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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 “WMI,” we are referring only to Waste Management, Inc., the parent holding company.
WMI 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 WMI 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 WMI, WM Holdings is a holding company and all operations are conducted by subsidiaries.
Our principal executive offices are located at 800 Capitol Street, Suite 3000, 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 2021, our largest customer represented less than 5% of annual revenues. We employed approximately 48,500 people as of December 31, 2021.
We own or operate 260 landfill sites, which is the largest network of landfills throughout 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 340 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. As North America’s
leading provider of comprehensive waste management environmental services, sustainability and environmental stewardship is embedded in all that we do. We have enabled a people-first, technology-led focus to drive our mission, that we are always working for a sustainable tomorrow. Our strategy 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, enhancements to our digital platform, 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 continue to improve existing diversion technologies, such as through investments in our recycling operations, we are also evaluating and pursuing emerging diversion technologies that may generate additional value.
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 2021, we announced that our Board of Directors expects to increase the quarterly dividend from $0.575 to $0.65 per share for dividends declared in 2022, which is a 13.0% increase from the quarterly dividends we declared in 2021. This is an indication of our ability to generate strong and consistent cash flows and marks the 19th 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.
In 2021, our senior management began evaluating, overseeing and managing the financial performance of our Solid Waste operations through two operating segments. Our East Tier primarily consists of geographic areas located in the Eastern U.S., the Great Lakes region and substantially all of Canada. Our West Tier primarily includes geographic areas located in the Western U.S., including the upper Midwest region, and British Columbia, Canada. Each of our Solid Waste operating segments provides integrated environmental services, including collection, transfer, recycling, and disposal. The Company finalized the assessment of our segments during the fourth quarter of 2021. The East and West Tiers are presented in this report and constitute our existing Solid Waste business. On October 30, 2020, we acquired Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“Advanced Disposal”), the operations of which are presented in this report within our existing Solid Waste tiers. Additional information related to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and segments is included in Notes 17 and 19 to the Consolidated Financial Statements, respectively. 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 provide are described below.
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, 2021, we owned or operated 255 solid waste landfills and five secure hazardous waste landfills, which represents the largest network of landfills throughout 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, 2021, we owned or operated 340 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. In 2021, we made significant investments in technology to automate our equipment, which benefits our labor productivity, produce higher quality commodities for our customers, and increase our capacity in geographies where we currently have a MRF, as well as expanding our footprint into new geographies. In addition to advancing our single stream recycling programs for commercial applications, we will continue to invest in recycling technologies designed to offer services and solutions to support and grow our current operations. 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, 2021, we operated 96 MRFs, of which 49 are single stream, 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. In our materials processing business, we have been transitioning our customer base over time 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, which is 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, 2021, we had 144 landfill gas beneficial use projects producing commercial quantities of methane gas at owned or operated landfills. For 102 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.
WM Renewable Energy also produces renewable natural gas (“RNG”) from landfill gas and generates renewable identification numbers (“RINs”) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”) program and other credits under a variety of state programs associated with the use of RNG in our compressed natural gas fleet. The RINs and credits are sold to counterparties who are obligated under the regulatory programs and have a responsibility to procure RINs and credits proportionate to their fossil fuel production and imports. RINs prices generally respond to regulations enacted by the EPA or other regulatory bodies, as well as fluctuations in supply and demand. WM Renewable Energy currently has four owned facilities producing 3.2 million MMBtu of RNG annually and most of the revenue from these facilities is generated through the sale of RINs. We expect to grow the number of plants from four to 21 by 2026 and project that we will generate approximately 24 million MMBtu of RNG annually with the expanded asset base. While developing these facilities and expanding our renewable energy generation, we intend to evaluate various offtake arrangements, including the sale of RINs and the direct sale of RNG to large industrial users such as utilities and colleges and universities.
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.
Operating costs, disposal costs and collection fees vary widely throughout the geographic 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 also compete 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 geographic 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 geographic 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, 2021, we had approximately 48,500 full-time employees across the U.S., Canada and India. Approximately 45,400 employees were located within the U.S. and 3,100 employees were located outside of the U.S. Approximately 9,200 employees were employed in administrative and sales positions with the remainder in operations. Approximately 8,500 of our employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Additional information about our workforce can be found in our 2021 Sustainability Report at https://sustainability.wm.com. Our 2021 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.
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. "We Are WM" is our Employer Value Proposition, grounded in our People First commitment and shared through a framework that enables us to display that we are (i) investing in our teams by providing comprehensive benefits; (ii) committed to the growth of our team by providing state-of-the-art trainings and our new education benefit, Your Tomorrow, as further discussed under Compensation and Benefits; (iii) performing essential and meaningful work and (iv) working for a sustainable tomorrow by leaving the world a better place than we found it. 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, Equity and Diversity
We embrace and cultivate respect, trust, open communications and diversity of thought and people. We are committed to equality for all, and foster an environment where all teammates feel welcomed, valued and seen. We are laser-focused on strengthening our current business strategy to see that inclusion, equity and diversity (“IE&D”) are not an initiative, but core in everything that we do. Our commitment to IE&D starts at the top with our senior leadership team being comprised of 30% ethnic minorities and 30% women as of December 31, 2021; and with our overall workforce in the U.S. being comprised of approximately 45% ethnic minorities and approximately 19% women as of the same date. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve. To enable us to achieve our goals, we have established a cross-functional IE&D Council aimed at evaluating policies, practices and procedures, recruitment and partnerships to ensure that our IE&D efforts are sustainable and are tied to our business strategy.
