusive franchise arrangements with municipalities. When this happens, we may lose customers and be unable to execute our pricing strategy, resulting in a negative impact to our revenue growth from yield on base business.
Our revenues, earnings and cash flows will fluctuate based on changes in commodity prices, and commodity prices for recyclable materials are particularly susceptible to volatility based on regulations and tariffs that affect our ability to export products.
Enforcement or implementation of foreign and domestic regulations can affect our ability to export products. In 2017, the Chinese government announced bans on certain scrap materials and begun to enforce extremely restrictive quality and other requirements, which significantly reduced China’s import of recyclables. As of January 1, 2021, China ceased importing virtually all recyclables, including those exported by us. Many other markets, both domestic and foreign, have also tightened their quality expectations and limited or restricted the import of certain recyclables. As an example, on January 1, 2021, new restrictions on the trade of most plastics went into effect as part of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, but most countries to which we export are, which may limit exports of certain plastics.
Such trade restrictions have disrupted the global trade of recyclables, particularly fiber, creating excess supply and decreasing recyclable commodity prices. We have been actively working to identify alternative markets for recycling commodities, but there may not be demand for all of the material we produce. The heightened quality requirements have been difficult for the industry to achieve and have driven up operating costs. In particular, single-stream MRFs process a wide range of commingled materials and tend to receive a higher percentage of non-recyclables, which results in increased
processing and residual disposal costs to achieve quality standards. As recyclable commodity prices have fallen and operating costs have increased, we and other recyclers are passing cost increases through to customers. The resulting price increase for recycling services in communities and at businesses in the U.S. has resulted in some customers reducing or eliminating their recycling service. COVID-19 placed additional financial stress on municipalities, resulting in recycling programs being paused or eliminated. When combined with the impacts of the global markets shifts caused by China’s termination of imports, the most recent financial stress has led to a number of states considering EPR regulations.
Reductions in market prices for recycling commodities, and reduction in demand for recycling commodities and recycling services, negatively impacted our operating income and cash flows in 2019. The decline in market prices in 2019 for recycling commodities resulted in a decrease in revenue of $248 million. In 2020, we saw a modest recovery in commodity prices due in part to an increased demand for recycled materials, resulting in increased revenue of $75 million. As we have increased the size of our recycling operations, we have also increased our exposure to commodity price fluctuations. Additionally, future regulation, tariffs, international trade policies or initiatives may result in further reduced demand or increased operating costs, which would cause the profitability of our recycling operations to decline.
Fluctuation in energy prices also affects our business, including recycling of plastics manufactured from petroleum products. Significant variations in the price of methane gas, electricity and other energy-related products that are marketed and sold by our landfill gas recovery operations can result in a corresponding significant impact to our revenue from yield from such operations. Additionally, we provide specialized disposal services for oil and gas exploration and production operations through our EES business. Demand for these services decreases when drilling activity slows due to depressed oil and gas prices, such as the low prices throughout the last few years. Any of the commodity prices to which we are subject may fluctuate substantially and without notice in the future.
Increasing customer preference for alternatives to landfill disposal and bans on certain types of waste could reduce our landfill volumes and cause our revenues and operating results to decline.
Our customers are increasingly diverting waste to alternatives to landfill disposal, such as recycling and composting, while also working to reduce the amount of waste they generate. In addition, many state and local governments mandate diversion, recycling and waste reduction at the source and prohibit the disposal of certain types of waste, such as yard waste, food waste and electronics at landfills. Where such organic waste is not banned from the landfill, some large customers such as grocery stores and restaurants are choosing to divert their organic waste from landfills. Zero-waste goals (sending no waste to the landfill) have been set by many of the U.S. and Canada’s largest companies. Although such mandates and initiatives help to protect our environment, these developments reduce the volume of waste going to our landfills which may affect the prices that we can charge for landfill disposal. Our landfills currently provide our highest income from operations margins. If we are not successful in expanding our service offerings, growing lines of businesses to service waste streams that do not go to landfills providing services for customers that wish to reduce waste entirely, then our revenues and operating results may decline. Additionally, despite the development of new service offerings and lines of business, it is possible that our revenues and our income from operations margins could be negatively affected due to disposal alternatives.
With a heightened awareness of the global problems caused by plastic waste in the environment, an increasing number of cities and states across the country have passed ordinances banning certain types of plastics from sale or use. The most common materials banned include plastic straws, polystyrene plastic and single use packaging. These bans have increased pressure by manufacturers on our recycling facilities to accept a broader array of materials in curbside recycling programs to alleviate public pressures to ban the sale of those materials. However, there are currently no viable end markets for recycling these materials, and inclusion of such materials in our recycling stream increases contamination and operating costs and can negatively affect the results of our recycling operations.
General economic conditions can directly and adversely affect revenues for environmental services and our income from operations margins.
Our business is directly affected by changes in national and general economic factors that are outside of our control, including consumer confidence, interest rates and access to capital markets. A weak economy generally results in
decreased consumer spending and decreases in volumes of waste generated, which negatively impacts the ability to grow through new business or service upgrades, and may result in customer turnover and reduction in customers’ waste service needs. Consumer uncertainty and the loss of consumer confidence may also reduce the number and variety of services requested by customers. Additionally, a weak market for consumer goods can significantly decrease demand by paper mills for recycled corrugated cardboard used in packaging; such decrease in demand can negatively impact commodity prices and our operating income and cash flows.
A decrease in waste volumes generated results in an increase in competitive pricing pressure; such economic conditions may also interfere with our ability to implement our pricing strategy. Many of our contracts have price adjustment provisions that are tied to an index such as the Consumer Price Index, and our costs may increase more than the increase, if any, in the Consumer Price Index. This is partially due to our relatively high fixed-cost structure, which is difficult to quickly adjust to match shifting volume levels and vendor costs, and may not correlate with the Consumer Price Index or the waste industry.
Weakness in the economy may expose us to credit risk of governmental entities and municipalities and other major customers, which could negatively impact our financial results.
We provide service to a number of governmental entities, municipalities, and large national accounts. During periods of economic weakness, governmental entities and municipalities can suffer significant financial difficulties, due in part to reduced tax revenue and/or high cost structures. During these periods, such entities, and our non-governmental customers, could be unable to pay amounts owed to us or renew contracts with us at previous or increased rates.
Purchasers of our recycling commodities can be particularly vulnerable to financial difficulties in times of commodity price volatility. The inability of our customers to pay us in a timely manner or to pay increased rates, particularly large national accounts, could negatively affect our operating results.
In addition, the financial difficulties of municipalities could result in a decline in investors’ demand for municipal bonds and a correlating increase in interest rates. As of December 31, 2020, we had $1.2 billion of tax-exempt bonds with term interest rate periods that expire within the next 12 months and $54 million of variable-rate tax-exempt bonds with interest rates reset on either a daily or a weekly basis. If market dynamics resulted in repricing of our tax-exempt bonds at significantly higher interest rates, we would incur increased interest expenses that may negatively affect our operating results and cash flows.
The Company’s effective tax rate and tax liability could materially change as a result of the adoption of new tax legislation and other factors.
Predominantly all of the Company’s revenues are generated in the U.S., and changes in U.S. tax laws could materially impact our effective tax rate, financial condition and results of operations. The U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted on December 22, 2017 (the “Tax Act”), had a significant impact on our effective tax rate, cash tax expenses and net deferred tax liabilities. The Tax Act reduced the U.S. corporate statutory tax rate and eliminated or limited the deduction of several expenses that were previously deductible, among other things. The results of the 2020 U.S. federal elections could lead to further changes in tax laws that would negatively impact the Company’s effective tax rate. The new presidential administration has provided information on what tax law changes it is likely to support, including increasing the U.S. corporate statutory tax rate. If ultimately enacted into law, this could materially impact our tax provision, cash tax liability and effective tax rate.
Significant shortages in diesel fuel supply or increases in diesel fuel prices will increase our operating expenses.
The price and supply of diesel fuel can fluctuate significantly based on international, political and economic circumstances, as well as other factors outside our control, such as actions by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”) and other oil and gas producers, regional production patterns, weather conditions and environmental concerns. We need diesel fuel to run a significant portion of our collection and transfer trucks and our equipment used in our landfill operations. Supply shortages could substantially increase our operating expenses. Additionally, if fuel prices
increase, our direct operating expenses increase and many of our vendors raise their prices to offset their own rising costs. We have in place a fuel surcharge program, designed to offset increased fuel expenses; however, we may not be able to pass through all of our increased costs and some customers’ contracts prohibit any pass-through of the increased costs. Additionally, lawsuits have challenged our fuel and environmental charges included on our invoices. Regardless of any offsetting surcharge programs, increased operating costs due to higher diesel fuel prices will decrease our income from operations margins.
Technology and Information Security Risks
Developments in technology could trigger a fundamental change in the waste management industry, as waste streams are increasingly viewed as a resource, which may adversely impact volumes at our landfills and our profitability.