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 recognize the value of learning beyond the workplace. In 2021, we announced a new education benefit, Your Tomorrow. Your Tomorrow was created in partnership with Guild Education
to pay 100% of benefits-eligible employees’ and dependents’ tuition for a broad range of four-year college degree programs, as well as programs such as high-school equivalency and, for employees, other certificate programs and graduate degrees. We also provide plans to help employees save for their future; refer to Note 9 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, 2021, 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, 2021, 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, 2021 are summarized in Note 10 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, process and manage solid waste and recyclables 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, construction, 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, materials recovery facility, compost 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, permits are subject to renewal, modification, suspension or revocation by the issuing authority. 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 current U.S. administration, for example, has been taking steps towards reinstating, and in some cases enhancing, policies and regulations rolled back by the previous administration. While increasing regulation may have a negative impact on our operating costs, extensive environmental regulation applicable to the waste sector is also 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.|
We continue to monitor certain developments under RCRA, including relief from increased user fees accompanying the system that the EPA uses to track hazardous waste shipments electronically, potential changes to the rules governing the disposal and beneficial use of coal combustion residuals, and clarity on the U.S. Department of Energy’s progress in establishing a government facility and corresponding fee structure for the long-term storage and disposal of elemental mercury. We cannot predict what costs we will incur in connection with these regulations, but we do not anticipate a material impact to our operations. We also are working closely with both agencies to minimize risks to our industry on these regulatory matters.
|●||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 federally protected 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.|
|The EPA also requires landfills and other waste-handling facilities to obtain storm water discharge permits, and 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 certain “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. Many of our municipal solid waste (“MSW”) landfills and landfill gas-to-energy facilities are subject to regulations implemented under the Clean Air Act, including new source performance standards, emission guidelines and national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. These 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 EPA finalized a rule in May 2021 implementing landfill gas control and monitoring requirements for older landfills; however, the regulatory changes contemplated therein are not expected to have a material adverse impact on our business as a whole. We also are closely monitoring the evolving capabilities of ground, aerial, and satellite-based methane detection and monitoring systems, and investing in pilot programs to further explore these innovations. As these technologies are expected to advance rapidly in the coming years, we are continuing to engage with the EPA on the implications of the changing landscape for the waste industry and potential future regulation.
|●||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.|
OSHA has recently indicated that it will pursue COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements through a traditional rulemaking process, and additional vaccine mandates may be announced in jurisdictions in which our businesses operate. We cannot currently predict the impact of any such vaccine requirements on our workforce.
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, and laws governing where recyclable materials can be sold. 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 materials at landfills, such as recyclable materials (cardboard, bottles and cans), yard waste, food waste and electronics. The number of state and local governments with recycling and diversion requirements and disposal bans continues to grow, while the logistics and economics of recycling or processing many of these 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, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court for waste directed to facilities owned by the local government. 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.
Emerging Trends in Policy and Regulation
Climate and Sustainability
Jurisdictions are increasingly taking action to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions through a broad range of climate policies. As landfills are emerging as one of the focal points for advancing climate-related goals, we are actively working with policymakers to ensure they recognize the significant reductions in GHG emissions that the waste sector already has achieved and the work being done to further reduce emissions, the challenges associated with quantifying landfill emissions precisely, and the role of our sector in providing an essential, and highly regulated, public service.
In light of regulatory and business developments related to concerns about climate change, we have identified strategic business opportunities 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, composting, and conversion of landfill gas and discarded materials into electricity and fuel. We use carbon life cycle assessment 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 our Company’s 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 sustainability and environmental stewardship, we have published our 2021 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 2021 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 being listed on the 2021 Dow Jones Sustainability Index World and North America Indices.
Efforts to address sites contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) have drawn increased attention by the federal government and in the states. PFAS are a large group of chemicals that have been used in industrial and consumer products since the 1940s, including in products as diverse as carpets, paints and stains, water-resistant clothing and fabrics, nonstick cookware, food packaging, and firefighting chemicals. Possible human health effects of exposure to certain PFAS compounds may include low infant birth weights, immune system impacts, or cancer. In October 2021, the EPA released its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, providing a high-level overview of activities that the agency intends to take through 2024 to address PFAS contamination. These actions include establishing drinking water standards, expanded authority for PFAS remediation, research and data collection on landfill discharges of PFAS in leachate, new risk assessments and test procedures, and updated guidance on PFAS disposal and destruction options. 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. 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.
Recycling; Foreign Import and Export Regulations and Material Restrictions
Enforcement or implementation of foreign and domestic regulations can affect our ability to export recyclables. Attention on waste in the environment has led to new international laws restricting the flow of certain recyclables. As an example, on January 1, 2021, new restrictions on the international 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. At this time, the U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, but most countries to which we export commodities are, which may limit our ability to export certain plastics.
In recent years, changes in regulations affecting the international flow of recyclables have led to a reduction in export activity for recyclables, higher quality requirements, and higher processing costs. COVID-19 placed additional financial stress on recyclers and municipalities, resulting in some recycling programs being paused or eliminated. These changes have led to a number of states considering EPR regulations.
Prices and demand for recyclables fluctuate. Recycling revenue increased $537 million and $75 million in 2021 and 2020, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods primarily from higher market prices for recycling commodities. To support recent increases in both quality requirements and demand for commodities, we have increased our investment in recycling infrastructure and the size of our recycling operations. This, in turn, increases our exposure to commodity price fluctuations. Additionally, future regulation, tariffs, international trade policies or other initiatives may impact supply and demand of material, or increase operating costs, which could impact the profitability of our recycling operations.
For the past several years, we have been working with stakeholders to educate the public on the need to recycle properly. We continue to invest time and effort in working closely with customers to improve the quality of materials received 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 continued to have a positive impact on the operating results for our recycling business in 2021.
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 bags and straws, polystyrene plastic, and some types of single use packaging. These bans have increased pressure by manufacturers on our recycling facilities to accept a broader array of materials in curbside recycling and composting programs to alleviate public pressures to ban the sale of those materials. However, with no viable end markets for many of 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 are proactively engaging 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 methane produced from the Company’s landfills and convert it into RNG. RNG produced from our landfills, as well as dairy biogas, constitute 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 authorized the RFS program that promotes the production and use of renewable transportation fuels. Many of our facilities are the EPA-registered producers 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 RINs, from renewable fuel producers. Market uncertainty related to the EPA’s implementation of the RFS program led to volatility and declines 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. The market’s expectations were realized in December 2021, when the EPA proposed robust volumetric standards under the RFS program while proposing to deny all pending applications for small refinery exemptions. The EPA is expected to propose a rule later in 2022 setting forth the direction of the RFS program for 2023 and years after, which rule is expected to afford additional opportunities for the biogas sector to participate in the RFS program. We will continue to advocate for the current 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 impacted the financial performance of the facilities constructed to capture and treat the gas.
Federal, state, and local governments 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.
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. 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 2022 and beyond and could cause actual results to be materially different from those 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. The Company continues to be optimistic about volume recovery and overall economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, uncertainty remains with respect to various factors that influence the pace of economic recovery, including the risks discussed below and the potential for future resurgence in transmission of COVID-19 and related business closures due to virus variants or otherwise. Such conditions could have an unanticipated adverse impact on our business. We assume no obligation to update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of future events, circumstances or developments or otherwise.