Our Company and others have recognized the value of the traditional waste stream as a potential resource. Research and development activities are on-going to provide disposal alternatives that maximize the value of waste, including using waste as a source for renewable energy and other valuable by-products. We and many other companies are investing in these technologies. It is possible that such investments and technological advancements may reduce the cost of waste disposal or the value of landfill gas recovery to a level below our costs and may reduce the demand for landfill space. As a result, our revenues and margins could be adversely affected due to advancements in disposal alternatives.
If we are not able to develop new service offerings and protect intellectual property or if a competitor develops or obtains exclusive rights to a breakthrough technology, our financial results may suffer.
Our existing and proposed service offerings to customers require that we invest in, develop or license, and protect new technologies. Our Company and others are increasingly focusing on new technologies that innovate our operations, improve the customer experience and provide alternatives to traditional disposal and maximize the resource value of waste. In 2020, we are continuing our multi-year commitment to strategic investments in technology, including accelerated investments in customer service digitalization. Research, development and implementation of enhanced technology often requires significant spending that may divert capital investment away from our traditional business operations. We may experience difficulties or delays in the research, development, production and/or marketing of new products and services or implementation of technologies in which we have invested, which may negatively impact our operating results and prevent us from recouping or realizing a return on these investments. Further, protecting our intellectual property rights and combating unlicensed copying and use of intellectual property is difficult, and inability to obtain or protect new technologies could impact our services to customers and development of new revenue sources. If a competitor develops or obtains exclusive rights to a “breakthrough technology” that provides a revolutionary change in traditional waste management, or if we have inferior intellectual property to our competitors, our financial results may suffer.
We are increasingly dependent on technology in our operations and if our technology fails, our business could be adversely affected.
We may experience problems with the operation of our current information technology systems or the technology systems of third parties on which we rely, as well as the development and deployment of new information technology systems, that could adversely affect, or even temporarily disrupt, all or a portion of our operations until resolved. Inabilities and delays in implementing new systems can also affect our ability to realize projected cost savings or other benefits. Additionally, any system failures could impede our ability to timely collect and report financial results in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
We are implementing a new enterprise resource planning system, and challenges with the implementation of the system may impact our business and operations.
We are in the process of a complex, multi-year implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (“ERP”) system. The ERP system implementation requires the integration of the new ERP system with multiple new and existing information systems and business processes and is designed to accurately maintain our books and records and provide information to our management team important to the operation of the business. Such an implementation is a major
undertaking from a financial, management, and personnel perspective. The implementation of the ERP system may prove to be more difficult, costly, or time consuming than expected, and it is possible that the system will not yield the benefits anticipated. Any disruptions, delays or deficiencies in the design and implementation of our new ERP system could adversely affect our ability to produce timely and accurate financial statements or comply with applicable regulations, resulting in negative impacts on our business and operations and subject us to potential liability. Additionally, our implementation of the ERP system involves greater utilization of third-party “cloud” computing services in connection with our business operations. Problems faced by us or our third-party providers, including technological or business-related disruptions, as well as cybersecurity threats, could adversely impact our business, results of operations and financial condition for future periods.
A cybersecurity incident could negatively impact our business and our relationships with customers, vendors and employees and expose us to increased liability.
Substantially all aspects of our business operations rely on digital technology. We use computers, mobile devices, social networking and other online platforms to connect with our employees and our customers. These uses give rise to cybersecurity risks, including security breach, espionage, system disruption, theft and inadvertent release of information. Our business involves the storage and transmission of numerous classes of sensitive and/or confidential information and intellectual property, including customers’ personal information, private information about employees, and financial and strategic information about the Company and its business partners. We also rely on a Payment Card Industry compliant third party to protect our customers’ credit card information.
We are regularly the target of attempted cyber intrusions, and we must commit substantial resources to continuously monitor and further develop our networks and infrastructure to prevent, detect, and address the risk of unauthorized access, misuse, computer viruses and other events. Our security programs and measures do not prevent all intrusions. Cyber intrusions require a significant amount of time and effort to assess and remedy, and our incident response efforts may not be effective in all cases. The theft, destruction, loss, misappropriation, or release of sensitive and/or confidential information or intellectual property, or interference with our information technology systems or the technology systems of third parties on which we rely, could result in business disruption, direct financial loss, negative publicity, brand damage, alleged violation of privacy laws, loss of customers, potential regulatory enforcement or private litigation liability and competitive disadvantage. While we do maintain insurance for cyber incidents, due to policy terms, limits and exclusions, it may not apply in all cases, and it may not be adequate to cover all liabilities incurred.
Further, as the Company pursues its strategy to grow through acquisitions, including our recent acquisition of Advanced Disposal, and to pursue new initiatives that improve our operations and cost structure, the Company is also expanding and improving its information technologies, resulting in a larger technological presence and corresponding exposure to cybersecurity risk. Certain new technologies, such as use of autonomous vehicles, remote-controlled equipment and virtual reality, present new and significant cybersecurity safety risks that must be analyzed and addressed before implementation. If we fail to assess and identify cybersecurity risks associated with acquisitions and new initiatives, we may become increasingly vulnerable to such risks.
Increasing regulatory focus on privacy and data protection issues and expanding laws could negatively impact our business, subject us to criticism and expose us to increased liability.
The legislative and regulatory framework for privacy and data protection issues worldwide is rapidly evolving and is likely to remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. We collect certain personally identifiable information and other sensitive information as integral parts of our business and in connection with providing services to our customers. We are subject to a variety of laws and regulations that govern the collection and use of such information obtained from individuals and businesses. These laws and regulations are inconsistent across jurisdictions and are subject to evolving interpretations. Government officials, regulators, privacy advocates and class action attorneys are increasingly scrutinizing how companies collect, process, use, store, share and transmit personal data. We must continually monitor the development and adoption of new and emerging laws and regulations, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) that took effect on January 1, 2020. The CCPA, among other things, contains disclosure obligations for businesses that collect personal information about California residents and affords those individuals new rights relating to their personal information that can expand the scope of our potential liability. We must commit substantial time and resources toward compliance with
the CCPA and similar laws and regulations. Any inability, or perceived inability, to adequately address privacy and data protection concerns, even if unfounded, or comply with applicable laws, regulations, policies, industry standards, contractual obligations, or other legal obligations, including at newly acquired companies, could subject us to regulatory enforcement, private litigation, public criticism, disrupt our operations, cause us to lose customers, result in additional costs and legal liability, damage our reputation, and otherwise harm our business.
Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Risks
Our operations are subject to environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, as well as contractual obligations that may result in significant liabilities.
There is risk of incurring significant environmental liabilities in the use, treatment, storage, transfer and disposal of waste materials. Under applicable environmental laws and regulations, we could be liable if it is alleged that our operations cause environmental damage to our properties or to the property of other landowners, particularly as a result of the contamination of air, drinking water or soil. Under current law, we could also be held liable for damage caused by conditions that existed before we acquired the assets or operations involved and for conditions resulting from waste types or compounds previously considered non-hazardous but later determined to present possible threat to public health or the environment. The risks of successor liability and emerging contaminants are of particular concern as we execute our growth strategy, partially though acquisitions, because we may be unsuccessful in identifying and assessing potential liabilities during our due diligence investigations. Further, the counterparties in such transactions may be unable to perform their indemnification obligations owed to us. Any substantial liability for environmental damage could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
In the ordinary course of our business, we have in the past, we are currently, and we may in the future, become involved in legal and administrative proceedings relating to land use and environmental laws and regulations. These include proceedings in which governmental entities, private groups or individuals seek to impose liability on us for environmental damage or violation of statutes or desire to revoke or deny permits required for our operations. We generally seek to work with the authorities or other persons involved in these proceedings to resolve any issues raised. If we are not successful, the adverse outcome of one or more of these proceedings could result in, among other things, material increases in our costs or liabilities as well as material charges for asset impairments.
Further, we often enter into agreements with landowners imposing obligations on us to meet certain regulatory or contractual conditions upon site closure or upon termination of the agreements. Compliance with these agreements inherently involves subjective determinations and may result in disputes, including litigation. Costs to remediate or restore the condition of closed sites may be significant.
Changes in regulations applicable to oil and gas exploration, production and disposal could adversely affect our EES business.
Our EES business provides specialized environmental management and disposal services for fluids used and wastes generated by customers engaged in oil and gas exploration and production, and these disposal services include the use of underground injection wells. Demand for these services is adversely affected if drilling activity slows due to regulation and industry conditions beyond our control, in addition to changes in oil and gas prices. There is heightened federal regulatory focus on emissions of methane that occur during drilling and transportation, as well as state attention to protective disposal of drilling residuals. There also remains heightened attention from the public, some states and the EPA to the alleged potential for hydraulic fracturing that occurs during drilling to impact drinking water supplies. Increased regulation of oil and gas exploration and production, including GHG emissions or hydraulic fracturing, could make it more difficult or cost-prohibitive for our EES customers to continue operations, adversely affecting our business.
Additionally, any new regulations regarding the treatment and disposal of wastes associated with exploration and production operations, including through the use of injection wells, could increase our costs to provide oilfield services and reduce our margins and revenue from such services. Conversely, any loosening of regulations regarding how such wastes are handled or disposed of could adversely impact demand for our EES services.
Changes to federal and state renewable fuel policies could affect our financial performance in that sector as a renewable fuel producer.
The primary drivers of renewable fuel development at our landfills are federal and state incentive programs, such as the federal RFS program and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard. At the federal level, oil refiners and importers are required through the RFS program to blend specified volumes of renewable transportation fuels with gasoline or buy credits, referred to as RINs, from renewable fuel producers. The Company has invested, and continues to invest, in facilities that capture and convert landfill gas into renewable natural gas so that we can participate in the program. The value of the RINs associated with our landfill gas is set through a market established by the program. Each year, the EPA is required to finalize a rule establishing refiners’ obligations to purchase renewable natural gas and other cellulosic biofuels under the RFS program. Market uncertainty stemming from these annual rulemakings, as well as the EPA’s administration of other aspects of the RFS program, led to a rapid decline in RIN values in 2019 and much of 2020 before rebounding in November 2020. We will continue to advocate for the new administration to implement policies that ensure long-term stability for renewable transportation fuels, as changes in the RFS market or the structure of the RFS program can and has reduced the value of renewable natural gas RINs and negatively impacted the financial performance of the facilities constructed to capture and treat the gas.
The impact of climate change, and the adoption of climate change legislation or regulations restricting emissions of greenhouse gases, could increase our costs to operate.
We continue to assess the physical risks to our operations from the effects of climate change. Although we have made investments to mitigate risk associated with severe storm events, damage to our facilities or disruption of service caused by more frequent or more severe storms associated with climate extremes could negatively impact operating results. We have also identified risk to our assets and our employees associated with drought or water scarcity, flooding, extreme heat and rain events, and fire conditions associated with climate change. For example, wildfires influenced by climate change can damage landfill infrastructure such as gas collection systems, flooding in low-lying areas enhanced by sea level rise can result in greater maintenance expenses at our facilities and service disruption, and more frequent or extreme rain events can erode the protective vegetative caps on our landfills and generate increased volumes of leachate to manage. Those areas of the country most prone to these occurrences have protocols in place, or are developing protocols to address these conditions, including employee safety, driver training, and equipment and facility protection protocols. We have incurred and will incur costs to develop and implement these protocols, and these protocols may not be effective in offsetting these risks. Additionally, the actions of others in response to climate change effects, such as the rolling power blackouts implemented in California in 2019 due to wildfire risks, can result in service disruptions and increase our costs to operate.
Our landfill operations emit methane, identified as a GHG. There are a number of legislative and regulatory efforts at the state, provincial, regional and federal levels to cap and/or curtail the emission of GHGs to ameliorate the effect of climate change. We continue to monitor these efforts and the potential impacts to our operations. Should comprehensive federal climate change legislation be enacted, we expect it could impose costs on our operations that might not be offset by the revenue increases associated with our lower-carbon service options, the materiality of which we cannot predict. In 2010, the EPA published a Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V GHG Tailoring Rule, which expanded the EPA’s federal air permitting authority to include the six GHGs. The rule sets new thresholds for GHG emissions that define when Clean Air Act permits are required. The current requirements of these rules have not significantly affected our operations or cash flows, due to the tailored thresholds and exclusions of certain emissions from regulation. However, future GHG regulations may require landfill gas emission quantification and/or emission reduction requirements beyond what is currently required, and such amendments could have an adverse effect on our operating costs.
We could be subject to significant fines and penalties, and our reputation could be adversely affected, if our businesses, or third parties with whom we have a relationship, were to fail to comply with U.S. or foreign laws or regulations.
Some of our projects and new business may be conducted in countries where corruption has historically been prevalent. It is our policy to comply with all applicable anti-bribery laws, such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and with applicable local laws of the foreign countries in which we operate, and we monitor our local partners’ compliance with such laws as well. Our reputation may be adversely affected if we were reported to be associated with corrupt practices
or if we or our local partners failed to comply with such laws. Such damage to our reputation could adversely affect our ability to grow our business. Additionally, violations of such laws could subject us to significant fines and penalties.
Currently pending or future litigation or governmental proceedings could result in material adverse consequences, including judgments or settlements.
From time to time we are involved in governmental proceedings relating to the conduct of our business. We are also party to civil litigation. As a large company with operations across the U.S. and Canada, we are subject to various proceedings, lawsuits, disputes and claims arising in the ordinary course of our business. Actions that have been filed against us, and that may be filed against us in the future, include personal injury, property damage, commercial, customer, and employment-related claims, including purported state and national class action lawsuits related to:
|●||alleged environmental contamination, including releases of hazardous materials and odors;|
|●||sales and marketing practices, customer service agreements, prices and fees; and|
|●||federal and state wage and hour and other laws.|
The timing of the final resolutions to these types of matters is often uncertain. Additionally, the possible outcomes or resolutions to these matters could include adverse judgments or settlements, either of which could require substantial payments, adversely affecting our liquidity.
Our capital requirements and our business strategy could increase our expenses, cause us to change our growth and development plans, or result in an inability to maintain our desired credit profile.
If economic conditions or other risks and uncertainties cause a significant reduction in our cash flows from operations, we may reduce or suspend capital expenditures, growth and acquisition activity, implementation of our business strategy, dividend declarations or share repurchases. We may choose to incur indebtedness to pay for these activities, although our access to capital markets is not assured and we may not be able to incur indebtedness at a cost that is consistent with current borrowing rates. We also may need to incur indebtedness to refinance scheduled debt maturities, and it is possible that the cost of financing could increase significantly, thereby increasing our expenses and decreasing our net income. Further, our ability to execute our financial strategy and our ability to incur indebtedness is somewhat dependent upon our ability to maintain investment grade credit ratings on our senior debt. The credit rating process is contingent upon our credit profile and several other factors, many of which are beyond our control, including methodologies established and interpreted by third-party rating agencies. If we were unable to maintain our investment grade credit ratings in the future, our interest expense would increase and our ability to obtain financing on favorable terms could be adversely affected.
Additionally, we have $3.1 billion of debt as of December 31, 2020 that is exposed to changes in market interest rates within the next 12 months because of the impact of our commercial paper borrowings and tax-exempt bonds. If interest rates increase, our interest expense would also increase, lowering our net income and decreasing our cash flow.
We may use our $3.5 billion revolving credit facility to meet our cash needs, to the extent available, until maturity in November 2024. As of December 31, 2020, we had no outstanding borrowings under this facility. We had $270 million of letters of credit issued and $1.8 billion of outstanding borrowings (net of related discount on issuance) under our commercial paper program, both supported by this facility, leaving unused and available credit capacity of $1.4 billion as of December 31, 2020. In the event of a default under our credit facility, we could be required to immediately repay all outstanding borrowings and make cash deposits as collateral for all obligations the facility supports, which we may not be able to do. Additionally, any such default could cause a default under many of our other credit agreements and debt instruments. Without waivers from lenders party to those agreements, any such default would have a material adverse effect on our ability to continue to operate.
We have substantial financial assurance and insurance requirements, and increases in the costs of obtaining adequate financial assurance, or the inadequacy of our insurance coverages, could negatively impact our liquidity and increase our liabilities.
The amount of insurance we are required to maintain for environmental liability is governed by statutory requirements. We believe that the cost for such insurance is high relative to the coverage it would provide and, therefore, our coverages are generally maintained at the minimum statutorily-required levels. We face the risk of incurring additional costs for environmental damage if our insurance coverage is ultimately inadequate to cover those damages. We also carry a broad range of other insurance coverages that are customary for a company our size. We use these programs to mitigate risk of loss, thereby enabling us to manage our self-insurance exposure associated with claims. The inability of our insurers to meet their commitments in a timely manner and the effect of significant claims or litigation against insurance companies may subject us to additional risks. To the extent our insurers are unable to meet their obligations, or our own obligations for claims are more than we estimated, there could be a material adverse effect to our financial results.
In addition, to fulfill our financial assurance obligations with respect to variable-rate tax-exempt debt, final capping, closure, post-closure and environmental remediation obligations, we generally obtain letters of credit or surety bonds, rely on insurance, including captive insurance, fund trust and escrow accounts or rely upon WM financial guarantees. We currently have in place all financial assurance instruments necessary for our operations. Our financial position, which can be negatively affected by asset impairments, our credit profile and general economic factors, may adversely affect the cost of our current financial assurance instruments, and changes in regulations may impose stricter requirements on the types of financial assurance that will be accepted. Additionally, in the event we are unable to obtain sufficient surety bonding, letters of credit or third-party insurance coverage at reasonable cost, or one or more states cease to view captive insurance as adequate coverage, we would need to rely on other forms of financial assurance. It is possible that we could be forced to deposit cash to collateralize our obligations. Other forms of financial assurance could be more expensive to obtain, and any requirements to use cash to support our obligations would negatively impact our liquidity and capital resources and could affect our ability to meet our obligations as they become due.
We may record material charges against our earnings due to impairments to our assets.
In accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”), we capitalize certain expenditures and advances relating to disposal site development, expansion projects, acquisitions, software development costs and other projects. Events that have in the past and may in the future lead to an impairment include, but are not limited to, shutting down a facility or operation or abandoning a development project or the denial of an expansion permit. Additionally, declining waste volumes and development of, and customer preference for, alternatives to traditional waste disposal could warrant asset impairments. If we determine an asset or expansion project is impaired, we will charge against earnings any unamortized capitalized expenditures and advances relating to such asset or project reduced by any portion of the capitalized costs that we estimate will be recoverable, through sale or otherwise. We also carry a significant amount of goodwill on our Consolidated Balance Sheets, which is required to be assessed for impairment annually, and more frequently in the case of certain triggering events. We have in the past and may in the future be required to incur charges against earnings if such impairment tests indicate that the fair value of a reporting unit is below its carrying amount. Any such charges could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
We could face significant liabilities for withdrawal from Multiemployer Pension Plans.
We are a participating employer in a number of trustee-managed multiemployer defined benefit pension plans (“Multiemployer Pension Plans”) for employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements. In the event of our withdrawal from a Multiemployer Pension Plan, we may incur expenses associated with our obligations for unfunded vested benefits at the time of the withdrawal. Depending on various factors, including potential legislative changes, future withdrawals could have a material adverse effect on results of operations or cash flows for a particular reporting period, and our on-going costs of participation in Multiemployer Pension Plans may increase. See Notes 10 and 11 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more information related to our participation in Multiemployer Pension Plans.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.
Item 2. Properties.
The leases on the Company’s previous principal executive offices in Houston, Texas for approximately 345,000 square feet expired on December 31, 2020. In 2019, the Company commenced a lease for new principal executive offices in Houston, Texas where we will occupy approximately 297,000 square feet under a lease expiring in 2035. Occupancy of the new facility began in early 2021.
We also have administrative offices in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Florida and India. We own or lease real property in most locations where we have operations or administrative functions. We have operations in all 50 states except Montana, the District of Columbia and throughout Canada.
Our principal property and equipment consist of land (primarily landfills and other disposal facilities, transfer stations and bases for collection operations), buildings, vehicles and equipment. We believe that our operating properties, vehicles and equipment are adequately maintained and sufficient for our current operations. However, we expect to continue to make investments in additional property and equipment for expansion, for the replacement of aging assets and investment in assets that support our strategy of continuous improvement through efficiency and innovation. For more information, see Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations included within this report.
The following table summarizes our various operations as of December 31:
Landfills owned or operated (a)
Material recovery facilities
|(a)||As of December 31, 2020 and 2019, our landfills owned or operated consisted of total acreage of 172,217 and 159,080; permitted acreage of 45,642 and 42,992; and expansion acreage of 716 and 795, respectively. Total acreage includes permitted acreage, expansion acreage, other acreage available for future disposal that has not been permitted, buffer land and other land. Permitted acreage consists of all acreage at the landfill encompassed by an active permit to dispose of waste. Expansion acreage consists of unpermitted acreage where the related expansion efforts meet our criteria to be included as expansion airspace. A discussion of the related criteria is included within Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations — Critical Accounting Estimates and Assumptions included within this report.|
Item 3. Legal Proceedings.
Information regarding our legal proceedings can be found under the Environmental Matters and Litigation sections of Note 11 to the Consolidated Financial Statements included within this report.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.
Information concerning mine safety and other regulatory matters required by Section 1503(a) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and Item 104 of Regulation S-K is included in Exhibit 95 to this annual report.
Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Our common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) under the symbol “WM.” The number of holders of record of our common stock on February 12, 2021 was 8,419.
The graph below shows the relative investment performance of Waste Management, Inc. common stock, the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Waste & Disposal Services Index for the last five years, assuming reinvestment of dividends at date of payment into the common stock. The graph is presented pursuant to SEC rules and is not meant to be an indication of our future performance.
Waste Management, Inc.
S&P 500 Index
Dow Jones Waste & Disposal Services Index
The Company repurchases shares of its common stock as part of capital allocation programs authorized by our Board of Directors. We announced in December 2020 that the Board of Directors has authorized up to $1.35 billion in future share repurchases, which supersedes and replaces remaining authority under any prior Board of Directors’ authorization for share repurchases. During 2020, we repurchased an aggregate of $402 million of our common stock under accelerated share repurchase agreements and open market repurchases, which equated to 3.7 million shares with a weighted average price per share of $108.92. See Note 14 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
Any future share repurchases will be made at the discretion of management and will depend on various factors including our net earnings, financial condition and cash required for future business plans, growth and acquisitions.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data.
The statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2020 and 2019, are presented in the Consolidated Financial Statements included in Part II, Item 8. The statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, are not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, and are provided in Part II, Item 8 of our Annual Reports on Form 10-K for the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2017.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
This section includes a discussion of our results of operations for the three years ended December 31, 2020. This discussion may contain forward-looking statements that anticipate results based on management’s plans that are subject to uncertainty. We discuss in more detail various factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from expectations in Item 1A. Risk Factors. The following discussion should be read considering those disclosures and together with the Consolidated Financial Statements and the notes thereto.
We are North America’s leading provider of comprehensive waste management environmental services, providing services throughout the United States (“U.S.”) and Canada. We partner with our residential, commercial, industrial and municipal customers and the communities we serve to manage and reduce waste at each stage from collection to disposal, while recovering valuable resources and creating clean, renewable energy. We own or operate the largest network of landfills in the U.S. and Canada. In order to make disposal more practical for larger urban markets, where the distance to landfills is typically farther, we manage transfer stations that consolidate, compact and transport waste efficiently and economically. We also use waste to create energy, recovering the gas produced naturally as waste decomposes in landfills and using the gas in generators to make electricity. Additionally, we are a leading recycler in the U.S. and Canada, handling materials that include paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metal. Our “Solid Waste” business is operated and managed locally by our subsidiaries that focus on distinct geographic areas and provides collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling and resource recovery services. Through our subsidiaries, we are also a leading developer, operator and owner of landfill gas-to-energy facilities in the U.S. Consistent with our Company’s long-standing commitment to corporate sustainability and environmental stewardship, we have published our 2020 Sustainability Report, which details our commitment to help make the communities in which we live and work safe, resilient and sustainable. The information in this report can be found at https://sustainability.wm.com but does not constitute a part of, and is not incorporated by reference into, this Annual Report on Form 10-K. For further discussion see section “Federal, State and Local Climate Change Initiatives; Sustainability” in Item 1.
Our Solid Waste operating revenues are primarily generated from fees charged for our collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling and resource recovery services, and from sales of commodities by our recycling and landfill gas-to-energy operations. Revenues from our collection operations are influenced by factors such as collection frequency, type of collection equipment furnished, type and volume or weight of the waste collected, distance to the disposal facility or material recovery facility and our disposal costs. Revenues from our landfill operations consist of tipping fees, which are generally based on the type and weight or volume of waste being disposed of at our disposal facilities. Fees charged at transfer stations are generally based on the weight or volume of waste deposited, taking into account our cost of loading, transporting and disposing of the solid waste at a disposal site. Recycling revenues generally consist of tipping fees and the sale of recycling commodities to third parties. The fees we charge for our services generally include our environmental fee, fuel surcharge and regulatory recovery fee which are intended to pass through to customers direct and indirect costs incurred. We also provide additional services that are not managed through our Solid Waste business, described under Results of Operations below.
Acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“Advanced Disposal”)
On October 30, 2020, we completed our acquisition of all outstanding shares of Advanced Disposal for $30.30 per share in cash, pursuant to an Agreement and Plan of Merger dated April 14, 2019, as amended on June 24, 2020. Total enterprise value of the acquisition was $4.6 billion when including approximately $1.8 billion of Advanced Disposal’s net debt. This acquisition grows our footprint and allows us to provide differentiated, sustainable waste management and recycling services to approximately three million new commercial, industrial and residential customers primarily located in the Eastern half of the U.S. The acquisition was funded using our $3.0 billion, 364-day, U.S. revolving credit facility (“364-day revolving credit facility”) and our commercial paper program, as discussed further in Note 7 to the Consolidated Financial Statements. As a result of the acquisition we recorded $4.1 billion of net assets including $2.5 billion of goodwill.
Immediately following the closing of the Advanced Disposal acquisition, the transactions contemplated by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal (as subsequently amended, the “Divestiture Agreement”) were consummated. The required divestitures included a combination of assets and businesses belonging to us and Advanced Disposal. The Company subsequently received cash proceeds from the sale of $856 million, subject to certain post-closing adjustments. We recognized a net gain of $33 million on our net assets divested in this transaction, primarily within our Tier 2 segment. The impact on our results of operations from the divestitures was not material for the year ended December 31, 2020.