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, due to inflationary cost pressure or otherwise.|
|●||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.|
|●||As we complete the integration of our prior acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“Advanced Disposal”), we may not continue to realize the strategic benefits and cost synergies anticipated.|
|●||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.
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.
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.
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 alleged environmental damage. Federal, state and local governments 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. (Also see Item 1A. Risk Factors — Market disruption, including labor shortages and supply chain constraints, and macroeconomic pressures, including the heightened pace of inflation, have adversely impacted our business and results of operations.) 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 WM 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, or challenges to our assertions of social and environmental responsibility, could tarnish our reputation and reduce the value of our brand. Damage to our reputation could reduce demand for our services and potentially 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 are proactively engaging 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 may not be 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 geographic 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 geographic 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 period may not be indicative of operating results for any other 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 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 initial business closures and negative impact on general economic conditions resulted in volume declines and reductions in customers’ waste service needs, which negatively impacted our results of operations and cash flows. In particular, COVID-19 caused decreases in volumes in higher margin businesses, impacting key financial metrics.
Throughout 2021, our volumes recovered from the sharp decline experienced in April 2020, with minimal impact from the resurgence in transmission of COVID-19 associated with recent virus variants, as communities and businesses remained open. However, uncertainty remains with respect to various factors that influence the pace of economic recovery, including factors discussed in the two risk factors immediately below. The potential for future resurgence in transmission of COVID-19 and related business closures, due to COVID-19 variants or other pandemic conditions, could adversely impact our volumes and costs in the future. If such conditions were to deepen and extend the broad-based economic slow-down, 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. Additionally, if a large portion of our employee base were to become ill, it could impact our ability to provide timely and reliable service.
Governmental regulations requiring mandatory COVID-19 vaccination of employees could adversely impact our ability to perform or compete for certain contracts and negatively affect our results of operations.
In September 2021, President Biden issued an executive order requiring all employers with U.S. government contracts to ensure that their U.S.-based employees, contractors and subcontractors that work on or in support of U.S. government contracts, with some exceptions, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We are currently party to certain service agreements with the U.S. government. The vaccine mandate is facing legal challenges and currently is enjoined nationwide. In November 2021, OSHA announced an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) mandating either full vaccination against COVID-19 or weekly testing of employees for employers with 100 or more employees; however, the agency withdrew the ETS in January 2022 following an unfavorable decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. OSHA has indicated that it will continue to pursue the vaccine and testing requirements of the ETS through the traditional rulemaking process, and additional vaccine mandates may be announced in jurisdictions in which our businesses operate. We cannot currently predict the impact of any such vaccine requirements on our workforce, although implementation may result in our inability to perform or compete for certain contracts, as well as significant cost, operational disruption, attrition and difficulty securing future labor needs in the already-constrained labor market.
Market disruption, including labor shortages and supply chain constraints, and macroeconomic pressures, including the heightened pace of inflation, have adversely impacted our business and results of operations.
Certain macroeconomic pressures and market disruption, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, intensified during the second half of 2021 and are continuing. The constrained labor market has resulted in increased costs for wage adjustments, overtime hours and training new hires to address operational challenges servicing customers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the constrained labor market have also contributed to significant global supply chain disruption and inflationary pressure for the goods and services we purchase, with a particular impact on our repair and maintenance costs. Supply chain constraints have also caused delayed delivery of fleet, steel containers and other purchases. Aspects of our business rely on third-party transportation providers, and such services have become more limited and expensive. Additionally, we are currently experiencing margin pressures from commodity-driven business impacts, particularly from recycling brokerage rebates and higher fuel prices. The extent and duration of the impact of these labor market, supply chain and transportation challenges are subject to numerous factors, including the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; size, location and qualifications of the labor pool; behavioral changes; wage and price structures; adoption of new or revised regulations; and broader macroeconomic conditions. If we are not able to overcome limitations on labor availability, it could materially impact our ability to service our customers and our financial results.
Accelerated and pronounced economic pressures, such as the recent inflationary cost pressures on labor and the goods and services we rely upon to deliver service to our customers, have had and continue to have a significant impact on our cost structure and capital expenditures. Significant components of our operating expenses vary directly as we experience changes in revenue due to volume and a heightened pace of inflation, and we may not be able to dynamically manage our cost structure in response to such changes. A significant portion of our revenue is tied to a price escalation index with a lookback provision, resulting in a timing lag in our ability to recover increased costs under those contracts during this period of rapid inflation. Separately, for many of our customers we provide services under multi-year contracts that can restrict our ability to increase prices and the timing of such increases. Our overall strategic pricing efforts are focused on recovering as much of the inflationary cost increases we experience in our business as possible by increasing our average unit rate, but such efforts may not be successful for various reasons including the pace of inflation, operating cost inefficiencies, contractual limitations, and market responses. The inability to adequately increase prices to offset increased
costs and inflationary pressures, or otherwise mitigate the impact of these macroeconomic conditions and market disruptions on our business, will increase our costs of doing business and reduce our margins. If such impacts are prolonged and substantial, they could have a material negative effect on our results of operations.
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. Attention on waste in the environment has led to new international laws restricting the flow of certain recyclables. As an example, on January 1, 2021, new restrictions on the international 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. At this time, the U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, but most countries to which we export commodities are, which may limit our ability to export certain plastics.
In recent years, changes in regulations affecting the international flow of recyclables, have led to a reduction in export activity for recyclables, higher quality requirements and higher processing costs. COVID-19 placed additional financial stress on recyclers and municipalities, resulting in some recycling programs being paused or eliminated. These changes have led to a number of states considering EPR regulations.
Prices and demand for recyclables fluctuate. Recycling revenue increased $537 million and $75 million in 2021 and 2020, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods primarily from higher market prices for recycling commodities. To support recent increases in both quality requirements and demand for commodities, we have increased our investment in recycling infrastructure and the size of our recycling operations. This, in turn, increases our exposure to commodity price fluctuations. Additionally, future regulation, tariffs, international trade policies or other initiatives may impact supply and demand of material, or increase operating costs, which could impact the profitability of our recycling operations.
Fluctuation in energy prices also affects our business, including recycling of plastics manufactured from petroleum products. Significant variations in the price of biogas, 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 materials at landfills, such as recyclables (cardboard, bottles and cans), yard waste, food waste and electronics. Where 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, and providing alternative 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 bags and straws, polystyrene plastic and some types of single use packaging. These bans have increased pressure by manufacturers on our recycling facilities to accept a broader array of materials in curbside recycling and composting programs to alleviate public pressures to ban the sale of those materials. However, there are currently no viable end markets for recycling many of these materials, and inclusion of such materials in our recycling stream increases contamination and operating costs that 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, 2021, we had $645 million 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 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. However, future changes in tax laws could reverse the impacts of the Tax Act, and the current presidential administration has previously indicated support for increasing the U.S. corporate statutory tax rate. If ultimately enacted into law, such an increase could materially impact our tax provision, cash tax liability, effective tax rate and net deferred tax liabilities.
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. Fuel supply shortages and price increases could substantially increase our operating expenses. 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. 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. Significant system failures could impede our ability to timely collect and report financial results in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Employee work-from-home arrangements prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic increase various technology 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.
We are implementing a new enterprise resource planning and human capital management 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 and human capital management (“ERP/HCM”) system. The ERP/HCM system implementation requires the integration of the new 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, and we have made interim adjustments to our implementation timeline to accommodate aspects that have proven more difficult, or time consuming than initially predicted. Any material disruptions, delays, deficiencies or cost increases associated with the design and implementation of our new ERP/HCM 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/HCM 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.
Significant cybersecurity incidents 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, customers, and vendors. 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 Company experienced a cyber intrusion in the first quarter of 2021 that was promptly detected, and the third-party software vulnerability was quickly remediated. There was no impact to the Company’s operations, services or financial statements. A subsidiary of WMI provided notice to potentially affected individuals, U.S. state and federal regulators, and Canadian regulators. As a result of the cyber intrusion, regulatory investigations may result in costs, fines, penalties, or other obligations. Additionally, a subsidiary of WMI is party to a class action case related to this incident. The Company intends to vigorously defend itself against any such proceedings and does not expect that the outcome of any proceedings related to the 2021 incident will have a material adverse effect on the Company’s business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows; however, assessing and responding to this intrusion required a significant amount of time and management attention. An incident that results in a material theft, destruction, loss, misappropriation, or release of sensitive and/or confidential information or intellectual property, or material 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.
As the Company pursues its strategy to grow through acquisitions 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.
Increased regulation by state and federal governments related to cybersecurity protections and disclosures may require additional resources for compliance, and any inability, or perceived inability, to adequately address new requirements 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.
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 and commit substantial time and resources towards compliance with new laws and regulations. These laws provide disclosure obligations for businesses that collect personal information, individual rights relating to personal information, collection and storage requirements, automated decision-making transparency, and potential liability expansion. 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 through 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 alleged 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 to federal and state renewable fuel policies could affect our financial performance in that sector as a renewable fuel producer and impact our projected future investments.
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 and dairy digester gas into renewable natural gas so that we can participate in the program, and the Company has stated its intention to grow its asset base to notably increase its RNG production by 2026. RINs prices generally respond to regulations enacted by the EPA or other regulatory bodies, as well as fluctuations in supply and demand. The value of the RINs associated with renewable natural 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 current administration to implement policies that ensure long-term stability for renewable transportation fuels. Changes in the RFS market, the structure of the RFS program or RINs prices and demand can and has impacted the financial performance of the facilities constructed to capture and treat the gas and could impact or alter our projected future investments.
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.
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. 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.
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, including governmental proceedings. 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 $2.5 billion of debt as of December 31, 2021 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, 2021, we had no outstanding borrowings under this facility. We had $167 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 $1.5 billion as of December 31, 2021. 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 also carry a broad range of other insurance coverages that are customary for a company our size. To the extent our obligations for claims are more than we estimated, our insurance coverage is inadequate to cover our obligations, or our insurers are unable to meet their obligations, the requirement that we pay such obligations could have a material adverse effect on our financial results.
In addition, to fulfill our financial assurance obligations with respect to variable-rate tax-exempt debt, and 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 WMI financial guarantees. Our financial position, which can be negatively affected by asset impairments, our credit profile and general economic factors, may increase 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. 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 required to deposit cash to collateralize certain obligations, which could negatively impact our liquidity.
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 9 and 10 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more information related to our participation in Multiemployer Pension Plans.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.
Item 2. Properties.
Our principal executive offices are in Houston, Texas where we lease approximately 297,000 square feet under a lease expiring in 2035. We also have administrative offices in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois 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, 2021 and 2020, our landfills owned or operated consisted of total acreage of 173,071 and 172,217; permitted acreage of 45,897 and 45,642; and expansion acreage of 674 and 716, 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 10 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 9, 2022 was 8,099.
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. During 2021, we allocated an aggregate of $1.35 billion in cash under our accelerated share repurchase (“ASR”) agreements. As of December 31, 2021, we had received 8.7 million shares with a weighted average price per share of $146.61. In January 2022, we completed our ASR agreement executed in December 2021, at which time we received an additional 0.4 million shares. See Note 13 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
The following table summarizes common stock repurchases made during the fourth quarter of 2021 (shares in millions):
Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Total Number of
Shares Purchased as
Part of Publicly
Dollar Value of Shares that
Announced Plans or
May Yet be Purchased Under
the Plans or Programs
October 1 — 31
November 1 — 30
December 1 — 31
|(a)||In August 2021, we entered into an ASR agreement to repurchase $500 million of our common stock. At the beginning of the repurchase period, we delivered $500 million in cash and received 2.7 million shares based on a stock price of $147.27. The ASR agreement completed in the fourth quarter of 2021, at which time we received 0.5 million additional shares based on a final weighted average price of $154.72.|
In December 2021, we executed an ASR agreement to repurchase $350 million of our common stock. At the beginning of the repurchase period, we delivered $350 million in cash and received 1.7 million shares based on a stock price of $160.67. The ASR agreement completed in January 2022, at which time we received 0.4 million additional shares based on a final weighted average price of $160.33.
The “Average Price Paid per Share” in the table represents the final weighted average price per share paid for the ASR agreement executed in August 2021 and the initial price per share paid for the ASR agreement executed in December 2021.
We announced in December 2021 that the Board of Directors has authorized up to $1.5 billion in future share repurchases.