For the year ended December 31, 2020, we incurred $156 million of acquisition and integration related costs, which are primarily classified as “Selling, general and administrative expenses”. The post-closing operating results of Advanced Disposal have been included in our consolidated financial statements, within our existing reportable segments. Since the acquisition date, Advanced Disposal has recognized $205 million, $142 million and $60 million of revenue, operating expenses and selling, general and administrative expenses, respectively, which are included in our Consolidated Statement of Operations.
In January 2020, a novel strain of coronavirus (“COVID-19”) was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and was subsequently declared a global pandemic in March 2020. We have contingency plans in place to ensure continuity of operations at our collection sites, transfer stations, landfills and recycling facilities. These plans ensure that we are in compliance with federal, state, provincial and local guidelines. Key elements of our business continuity plan have been executed consistently across the organization. Our safety team has medical experts and industrial hygienists that are continuously monitoring and incorporating guidance from relevant authorities. To date our existing personal protective equipment, hygiene and operating procedures comply with guidelines established to protect our employees from additional risks associated with COVID-19.
COVID-19 began to impact our business in mid-March 2020, the results of which are described in detail under Results of Operations below. The challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy increased rapidly at the end of the first quarter of 2020 and have continued through the date of this report, impacting our business in most geographies and across a variety of our customer types. Waste Management provides essential services to a diverse customer base and, as a result, many elements of our business are less exposed to variability. However, steps taken by national and local governments to slow the spread of the virus, including travel bans, prohibitions on group events and gatherings, shutdowns of certain businesses, curfews, stay-at-home orders and recommendations to practice social distancing resulted in revenue declines at our landfills, as well as decreased demand from our industrial and commercial collection customers. Additionally, within the residential line of business, the cost to service our customers increased as stay-at-home orders and continuing work-from-home trends increased the waste we collect. While we have seen improvement in our landfill and industrial and commercial collection volumes from the lowest levels observed in April 2020, uncertainty continues in the pace of business and economic recovery as national and local governments respond to guidance from relevant authorities in response to changes in COVID-19 statistics within local jurisdictions.
The Company has proactively taken steps to put our employees’ and customers’ needs first and we continue to work with the appropriate regulatory agencies to ensure we can provide our essential services safely and efficiently. These
efforts are, in some instances, reducing short-term revenues or increasing our costs, though they are sound decisions that reflect our focus on the long-term strength of our business. Examples of these efforts include:
Employees — We have prioritized the health, safety and financial security of our workforce. As local government bodies began to implement stay-at-home orders, and as business closures became more prevalent during the first half of 2020, key steps taken to benefit our workforce included (i) transitioning back-office employees to work-from-home; (ii) providing financial certainty to employees by temporarily guaranteeing all full-time hourly employees’ compensation for a 40 hour work week regardless of COVID-19 related service decreases; (iii) securing additional personal protective equipment to bolster the safety and security of our workplaces and (iv) guaranteeing elements of incentive compensation to certain employees to reflect our appreciation for their dedication and focus on executing well in the face of the pandemic. We continue to monitor COVID-19 and remain committed to keeping our employees safe by following federal and local laws and regulations.
Customers — Our top priority with respect to our customers has been ensuring that essential waste service needs continue to be safely met despite the unprecedented changes encountered in their communities. During the initial months of the pandemic, we worked with customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to waive and suspend certain ancillary service charges, defer certain annual price increases, extend payment terms, adjust customer service levels and provide qualifying small and medium businesses with one month of free service upon re-opening. Beginning in July, with communities and governments re-opening, social distancing and safety measures being adopted, and signs of an improving economy, we resumed fees and price increases in accordance with our contractual terms and our average yield improved as expected.
The above steps, combined with our disciplined execution in our daily operations, have positioned the Company to prudently manage the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fundamentals of the Company continue to remain strong, and we have sufficient liquidity on hand to continue business operations during this volatile period.
We attribute the following notable impacts on our results of operations for the year ended December 31, 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Revenues — During the year ended December 31, 2020, we experienced a negative impact to revenue that we attribute to reductions in customers’ waste service needs as a result of COVID-19. While it is very difficult to measure, we believe that the COVID-19-related revenue loss was approximately $890 million. While the customer-centric steps discussed above have also contributed to this revenue decline, these impacts have been relatively immaterial to the overall revenue decline. As mentioned above, our volumes, particularly in our landfill and industrial and commercial collection lines of businesses, have improved from the lows experienced in April 2020, though the pace of volume recovery moderated during the fourth quarter of 2020 as local governments responded to recommendations from applicable authorities and changes in the COVID-19 statistics.
Operating Expenses — Volume-driven revenue declines and our strategic focus on proactive cost management led to a significant reduction in certain variable operating expenses. These reductions have been most significant in labor costs, where we have focused on developing an optimal work week that reduces overtime hours, and maintenance and repairs. The revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a greater impact on our higher margin business lines and have negatively impacted our operating costs as a percentage of revenues. Additionally, our operating expenses have been impacted by employee pay guarantees and increases in container weights in our residential collection line of business, which increased our overall cost to serve these customers. Despite this, our proactive cost management efforts positioned us to hold our overall operating expenses as a percentage of revenues flat when compared with the prior year period.
Selling, General and Administrative Expenses — COVID-19 impacts on our customers and related customer receipts has led to an increase in the provision for bad debts for the year ended December 31, 2020. However, during the second half of 2020, we began to see an improvement in the provision for bad debts driven by successful collection efforts. Additionally, during 2020 we incurred costs associated with transitioning back-office employees to a work-from-home environment and costs related to employee pay guarantees.
The ultimate impacts of COVID-19 on our long-term outlook for the business will depend on future developments, including the duration of the pandemic and pace of economic recovery. These factors and their impacts on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows are uncertain and cannot be predicted at this time. We remain focused on the diligent and safe execution of our daily operations. Additionally, we are focused on ensuring that we emerge from this pandemic a stronger, more differentiated company positioned as the service provider of choice for the long-term.
The waste industry is a comparatively mature and stable industry. However, customers increasingly expect more of their waste materials to be recovered and those waste streams are becoming more complex. In addition, many state and local governments mandate diversion, recycling and waste reduction at the source and prohibit the disposal of certain types of waste at landfills. We monitor these developments to adapt our services offerings. As companies, individuals and communities look for ways to be more sustainable, we promote our comprehensive services that go beyond our core business of collecting and disposing of waste in order to meet their needs.
Despite some industry consolidation in recent years, we encounter intense competition from governmental, quasi-governmental and private service providers based on pricing, service quality, customer experience and breadth of service offerings. Our industry is directly affected by changes in general economic factors, including increases and decreases in consumer spending, business expansions and construction activity. These factors generally correlate to volumes of waste generated and impact our revenue. Negative economic conditions, including the impact of COVID-19, can and have caused customers to reduce their service needs. Such negative economic conditions, in addition to competitor actions, can and have made it more challenging to implement our pricing strategy and negotiate, renew or expand service contracts with acceptable margins. We also encounter competition for acquisitions and growth opportunities. General economic factors and the market for consumer goods, in addition to regulatory developments, can also significantly impact commodity prices for the recyclable materials we sell. Significant components of our operating expenses vary in correlation to changes in revenue due to volume. Volume changes can fluctuate dramatically by line of business and decreases in volumes in higher margin businesses, such as what we have seen with COVID-19, can impact key financial metrics. In this type of environment, we must dynamically manage our cost structure.
Our financial results for the year ended December 31, 2020 reflect declines in our collection and disposal lines of business as a result of the negative impacts of COVID-19. These impacts began in March 2020 and continued through the date of this report, although we began to experience improvement in volumes during the second half of 2020 when compared to the more acute impacts we experienced earlier in the year. Given the ongoing pressures on the business from COVID-19, we continue to take proactive steps to reduce costs and maximize cash flow. These steps include (i) optimizing our route structure to respond proactively to lower industrial and commercial collection volumes; (ii) limiting hiring and optimizing the existing workforce through improved retention and reduced turnover and (iii) reducing or eliminating certain non-essential costs and expenses like travel and entertainment. Additionally, to enhance our liquidity, we are maintaining a disciplined focus on capital management by aligning additional investments with the revenue generation of the business, reducing capital spending on our landfill assets, and managing container capital in conjunction with our customers’ volumes. We also elected to temporarily suspend additional share repurchases in 2020 after the first quarter.
COVID-19 has also had impacts on the recycling line of business, including the creation of a short-term dislocation in the supply and demand dynamics for recycled commodities in the U.S. which increased market prices for certain commodities. Despite this increase in market prices, we continue to invest and seek opportunities for cost improvement as we remain steadfast in our commitment to improve the profitability and returns of the recycling line of business in any economic environment. We have maintained our focus on converting to a fee-based pricing model that addresses the cost of processing materials and the impact on our cost structure to manage contamination in the recycling stream.
We believe that the Company’s industry-leading asset network and strategic focuses on investing in people and our digital platform will give the Company the necessary tools to address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts on our industry. In line with our commitment to continuous improvement and a differentiated customer experience, we continue to accelerate our customer service digitalization initiative to change the way we interact with our customers. Enhancements made through this initiative are designed to seamlessly and digitally connect all of the Company’s functions necessary to provide our customers the best experience and service.
Current Year Financial Results
During 2020, we delivered solid operating income and cash flows despite revenue declines in our collection and disposal lines of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to take intentional steps to decrease our operating costs and eliminate discretionary selling, general and administrative expenses to mitigate the impact from the declines in our volumes. In addition to our focus on reducing certain costs, we took proactive steps to manage our capital spending. The Company continued its commitment to supporting both organic and inorganic growth during 2020, with the highlight being the completion of our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. In total, the Company allocated $1,632 million of available cash to capital expenditures and funded $4,088 million of acquisitions of solid waste businesses. We also allocated $1,329 million of available cash to our shareholders during 2020 through dividends and common stock repurchases.
Key elements of our 2020 financial results include:
|●||Revenues of $15,218 million for 2020 compared with $15,455 million in 2019, a decrease of $237 million, or 1.5%. The decline is primarily attributable to lower volumes in our collection and disposal businesses resulting from a reduction in customers’ waste service needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, partially offset by (i) higher yield in our collection and disposal businesses; (ii) higher yield in our recycling business driven by higher commodity prices and (iii) acquisitions, net of divestitures, primarily due to the acquisition of Advanced Disposal;|
|●||Operating expenses of $9,341 million in 2020, or 61.4% of revenues, compared with $9,496 million, or 61.4% of revenues, in 2019. The $155 million decrease is directly related to proactive steps taken to manage our variable costs in the lower volume environment. The revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a greater impact on our higher margin business lines, which negatively impacted operating costs as a percentage of revenues. Despite this, our proactive cost management efforts positioned us to hold our overall operating expenses as a percentage of revenues flat, when compared with the prior year period;|
|●||Selling, general and administrative expenses of $1,728 million in 2020, or 11.4% of revenues, compared with $1,631 million, or 10.6% of revenues, in 2019. This increase of $97 million is primarily attributable to (i) increased acquisition-related costs; (ii) higher costs associated with investments in our digital platform; and (iii) costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increase in provision for bad debts. These cost increases were offset, in part, by (i) lower legal reserves; (ii) the proactive steps taken to reduce discretionary expenses and (iii) lower annual incentive compensation costs;|
|●||Income from operations of $2,434 million, or 16.0% of revenues, in 2020 compared with $2,706 million, or 17.5% of revenues, in 2019. Management has taken steps to control our costs in a period of volume decline, significantly mitigating the negative impact to our income from operations. However, the year-over-year comparison has been affected by (i) an increase in integration costs associated with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (ii) non-cash impairment charges of $61 million; (iii) higher depreciation and amortization expense which was primarily related to investments in capital assets, including trucks and facilities and (iv) investments we are making in our digital platform. These negative impacts were partially offset by a net divestiture gain of $33 million associated with the sale of net assets to GFL Environmental in the fourth quarter;|
|●||Net income attributable to Waste Management, Inc. was $1,496 million, or $3.52 per diluted share, compared with $1,670 million, or $3.91 per diluted share, in the prior year period. In addition to the activity discussed above, net income in the current period was also impacted by an increase in net interest expense due to debt incurred to acquire Advanced Disposal. Additionally, net income in the current period was favorably impacted by (i) a decrease in the cost of early extinguishment of debt; (ii) the unfavorable impact in 2019 of a $52 million impairment charge related to our minority-owned investment in a waste conversion technology business that was not deductible for tax purposes and (iii) lower income tax expense primarily attributable to lower income before income taxes;|
|●||Net cash provided by operating activities was $3,403 million, compared with $3,874 million in the prior year period with the decline driven by (i) higher income tax payments related to the sale of assets to GFL Environmental; (ii) increased interest payments and integration related spending due to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (iii) payments associated with investments we are making in our digital platform and (iv) lower earnings on our traditional Solid Waste business primarily caused by the impact of the COVID-19|
|pandemic. These results were partially offset by cash benefits in the current year associated with the 2019 federal alternative fuel credits and|
|●||Free cash flow was $2,656 million compared with $2,105 million in the prior year period. The increase in free cash flow is primarily due to (i) higher proceeds from the sale of net assets to GFL Environmental and (ii) an intentional reduction in capital expenditures during the current year period to align with the lower volumes in our business. These positive impacts were partially offset by a decrease in net cash provided by operating activities noted above. Free cash flow is a non-GAAP measure of liquidity. Refer to Free Cash Flow within Liquidity and Capital Resources for our definition of free cash flow, additional information about our use of this measure, and a reconciliation to net cash provided by operating activities, which is the most comparable GAAP measure.|
Results of Operations
Our operating revenues set forth below are primarily generated from fees charged for our collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling and resource recovery services, and from sales of commodities by our recycling and landfill gas-to-energy operations. We also provide additional services that are not managed through our Solid Waste business, including both our WMSBS and EES businesses, recycling brokerage services, landfill gas-to-energy services and certain other expanded service offerings and solutions. The mix of operating revenues from our major lines of business is reflected in the table below for the year ended December 31 (in millions):
|(a)||The “Other” line of business includes (i) our WMSBS business; (ii) our landfill gas-to-energy operations; (iii) certain services within our EES business, including our construction and remediation services and our services associated with the disposal of fly ash and (iv) certain other expanded service offerings and solutions. In addition, our “Other” line of business reflects the results of non-operating entities that provide financial assurance and self-insurance support for our Solid Waste business, net of intercompany activity. We have reclassified collection, landfill, transfer and recycling activity within our “Other” line of business to the appropriate line of business for purposes of presentation in this table.|
|(b)||Intercompany revenues between lines of business are eliminated in the Consolidated Financial Statements included within this report.|
The following table provides details associated with the period-to-period change in revenues and average yield for the year ended December 31 (dollars in millions):
2020 vs. 2019
2019 vs. 2018
As a % of
As a % of
As a % of
As a % of
Collection and disposal
Recycling commodities (c)
Fuel surcharges and mandated fees
Total average yield (d)
Internal revenue growth
Foreign currency translation and other
|(a)||Calculated by dividing the increase or decrease for the current year by the prior year’s related business revenue adjusted to exclude the impacts of divestitures for the current year.|
|(b)||Calculated by dividing the increase or decrease for the current year by the prior year’s total Company revenue adjusted to exclude the impacts of divestitures for the current year.|
|(c)||Includes combined impact of commodity price variability and changes in fees.|
|(d)||The amounts reported herein represent the changes in our revenue attributable to average yield for the total Company.|
The following provides further details about our period-to-period change in revenues:
Collection and Disposal Average Yield — This measure reflects the effect on our revenue from the pricing activities of our collection, transfer and landfill operations, exclusive of volume changes. Revenue growth from collection and disposal average yield includes not only base rate changes and environmental and service fee fluctuations, but also (i) certain average price changes related to the overall mix of services, which are due to the types of services provided; (ii) changes in average price from new and lost business and (iii) price decreases to retain customers.
The details of our revenue growth from collection and disposal average yield are as follows (dollars in millions):
2020 vs. 2019
2019 vs. 2018
As a % of
As a % of
Total collection and disposal
Our overall strategic pricing efforts that are focused on improving our average unit rate have proven to be effective, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. During the second quarter of 2020, in order to support the continuity of our customers’
businesses, we made certain customer-centric pricing decisions, such as temporarily waiving and suspending certain ancillary service charges as well as delaying price increases in certain markets. These actions negatively impacted our year-to-date average yield. However, beginning in July 2020, we resumed fees and price increases in accordance with contractual terms and our average yield rebounded as expected.
Recycling Commodities — Increases in the market prices for recycling commodities resulted in revenue growth of $75 million for the year ended December 31, 2020 as compared with prior year. Decreases in the market prices for recycling commodities in 2019 resulted in a revenue decline of $248 million as compared to 2018. Average market prices for recycling commodities at the Company’s facilities were 19% higher in 2020 compared to 2019 and 35% lower in 2019 compared to 2018. We saw a market price increase in 2020 driven by a short-term dislocation in supply and demand dynamics for recycled materials, largely due to COVID-19 related decreases in the supply of recycled materials. While average market prices in 2020 were higher than 2019, we were at or below our overall historical average market price by the end of 2020. We continue to invest and seek opportunities for cost improvement as we remain steadfast in our commitment to improve the profitability and returns of the recycling line of business in any economic environment. We have maintained our focus on converting to a fee-based pricing model that addresses the cost of processing materials and the impact on our cost structure to manage contamination in the recycling stream.
Fuel Surcharges and Mandated Fees —These fees, which are predominantly generated by our fuel surcharge program, declined $151 million and $22 million for 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods. These revenues are based on, and fluctuate in response to changes in the national average prices for diesel fuel. Given the downturn in oil and gas markets, market prices for diesel fuel decreased approximately 16% and 4% for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, compared with the prior year periods. Additionally, we transitioned certain customers’ pricing away from a fuel surcharge, reflecting the cost of fuel in the base rates we charge for our services, which further contributed to the year-over-year decline.
The mandated fees are primarily related to fees and taxes assessed by various state, county and municipal government agencies at our landfills and transfer stations. These amounts have not significantly impacted the change in revenue for the periods presented.