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. [Reserved]
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, 2021. 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 throughout 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 or natural gas. 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 provide collection, transfer, disposal, and recycling and resource recovery services. Consistent with our Company’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, we published our 2021 Sustainability Report, which details our people-first 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 it 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 “Regulation – Emerging Trends in Policy and Regulation – Climate and Sustainability” in Item 1.
In 2021, our senior management began evaluating, overseeing and managing the financial performance of our Solid Waste operations through two operating segments. Our East Tier primarily consists of geographic areas located in the Eastern U.S., the Great Lakes region and substantially all of Canada. Our West Tier primarily includes geographic areas located in the Western U.S., including the upper Midwest region, and British Columbia, Canada. Each of our Solid Waste operating segments provides integrated environmental services, including collection, transfer, recycling, and disposal. The Company finalized the assessment of our segments during the fourth quarter of 2021. The East and West Tiers are presented in this report and constitute our existing Solid Waste business.
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, fuel surcharge and regulatory recovery fees 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 grew 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 a $3.0 billion, 364-day, U.S. revolving credit facility (“364-day revolving credit facility”) and our commercial paper program. In November 2020, we issued $2.5 billion of senior notes and used a portion of the proceeds to repay all outstanding borrowings under the 364-day revolving credit facility at which time it was terminated. As a result of the acquisition we recorded $4.1 billion of net assets including $2.5 billion of goodwill as of December 31, 2020. Post-closing adjustments to our purchase price allocation were not material.
In connection with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal, 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 acquisition, the divestiture transactions were consummated and the Company subsequently received cash proceeds from the sale of $856 million.
See Note 11 and 17 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more information.
For the year ended December 31, 2021, we incurred $51 million of integration related costs, and for the year ended December 31, 2020, we incurred $156 million of acquisition and integration related costs, which were 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. Post-closing through December 31, 2020, Advanced Disposal 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. During 2021, we made significant progress on our integration of Advanced Disposal. The focus of these efforts has been to ensure that we continue to provide uninterrupted service to our customers through the integration of certain customer facing and back office digital platforms.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, 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. We continue to operate with a focus on protecting the health and safety of our employees and maintaining business continuity for our customers. These efforts, combined with our disciplined execution in our daily operations, have positioned the Company to prudently manage the challenges presented by COVID-19.
The impacts of COVID-19 on the global economy increased rapidly during the second quarter of 2020, affecting our business in most geographies and across a variety of our customer types. Over the last year, our volumes have been recovering from the sharp decline experienced in April 2020 as a result of COVID-19. The pace of recovery in our volumes accelerated in the second quarter of 2021, and continued in the back-half of 2021 with minimal impact from the resurgence in transmission of recent COVID-19 virus variants as communities and businesses remained open. The portions of our business that had the most pronounced decreases in volume due to the pandemic were our industrial and commercial collection businesses and construction and demolition and special waste volumes at our landfills. As we completed 2021, volumes in each of these lines of business were either on par with pre-pandemic levels or have now surpassed 2019 volumes. We continue to be optimistic about our volume recovery and overall economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, uncertainty remains with respect to various factors that influence the pace of economic recovery and the potential for future resurgence in transmission of COVID-19 and related business closures due to virus variants or otherwise. Such conditions could adversely impact our volumes and costs in the future.
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 service 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. This includes expanding traditional recycling services, increasing organics collection and processing, and expanding our renewable energy projects to meet the evolving needs of our diverse customer base. As the leading waste management environmental services provider in North America, we are taking big, bold steps in an effort to catalyze positive change – change that will impact our Company as well as the communities we serve. Our sustainability agenda includes expanding recycling and focuses on meeting or exceeding specific 2025 and 2038 sustainability goals around people, customers, the environment, and community, which align with eight of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
We encounter intense competition from governmental, quasi-governmental and private service providers based on pricing, and to a much lesser extent, the nature of service offerings, particularly in the residential line of business. 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 directly as we experience changes in revenue due to volume and a heightened pace of inflation. Volume changes can fluctuate dramatically by line of business and volume changes in higher margin businesses, such as what we saw with COVID-19, can impact key financial metrics. We must dynamically manage our cost structure in response to volume changes and cost inflation.
We believe the Company’s industry-leading asset network and strategic focus on investing in our people and our digital platform will give the Company the necessary tools to address the evolving challenges impacting the Company and our industry. In line with our commitment to continuous improvement and a differentiated customer experience, we remain focused on our customer service digitalization initiative to change the way we interact with our customers. Enhancements made through this initiative are intended to seamlessly and digitally connect all the Company’s functions required to service our customers in order to provide the best experience and service. Additionally, in early 2022, we substantially implemented our new enterprise resource planning system which will drive operational and service excellence by empowering our people through a modern, simplified and connected employee experience.
Certain macroeconomic pressures and market disruption, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, intensified during the second half of 2021 and are continuing. The constrained labor market has resulted in increased costs for wage adjustments, overtime hours and training new hires to address frontline employee turnover, increased volume, and operational challenges servicing customers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the constrained labor market have also contributed to significant global supply chain disruption and inflationary pressure for the goods and services we purchase, with a particular impact on our repair and maintenance costs. Supply chain constraints have also caused delayed delivery of fleet, steel containers and other purchases. Aspects of our business rely on third-party transportation providers, and such services have become more limited and expensive. Additionally, we are currently experiencing margin pressures from commodity-driven business impacts, particularly from recycling brokerage rebates and higher fuel prices. The extent and duration of the impact of these labor market, supply chain and transportation challenges are subject to numerous factors, including the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; size, location and qualifications of the labor pool; behavioral changes; wage and price structures; adoption of new or revised regulations, including vaccine mandates; and broader macroeconomic conditions. As costs increase, we focus on our strategic pricing efforts, as well as operating efficiencies and cost controls, to maintain and grow our earnings and cash flow. With increased pressure from the strong economic recovery, particularly on labor, we remain focused on putting our people first to ensure that they are well positioned to diligently and safely execute our daily operations. We are encouraged by our results in 2021 and remain focused on delivering outstanding customer service, managing our variable costs with changing volumes and investing in technology that will enhance our customers’ experience and reduce our cost to serve.