Our revenues from volume (excluding volumes from acquisitions and divestitures) decreased $692 million, or 4.5%, and increased $346 million, or 2.3%, for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods.
Beginning in March 2020, and continuing throughout the date of this report, our industrial and commercial collection and landfill businesses experienced significant volume declines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have seen some improvement in our landfill and industrial and commercial collection volumes from the lowest levels observed in April 2020, our volumes continue to be meaningfully below prior year, particularly in special waste at the landfill, project-driven work in the industrial collection business and certain commercial and collection customer segments. Uncertainty continues with respect to the pace of business and economic recovery as local governments continue to respond to recommendations from applicable authorities and changes in the COVID-19 statistics. Additionally, while natural disaster clean-up efforts benefited our 2019 volumes, they were inconsequential to our results for the year ended December 31, 2020. The preceding decreases in volume-related revenues have been partially offset by volume increases in our WM Renewable Energy business which grew in 2020 as a result of a new renewable energy facility coming online, and our continued focus on a differentiated service model for national accounts customers.
We experienced higher volumes throughout 2019 when compared to 2018 due to our focus on customer service and disciplined growth, combined with favorable market conditions in our collection and disposal business. We experienced significant volume growth with existing customers, particularly in our commercial collection business as a result of proactive efforts taken to work with our customers as their needs expanded to identify service upgrade opportunities. Our event-driven projects in our special waste business and growth in our municipal solid waste business contributed to our landfill volume growth in 2019. Furthermore, our WMSBS business experienced favorable volume growth in 2019. The
clean-up efforts of natural disasters primarily in California during the first half of 2019 contributed to volume growth in 2019, partially offset by volume decline from our recycling brokerage services in 2019.
Our operating expenses are comprised of (i) labor and related benefits costs (excluding labor costs associated with maintenance and repairs discussed below), which include salaries and wages, bonuses, related payroll taxes, insurance and benefits costs and the costs associated with contract labor; (ii) transfer and disposal costs, which include tipping fees paid to third-party disposal facilities and transfer stations; (iii) maintenance and repairs costs relating to equipment, vehicles and facilities and related labor costs; (iv) subcontractor costs, which include the costs of independent haulers who transport waste collected by us to disposal facilities and are affected by variables such as volumes, distance and fuel prices; (v) costs of goods sold, which includes the cost to purchase recycling materials for our recycling line of business, including certain rebates paid to suppliers; (vi) fuel costs, net of tax credits for alternative fuel, which represent the costs of fuel and oil to operate our truck fleet and landfill operating equipment; (vii) disposal and franchise fees and taxes, which include landfill taxes, municipal franchise fees, host community fees, contingent landfill lease payments and royalties; (viii) landfill operating costs, which include interest accretion on landfill liabilities, interest accretion on and discount rate adjustments to environmental remediation liabilities and recovery assets, leachate and methane collection and treatment, landfill remediation costs and other landfill site costs; (ix) risk management costs, which include general liability, automobile liability and workers’ compensation claims programs costs and (x) other operating costs, which include gains and losses on sale of assets, telecommunications, equipment and facility lease expenses, property taxes, utilities and supplies. Variations in volumes year-over-year, as discussed above in Operating Revenues, in addition to cost inflation, affect the comparability of the components of our operating expenses.
The following table summarizes the major components of our operating expenses for the year ended December 31 (dollars in millions and as a percentage of revenues):
Labor and related benefits
Transfer and disposal costs
Maintenance and repairs
Cost of goods sold
Disposal and franchise fees and taxes
Landfill operating costs
As discussed above in Operating Revenues, year-over-year decreases in our landfill and industrial and commercial collection volumes, primarily due to the impacts of COVID-19, have significantly impacted the year ended December 31, 2020. The declines in most operating expense categories during the reported periods are directly related to proactive steps taken to manage our variable costs in the lower volume environment. The revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a greater impact on our higher margin business lines and have negatively impacted operating costs as a percentage of revenues. In addition, our operating expenses as a percentage of revenues was impacted by our acquisition of Advanced Disposal as the acquired business’s operating cost structure is higher than ours, because we are early in our integration and synergy realization processes and we have incurred certain one-time, upfront costs
needed to support integration. Despite this, our proactive cost management efforts positioned us to hold our overall operating expenses as a percentage of revenues flat when compared with the prior year periods.
Significant items affecting the comparison of operating expenses between reported periods include:
Labor and Related Benefits — The decrease in labor and related benefits costs in 2020 as compared with 2019 was largely driven by decreases in volume in our industrial and commercial collection businesses. Our proactive steps positioned us to optimize our route structure to respond to lower industrial and commercial collection volumes. Additionally, the decrease was attributable to (i) improved efficiency; (ii) lower headcount due to employee attrition coupled with proactive steps to defer hiring due to COVID-19 driven uncertainty and (iii) lower annual incentive compensation. These decreases were offset, in part, by annual merit increases and the addition of employees as a result of our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The increase in labor and related benefits costs in 2019 as compared with 2018 was driven by (i) volume growth in our collection and disposal business; (ii) merit increases and (iii) cost inflation. These cost increases were offset, in part, by lower bonus costs related to a one-time plan established in early 2018 targeted at improving employee retention.
Transfer and Disposal Costs — The decrease in transfer and disposal costs in 2020 as compared with 2019 was largely driven by volume declines in our industrial and commercial collection businesses as a result of COVID-19 offset, in part, by additional disposal costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The increase in transfer and disposal costs in 2019 as compared with 2018, was driven by overall volume growth in our collection and disposal business and, to a lesser extent, cost inflation.
Maintenance and Repairs — The decrease in maintenance and repairs costs in 2020 as compared with 2019 was largely driven by proactive steps to optimize routes and reduce overtime hours to address the volume declines discussed above. This decline in costs was partially offset by additional costs incurred to make investments in the fleet acquired as part of the Advanced Disposal acquisition. Additionally, there has been an increasing trend in our maintenance and repairs costs during the reported periods due to (i) inflationary cost pressures for both Company and third-party services due to demand for skilled technician labor as well as for parts and supplies; (ii) higher per unit costs required for an increasingly automated fleet in the residential line of business and (iii) our focus on making upgrades to our operating facilities. The comparisons are also impacted by a $16 million non-cash charge to write off certain equipment costs related to our Other segment recognized in 2019.
Subcontractor Costs — The decrease in subcontractor costs in 2020 as compared to 2019 was largely driven by COVID-19 related volume declines in our industrial collection business and projects ending or scaling down during 2020 in our EES business. The decrease was offset, in part, by an increase in business activity in our WMSBS business which relies more extensively on subcontracted hauling than our collection and disposal business. The increase in subcontractor costs in 2019 as compared to 2018 was primarily driven by (i) volume growth in our collection and disposal business, largely attributable to a significant contract executed in the second half of 2017 that generated incremental volumes in 2019; (ii) volume growth in our WMSBS and EES businesses and (iii) cost inflation related to capacity constraints of our subcontractors in certain markets.
Cost of Goods Sold — Costs in 2020 were flat when compared to 2019 in spite of an increase in commodity prices, largely due to lower recycling volumes as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, a higher percentage of our overall recycled commodity sales were targeted at domestic markets, resulting in lower freight costs. The decrease in cost of goods sold in 2019 as compared with 2018 was primarily driven by lower market prices for recycling commodities and by lower costs due to the sale of certain ancillary operations in the second quarter of 2018.
Fuel — The decrease in fuel costs in 2020 as compared with 2019 was primarily due to (i) a decline in market prices for diesel fuel; (ii) lower costs resulting from the continued conversion of our fleet to natural gas vehicles and (iii) volume declines. The decreases were offset, in part, by (i) lower federal alternative fuel credits and (ii) additional costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The decrease in fuel costs in 2019 as compared with 2018 was due to (i) the recognition of two years of federal alternative fuel credits in 2019 compared to a single year of credits in 2018 due to the
timing of government action providing for the benefits attributable to each period; (ii) lower costs resulting from the continued conversion of our fleet to natural gas vehicles and (iii) lower market prices for diesel fuel.
Disposal and Franchise Fees and Taxes — The decrease in disposal and franchise fees and taxes in 2020 as compared to 2019 was primarily related to lower volumes in our landfill line of business, largely driven by the impact of COVID-19. The decreases were offset, in part, by additional costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The increase in disposal and franchise fees and taxes in 2019 as compared with 2018 was primarily related to higher volumes in our landfill line of business.
Landfill Operating Costs — The increase in landfill operating costs in 2020 as compared with 2019 was primarily due to higher leachate management costs compared to the prior year and additional costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. This increase was offset, in part, by decreases attributable to lower volumes at our landfills. The increase in landfill operating costs in 2019 as compared with 2018 was primarily due to higher leachate management costs driven largely by inclement weather in certain parts of North America and increased ongoing site maintenance costs. Additionally, 2020 and 2019 were impacted by decreases in the risk-free discount rate used in the measurement of our environmental remediation obligations and recovery assets due to decreases in U.S. treasury rates. See Note 4 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
Risk Management — Risk management costs were relatively flat in 2020 as compared with 2019. The increase in risk management costs in 2019 as compared with 2018 was primarily due to an increase in claims expense as a result of growth in the business and cost inflation.