Current Year Financial Results
During 2021, we delivered strong revenue and income from operations as we continued to experience higher yield and volume recovery in our landfill, commercial and industrial collection businesses and benefited from the acquisition of Advanced Disposal. However, our income from operations was impacted by constraints on labor availability and inflationary cost pressures, primarily in the second half of 2021. We continue to invest in our people through market wage adjustments, investments in our digital platform and training for new team members. In addition, we are focused on executing on our disciplined pricing programs to drive margin growth in the face of these additional labor cost and inflationary pressures. We also made significant investments in recycling automation technology and customer service digitalization to further support our continued focus on optimizing operational efficiency as well as achieving improved labor productivity for all lines of business. During 2021, the Company allocated $1,904 million of available cash to capital expenditures. We also allocated $2,320 million of available cash to our shareholders during 2021 through dividends and common stock repurchases.
Key elements of our 2021 financial results include:
|●||Revenues of $17,931 million for 2021 compared with $15,218 million in 2020, an increase of $2,713 million, or 17.8%. The increase is primarily attributable to (i) the acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (ii) record-high increases in the market prices for recycling commodities we sell; (iii) higher yield in our collection and disposal lines of business and (iv) strong volume growth;|
|●||Operating expenses of $11,111 million in 2021, or 62.0% of revenues, compared with $9,341 million, or 61.4% of revenues, in 2020. The $1,770 million increase is primarily attributable to (i) increased volumes from the acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (ii) commodity-driven business impacts, particularly from recycling brokerage rebates and higher fuel prices, which also meaningfully impacted our operating expense as a percentage of revenue; (iii) volume recovery from earlier pandemic lows; (iv) labor cost pressure from frontline employee wage adjustments, increased turnover driving up training costs and higher overtime due to driver shortages and volume growth and (v) inflationary cost pressures, primarily in the second half of 2021;|
|●||Selling, general and administrative expenses of $1,864 million in 2021, or 10.4% of revenues, compared with $1,728 million, or 11.4% of revenues, in 2020. The $136 million increase is primarily attributable to (i) higher incentive compensation costs; (ii) strategic investments in our digital platform and (iii) increased labor, support and integration costs following our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. These cost increases are partially offset by (i) lower consulting, advisory and legal fees associated with our completion of the Advanced Disposal acquisition in 2020 and (ii) a decrease in our provision for bad debts as collections returned to pre-pandemic levels;|
|●||Income from operations of $2,965 million, or 16.5% of revenues, in 2021 compared with $2,434 million, or 16.0% of revenues, in 2020. The improved earnings in the current year are driven by (i) strong operating results in our collection and disposal business; (ii) improved profitability in our recycling business; (iii) lower transaction-related costs following our 2020 acquisition of Advanced Disposal and (iv) improved profitability in our WM Renewable Energy business. The increase in income from operations was partially offset by (i) labor cost pressure from frontline employee wage adjustments, increased turnover driving up training costs and higher overtime due to driver shortages and volume growth; (ii) inflationary cost pressures and (iii) increased depreciation and amortization from our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and increased landfill amortization from higher volumes and revisions in landfill estimates. During 2021, the positive earnings contributions from Advanced Disposal were offset by elevated depreciation and amortization of acquired assets;|
|●||Net income attributable to Waste Management, Inc. was $1,816 million, or $4.29 per diluted share, compared with $1,496 million, or $3.52 per diluted share, in the prior year period. The increase in income from operations discussed above, in addition to lower interest expense, drove an increase in net income which was partially offset by a loss on early extinguishment of debt;|
|●||Net cash provided by operating activities was $4,338 million in 2021, compared with $3,403 million in 2020 with the improvement driven by (i) an increase in earnings; (ii) our acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (iii) lower interest payments; (iv) lower income taxes paid in the current year and (v) favorable changes in our working capital, net of effects of acquisitions and divestitures; and|
|●||Free cash flow was $2,530 million in 2021, compared with $2,656 million in 2020. The decrease in free cash flow is primarily attributable to higher proceeds from divestitures in 2020 primarily related to assets required to be sold by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal, partially offset by an increase in net cash provided by operating activities discussed above. Free cash flow is a non-GAAP measure of liquidity. Refer to Free Cash Flow below 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 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. We also provide additional services that are not managed through our Solid Waste business, including both our Strategic Business Solutions (“WMSBS”) and Energy and Environmental Services (“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 for the year ended December 31 are as follows (in millions):
|(a)||The “Other” line of business includes (i) certain services provided by our WMSBS business; (ii) our landfill gas-to-energy operations managed by our WM Renewable Energy business; (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. Revenue attributable to collection, landfill, transfer and recycling services provided by our “Other” businesses has been reflected as a component of the relevant 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):
2021 vs. 2020
2020 vs. 2019
As a % of
As a % of
As a % of
As a % of
Collection and disposal
Fuel surcharges and other (d)
Total average yield (e)
Internal revenue growth
Foreign currency translation
|(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)||Beginning in 2021, includes changes in our revenue attributable to our WM Renewable Energy business from yield, which is included in Fuel Surcharges and Other, and Volume.|
|(e)||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 for the year ended December 31 are as follows (dollars in millions):
2021 vs. 2020
2020 vs. 2019
As a % of
As a % of
Total collection and disposal
Our overall strategic pricing efforts are focused on recovering as much of the inflationary cost increases we experience in our business as possible by increasing our average unit rate. We experienced strong average yield growth in our collection line of business of 4.2% in 2021, up from 2.5% in 2020, showing our focus on our pricing efforts in this inflationary environment. We are driving improvements in our residential line of business, aligning the price charged for services we provide to our customers with the costs to provide the services, resulting in increased average yield in 2021 of 4.5%, up from 2.9% in 2020. We are also continuing to see growth in our landfill and transfer businesses with our municipal solid waste business experiencing 3.2% average yield growth for 2021 compared to 2.3% in 2020. A significant portion of our revenue is tied to a price escalation index with a lookback provision, which has resulted in a timing lag in our ability to recover increased costs under those contracts during this period of rapid inflation. Separately, for many of our customers we provide services under multi-year contracts that can restrict our ability to increase prices and the timing of such increases. As we enter 2022, many of these contract lookback provisions will begin to capture the recent inflationary cost increases.
Recycling — Recycling revenue increased $537 million and $75 million in 2021 and 2020, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods primarily from higher market prices for recycling commodities. Average market prices for recycling commodities at the Company’s facilities were approximately 115% and 19% higher in 2021 and 2020, respectively, when compared with the prior year periods. Market prices began to increase in 2020 from the unprecedented lows experienced in 2019, largely due to COVID-19 related decreases in the supply of recycled materials. Demand for recycled materials strengthened in the back-half of 2020 and continued in 2021, outpacing supply, driven by the growth in e-commerce, businesses re-opening, and manufacturers committing to use more recycled content in their packaging. We have also maintained our focus on converting to a fee-based pricing model that ensures fees paid by customers address the cost of processing materials and the impact on our cost structure of managing contamination in the recycling stream.
Fuel Surcharges and Other — These fees, which include our fuel surcharge program, yield from our WM Renewable Energy business and other mandated fees, increased $240 million in 2021, as compared with 2020, and decreased $151 million in 2020 as compared with 2019. Fuel surcharge revenues are based on and fluctuate in response to changes in the national average prices for diesel fuel, and also vary with changes in our volume-based revenue activity. Market prices for diesel fuel were almost 30% higher in 2021, when compared with 2020, as diesel fuel prices began to increase towards the end of 2020 and continued to increase throughout 2021. Consistent with the general downturn in oil and gas markets in 2020, market prices for diesel fuel were approximately 16% lower in 2020, as compared to 2019. Additionally, we transitioned certain customers’ pricing away from a fuel surcharge in 2020, reflecting the cost of fuel in the base rates we charge for our services, which further contributed to the decline in 2020 as compared with 2019. Revenue from our WM Renewable Energy business increased in 2021, as compared to 2020, primarily driven by the increase in value for renewable fuel standard credits. The other 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) increased $435 million, or 2.8%, in 2021, as compared with 2020, and decreased $692 million, or 4.5%, in 2020, as compared with 2019.
Over the last year, our volumes have been recovering from the sharp decline experienced in April 2020 as a result of COVID-19. The pace of recovery in our volumes accelerated in the second quarter of 2021 and continued in the back-half of 2021 with minimal impact from the resurgence in transmission of recent COVID-19 virus variants as communities and businesses remained open. The portions of our business that had the most pronounced decreases in volume due to the pandemic were our industrial and commercial collection businesses and our landfill volumes. As we completed 2021, volumes in each of these lines of business were either on par with pre-pandemic levels or have now surpassed 2019 volumes. We continue to be optimistic about volume recovery and overall economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, uncertainty remains with respect to various factors that influence the pace of economic recovery and the potential for future resurgence in transmission of COVID-19 and related business closures due to virus variants or otherwise. Such conditions could adversely impact our volumes in the future. In addition, our WMSBS business volume grew from our continued focus on a differentiated service model for national accounts customers.
Acquisitions and Divestitures
Acquisitions and divestitures resulted in a net increase in revenues of $983 million, or 6.5%, and $240 million, or 1.6%, in 2021 and 2020, respectively, as compared with the prior year periods, primarily due to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal.
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 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
Our operating expenses for 2021 increased, as compared with 2020, primarily due to (i) increased volumes from the acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (ii) commodity-driven business impacts, particularly from recycling brokerage rebates and higher fuel prices; (iii) volume recovery from earlier pandemic lows; (iv) labor cost pressure from frontline employee wage adjustments, increased turnover driving up training costs and higher overtime due to driver shortages and volume growth and (v) inflationary cost pressures, primarily in the second half of 2021. These impacts were partially offset by our continued focus on operating efficiency and efforts to control costs as volumes grow.
Our operating expenses for 2020 decreased, as compared with 2019, primarily due to decreases in our landfill and industrial and commercial collection volumes and our proactive steps to manage our variable costs in response to the volume declines resulting from COVID-19 impacts. The revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic had a greater impact on our higher margin lines of business and 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 was higher than ours and we incurred certain one-time, upfront costs.
Significant items affecting the comparison of operating expenses between reported periods include:
Labor and Related Benefits — The increase in labor and related benefits costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was largely driven by (i) increased labor and related benefits costs related to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (ii) merit and proactive market wage adjustments to hire and retain talent; (iii) volume increases, particularly in our commercial and industrial collection businesses, which when combined with driver shortages and turnover in certain markets, increased overtime and training hours; (iv) higher annual incentive compensation and (v) increases in health and welfare costs attributable to medical care activity generally returning to pre-pandemic levels. 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.
Transfer and Disposal Costs — The increase in transfer and disposal costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was largely driven by increased volume, which includes the volumes from our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and inflationary cost increases from our third-party haulers. 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.
Maintenance and Repairs — The increase in maintenance and repairs costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was largely driven by (i) our acquisition of Advanced Disposal, including intentional investments to bring the acquired fleet to
our standards; (ii) inflationary cost increases for parts, supplies and third-party services; (iii) additional fleet maintenance driven by commercial and industrial collection volume increases; (iv) labor cost pressure from our technicians, including higher overtime from labor shortages; (v) an increase in container repairs driven by volume increases and delays in normal course capital expenditures for steel containers due to both steel costs and supply chain constraints and (vi) increased building maintenance costs including improvements to facilities. 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. Additionally, the 2019 period was also impacted by a $16 million non-cash charge to write-off certain equipment costs related to our Other segment. This decline in costs was partially offset by intentional investments in the acquired Advanced Disposal fleet and inflationary cost pressures for both our Company and third-party services due to demand for skilled technician labor as well as for parts and supplies.
Subcontractor Costs — The increase in subcontractor costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was largely driven by (i) inflationary cost increases from third-party haulers and higher volumes; (ii) an increase in volumes in our WMSBS business, which relies more extensively on subcontracted hauling than our collection and disposal business and (iii) the acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The decrease in subcontractor costs in 2020, as compared with 2019, was largely due to COVID-19 driven 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.
Cost of Goods Sold — The increase in cost of goods sold in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily driven by increases in market prices for recycling commodities of approximately 115% and to a lesser extent, higher recycling volumes. Costs in 2020 were flat when compared with 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 in 2020 were targeted at domestic markets, resulting in lower freight costs.
Fuel — The increase in fuel costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily due to (i) increases of almost 30% in market prices for diesel fuel; (ii) the acquisition of Advanced Disposal and (iii) volume increases in our commercial and industrial collection businesses. The decrease in fuel costs in 2020, as compared with 2019, was primarily due to (i) a decline of approximately 15% 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.