Other — Net gains on sales of certain assets during each year impacted the comparability of the reported periods.
Selling, General and Administrative Expenses
Our selling, general and administrative expenses consist of (i) labor and related benefits costs, which include salaries, bonuses, related insurance and benefits, contract labor, payroll taxes and equity-based compensation; (ii) professional fees, which include fees for consulting, legal, audit and tax services; (iii) provision for bad debts, which includes allowances for uncollectible customer accounts and collection fees and (iv) other selling, general and administrative expenses, which include, among other costs, facility-related expenses, voice and data telecommunication, advertising, bank charges, computer costs, travel and entertainment, rentals, postage and printing. In addition, the financial impacts of litigation reserves generally are included in our “Other” selling, general and administrative expenses.
The following table summarizes the major components of our selling, general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31 (dollars in millions and as a percentage of revenues):
Labor and related benefits
Provision for bad debts
Selling, general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31, 2020 have increased due to (i) incremental costs of approximately $150 million incurred in connection with the acquisition and integration of Advanced Disposal; (ii) strategic investments in our digital platform, including planned investments in a new enterprise resource planning system and accelerated investments in customer service digitalization and (iii) an increase in the provision for bad debts due to negative impacts on customer receipts experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the cost increases, selling, general and administrative expenses as a percent of revenue have increased in 2020 due to the decline in volume-related revenues.
We consistently manage our costs, particularly those incurred for discretionary initiatives, to ensure that we are optimizing our customer service, back-office effectiveness and profitability. As a result of the declines in revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, we specifically focused on reducing costs for advertising, travel and entertainment and professional fees other than those specifically tied to strategic initiatives. The decreases in selling, general and administrative expenses from these proactive steps have been more than offset by the items discussed above.
Significant items affecting the comparison of our selling, general and administrative expenses between reported periods include:
Labor and Related Benefits — The increase in labor and related benefits costs in 2020 compared with 2019 was largely due to (i) costs incurred in connection with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal including severance costs and additional headcount; (ii) annual merit increases and (iii) costs associated with the strategic investments in our digital platform. These cost increases were offset, in part, by (i) lower annual incentive compensation and (ii) proactive steps undertaken to defer hiring and reduce labor related costs. The increase in labor and related benefits costs in 2019 compared with 2018 was primarily due to (i) an increase in headcount, merit increases and higher incentive compensation and (ii) increased contract labor costs driven by planned investments in our digital platform.
Professional Fees — The increases in professional fees over the reported periods were primarily driven by consulting fees incurred in connection with the acquisition and integration of Advanced Disposal and strategic investments in our digital platform.
Provision for Bad Debts — The increase in the provision for bad debts in 2020 compared with 2019 was primarily due to increased collection risk associated with certain customers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we were encouraged to see an overall improvement in customer account collections during the second half of 2020 when compared to the first half of the year. The decrease in provision for bad debts in 2019 compared with 2018 was due to the collection of certain fully reserved receivables and higher prior year bad debt expense associated with the bankruptcy of a strategic customer.
Other — The decrease in other expenses in 2020 compared with 2019 was primarily due to lower litigation costs and proactive measures taken to reduce discretionary costs, such as travel and entertainment, company-wide. These cost decreases were offset, in part, by increased technology infrastructure costs in 2020, which we expect to continue as we make strategic investments in our digital platform. We also incurred one-time technology costs in the first half of 2020 to transition employees to work-from-home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in other expenses in 2019 compared with 2018 was principally driven by higher litigation reserves and increased infrastructure costs associated with investments in our digital platform.
Depreciation and Amortization Expenses
The following table summarizes the components of our depreciation and amortization expenses for the year ended December 31 (dollars in millions and as a percentage of revenues):
Depreciation of tangible property and equipment
Amortization of landfill airspace
Amortization of intangible assets
The increase in depreciation of tangible property and equipment in 2020, compared with 2019, was primarily related to (i) investments in capital assets, including trucks and facilities and (ii) additional depreciation attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The decrease in amortization of landfill airspace in 2020 compared with 2019 was driven by (i) lower volumes at our landfills, primarily as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and (ii) a decrease in the inflation rate used to estimate capping, closure and post-closure asset retirement obligations from 2.5% to 2.25% at
December 31, 2020. These decreases were offset, in part, by charges to reflect changes in estimated landfill construction costs and our acquisition of Advanced Disposal.
Our amortization of intangible assets was flat in 2020, compared with 2019. The increased expense for intangible assets acquired as part of the acquisition of Advanced Disposal was offset, primarily by decreases for certain customer list assets reaching the end of their lives.
The increase in depreciation of tangible property and equipment in 2019 compared with 2018 was primarily related to higher capital expenditures due to an intentional focus on accelerating certain fleet and landfill spending to support the Company’s strong collection and disposal growth. The increase in amortization of landfill airspace in 2019 compared with 2018 was driven by higher volumes at our landfills and changes in landfill estimates.
During the year ended December 31, 2020, we recognized $9 million of restructuring charges primarily related to modifying our field sales and customer services structures to better support our investment in customer service digitalization, which is discussed above.
(Gain) Loss from Divestitures, Asset Impairments and Unusual Items, Net
The following table summarizes the major components of (gain) loss from divestitures, asset impairments and unusual items, net for the year ended December 31 (in millions):
Gain from divestitures, net
During the year ended December 31, 2020, we recognized $35 million of net charges primarily related to the following:
Gain from Divestitures, Net — As discussed further in Note 18 to the Consolidated Financial Statements, we and Advanced Disposal entered into an agreement that provided for GFL Environmental to acquire a combination of assets from us and Advanced Disposal to address divestitures required by the U.S. Department of Justice. Immediately following the closing of the Advanced Disposal acquisition on October 30, 2020, the transactions contemplated by the Divestiture Agreement were consummated and the Company subsequently received cash proceeds from the sale of $856 million. We recognized a net gain of $33 million on our net assets divested, primarily within our Tier 2 segment.
Energy Services Asset Impairments — During the second quarter of 2020, the Company tested the recoverability of certain energy services assets in our Tier 1 segment. Indicators of impairment included (i) the sharp downturn in oil demand that has led to a significant decline in oil prices and production activities, which we project will have long-term impacts on the utilization of our assets and (ii) significant shifts in our business, including increases in competition and customers choosing to bury waste on site versus in a landfill, reducing our revenue outlook. The Company determined that the carrying amount of the asset group was not fully recoverable. As a result, we recognized $41 million of non-cash impairment charges primarily related to two landfills and an oil field waste injection facility in our Tier 1 segment. We wrote down the net book value of these assets to their estimated fair value using an income approach based on estimated future cash flow projections (Level 3). The aggregate fair value of the impaired asset group was $8 million as of June 30, 2020. The Company tested the recoverability of an additional $239 million in energy services assets and determined that the carrying amount was recoverable as of June 30, 2020. No new indicators of impairment were identified during the second half of 2020.
Other Impairments —We recognized a $20 million non-cash impairment charge in our Tier 3 segment due to management’s decision to close a landfill once its constructed airspace is filled and abandon any remaining permitted
airspace, which was considered an impairment indicator. We determined the carrying value was not recoverable, and we wrote off the entire net book value of the asset using an income approach based on estimated future cash flow projections (Level 3). The impairment charge was comprised of $12 million related to the carrying value of the asset and $8 million related to the acceleration of the expected timing of capping, closure and post-closure activities, which is discussed further in Note 4 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Additionally, we recognized $7 million of net charges primarily related to non-cash impairments of certain assets within our WM Renewable Energy business in our Other segment. We determined the carrying values of the assets were not recoverable, and we wrote off their entire net carrying value using an income approach based on estimated future cash flow projections (Level 3).
During the year ended December 31, 2019, we recognized asset impairments of $42 million, related to (i) $27 million of goodwill impairment charges, of which $17 million related to our EES business, and $10 million related to our LampTracker® reporting unit and (ii) $15 million of asset impairment charges primarily related to certain solid waste operations.
During the year ended December 31, 2018, we recognized net gains of $58 million, primarily related to (i) a $52 million gain associated with the sale of certain collection and disposal operations in Tier 1 and (ii) net gains of $44 million substantially all from divestitures of certain ancillary operations. These gains were partially offset by (i) a $30 million charge to impair a landfill in Tier 3 based on an internally developed discounted projected cash flow analysis, taking into account continued volume decreases and revised capping cost estimates and (ii) $8 million of impairment charges primarily related to our LampTracker® reporting unit.
See Note 3 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information related to the accounting policy and analysis involved in identifying and calculating impairments.
Income from Operations
The following table summarizes income from operations for the year ended December 31 and has been updated to reflect our realigned segments which are discussed further in Note 20 to the Consolidated Financial Statements (dollars in millions):