Disposal and Franchise Fees and Taxes — The increase in disposal and franchise fees and taxes in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily driven by (i) landfill volume increases; (ii) disposal rate increases at certain landfills and (iii) additional costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The decrease in disposal and franchise fees and taxes in 2020, as compared with 2019, was primarily related to lower landfill volumes, largely driven by the impact of COVID-19. The decreases were offset, in part, by additional costs attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal.
Landfill Operating Costs — The increase in landfill operating costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily due to volume increases, which includes our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and increased testing and monitoring costs. These increases were partially offset by (i) lower leachate management costs, primarily due to the cessation of certain transportation costs in our East Tier segment and (ii) changes in the measurement of our environmental remediation obligations and recovery assets in 2021 and 2020. Our measurement of these balances includes application of a risk-free discount rate, which is based on the rate for U.S. Treasury bonds. In 2021, there was an increase in the discount rate, which resulted in a reduction in the net liability balance and a credit to expense. Conversely, in 2020, there was a decrease in the discount rate, which resulted in an increase in the net liability balance and a charge to expense.
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.
Risk Management — The increase in risk management costs in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily due to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and overall economic recovery, increasing business activity and claim volumes and related costs. Risk management costs were relatively flat in 2020, as compared with 2019.
Other — Other operating cost increases in 2021, as compared with 2020, were due to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and increased equipment rental costs attributable, in part, to increased volumes and supply chain constraints slowing normal course fleet and equipment orders. Additionally, during the second half of 2021, additional volumes and inflationary cost pressures drove an increase in various costs. Partially offsetting these was a favorable litigation settlement in 2021. Additionally, 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 2021, as compared with 2020, increased primarily due to (i) higher incentive compensation costs; (ii) strategic investments in our digital platform, including planned investments in a new enterprise resource planning system and investments in customer service digitalization and (iii) increased labor, support and integration costs following our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. Partially offsetting these increases are lower consulting, advisory and legal fees from the 2020 acquisition of Advanced Disposal and improvements in our provision for bad debts as collections returned to pre-pandemic levels. Although our costs increased, the significant revenue increase positioned us to reduce our overall selling, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of revenues when compared with the prior year periods.
Selling, general and administrative expenses for 2020, as compared with 2019, 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 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 increased in 2020 due to the decline in volume-related revenues.
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 for 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily due to (i) higher incentive compensation costs; (ii) additional headcount, including from our acquisition of Advanced Disposal; (iii) annual merit increases for our employees; (iv) costs associated with our strategic investments in our digital platform and (v) increases in health and welfare costs attributable to medical care activities generally returning to pre-pandemic levels from the lower level experienced during 2020. The increase in labor and related benefits costs in 2020, as 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
our strategic investments in our digital platform. These cost increases were offset, in part, by (i) lower annual incentive compensation costs and (ii) proactive steps undertaken to defer hiring and reduce labor related costs.
Professional Fees — Professional fees decreased for 2021, as compared with 2020, primarily due to lower consulting, advisory and legal fees following the completion of our acquisition of Advanced Disposal in 2020, partially offset by increased strategic investments in our digital platform and integration costs related to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The increases in professional fees in 2020, as compared with 2019, were primarily driven by consulting, advisory and legal fees incurred in connection with our acquisition and integration of Advanced Disposal and strategic investments in our digital platform.
Provision for Bad Debts — The decrease in provision for bad debts for 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily due to an overall improvement in customer account collections and decreased collection risk with certain customers. The increase in the provision for bad debts in 2020, as compared with 2019, was primarily due to increased collection risk associated with certain customers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other — The increase in other expenses for 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily driven by costs associated with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and increased technology infrastructure costs to support our strategic investments in our digital platform. The decrease in other expenses in 2020, as 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 to support strategic investments in our digital platform. We also incurred one-time technology costs in 2020 to transition employees to work-from-home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 2021, as compared with 2020, was related to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and investments in capital assets, including our fleet, heavy equipment at our landfills and containers to service our customers. The increase in amortization of landfill airspace in 2021, as compared with 2020, was driven by (i) changes in amortization rates driven by revisions in landfill estimates, which includes changes in the anticipated timing of capping, closure and post-closure activities; (ii) our acquisition of Advanced Disposal and (iii) landfill volume increases from the economic recovery. Additionally, 2020 benefited from a decrease in the inflation rate used to estimate capping, closure, and post-closure asset retirement obligations. The increase in amortization of intangible assets in 2021, as compared with 2020, was primarily driven by the amortization of acquired intangible assets related to the acquisition of Advanced Disposal.
The increase in depreciation of tangible property and equipment in 2020, as compared with 2019, was primarily related to (i) investments in capital assets, including our fleet and facilities and (ii) additional depreciation attributable to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. The decrease in amortization of landfill airspace in 2020, as 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, as 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.
During the year ended December 31, 2021, we recognized $8 million of restructuring charges primarily related to our acquisition of Advanced Disposal. 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, 2021, we recognized net gains of $16 million primarily consisting of (i) a $35 million pre-tax gain from the recognition of cumulative translation adjustments on the divestiture of certain non-strategic Canadian operations in our East Tier segment and (ii) an $8 million gain from divestitures of certain ancillary operations in our Other segment. These gains were partially offset by (i) a $20 million charge pertaining to reserves for loss contingencies in our Corporate and Other segment and (ii) $8 million of asset impairment charges primarily related to our WM Renewable Energy business within our Other segment.
During the year ended December 31, 2020, we recognized $35 million of net charges primarily related to (i) a $33 million net gain associated with net asset divestitures executed to address requirements of the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with our acquisition of Advanced Disposal, primarily within our West Tier segment; (ii) $41 million of non-cash impairment charges primarily related to two landfills and an oil field waste injection facility in our West Tier segment; (iii) a $20 million non-cash impairment charge in our East Tier segment due to management’s decision to close a landfill once its constructed airspace is filled and abandon any remaining permitted airspace and (iv) $7 million of net charges primarily related to non-cash impairments of certain assets within our WM Renewable Energy business in our Other segment.
During the year ended December 31, 2019, we recognized asset impairments of $42 million, related to (i) $27 million of goodwill impairment charges within our Other segment, 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 in our West Tier segment.
See Note 2 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 19 to the Consolidated Financial Statements (dollars in millions):