Website Review: WasteManagement.com

It seems like everyone’s a manager these days. Nobody’s doing any work any more; they’re all managing projects. You’ve got the “facilities manager,” who we used to call the janitor. You’ve got a “site manager,” whose job involves over-seeing something (or more likely over-looking something, like the needs of his employees). You’ve got “human resources management,” which was formerly known as bossing people around.
 
As my father might’ve said, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Except I can testify, as someone who’s visited south Asia a half dozen times, that there are in fact plenty of Indians, and most of them are involved in doing and making stuff instead of managing it.
 
Most improbable of all to me is the concept of waste management. Guiding, nurturing and directing — which I’d consider the hallmarks of effective management — aren’t what you do to garbage. You discard it, maybe hassle it a little and then burn it, preferably as far from my backyard as possible. You don’t influence a heap of disposable diapers to stretch beyond its normal comfort zone, pushing the envelope in search of expanded learning opportunities. You hold your nose and call the trash guy.
In the interest of learning more about our national waste stream and how to minimize its effect on the environment, I decided to select Waste Management, Inc. for this week’s Website Review.

It’s a very professional slice of the Internet, befitting the leading provider of comprehensive waste management and environmental services in North America. WM, headquartered in the appropriately named town of Downers Grove, serves nearly 20 million customers through a network of 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfills, and dozens of other variations on the traditional junk heap.

As you might expect in these times, the company tries hard to portray itself as a player in the green movement. They seek to “make a positive difference on the environment” with “waste-to-energy projects” that channel the methane produced by decomposition into 500 megawatts of renewable but disgusting energy each year. They have 425 vehicles converted from diesel fuel to clean-burning natural gas, a first step toward the day they can pull up behind your office and stuff old bagels right into their trucks’ fuel tank. Their landfills will eventually be turned into parks, campgrounds and athletic fields, each containing PVC pipes sticking out of the ground at random intervals to delight curious children interested in enjoying an afternoon of entrapment.

 

Customers of Waste Management’s services include individual residents, businesses and municipalities. In addition to the traditional model of trash pickup by clanging, beeping behemoths outside your window at three in the morning, there’s a significant focus on growing niche businesses such as healthcare. We’re told that hundreds of millions of people are injured each year by improperly discarded “sharps,” those needles, syringes and lancets produced by medical offices and heavy-metal cover bands. The patented MedWasteTracker™ system will safely contain, transport and render sharps harmless.

“Can’t I use a hard-plastic container to store sharps?” asks an obviously ignorant questioner in the FAQ section. “No, please don’t,” is the patient reply. These can apparently burst open when compressed in garbage trucks, projecting HIV-tipped death darts that can bring down a 300-pound WM employee. Also, they advise people to segregate blood-soaked bandages, contaminated wound dressings and dialysis machine filters from their normal trash, though it sounds like these individuals have bigger problems than proper waste disposal. And you’re advised to dispose of expired prescription drugs by mixing them with cat litter or used coffee grounds, to give the local junkie a burst of flavor in every Percodan snort.

Another featured service is something called “bioremediation,” which apparently involves taking earth contaminated with explosives and turning it into potting soil. I’m assuming this is a rather narrow segment of the market, since very few in my neighborhood gardening club have reported dynamite-infused dirt as a problem. WM offers three carefully branded operations to address this: the TOSS (two-step static system, not unlike a Texas roadhouse dance); the BioSite system, for all your toluene, benzene and methyl isobutyl ketone needs; and the Bio-In-A-Box, when for some reason you want to keep your contaminated earthen mounds in an indoor bioreactor, maybe next to your favorite chair.

Waste Management also offers a portable toilet service, but I think we’ll all agree that the less said about this, the better. Suffice it to know that “units are sized from single stalls to trailer-sized crowd pleasers,” presumably for use when that engagement party gets completely out of control.

The website has a handy glossary for those not familiar with the terminology of the waste trade. We’re told that a “brownfield development” is an abandoned or idled industrial facility, not some late-breaking news from your septic tank. There’s the “tipping fee,” which allows your WM employee to retain 15% of your debris for his personal remuneration. And there’s the “working face,” a section of the landfill where waste is being actively placed by employees wearing pained expressions.

[SPOILER ALERT: THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH GETS EVEN MORE DISGUSTING]

We also learn about “leachate,” liquids that have come into contact with waste and descend into what is euphemistically called the “waste footprint.” This is basically the juice of the refuse, an essence of filth so vile that it requires a special name for the area where it collects, the “sump.” This fluid is periodically collected and shipped to the producers at VH1, who are giving it a celebreality show called “Leachates of Love.”

Other pulldowns offer career opportunities, investor information and a fun section called “Greenopolis” for the kids. Job categories include something called a “swamper,” which I’m guessing asks the question “are you willing to touch poo?” as part of the online interview process. Frequently asked questions from stockholders indicate the company is having a small issue with investor confidence: “How could WM have been incorporated in 1987 when I have owned its stock since the early 80s?” and “I used to own 100 shares of WM stock, but now I only have 72 shares. What happened?”

The kids page begins with a giant “KRAK” across the top, which has something to do with recycled comic books. “It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a recycled comic book!” reads a subhead apparently written for 60-year-old children who grew up watching George Reeves as black-and-white TV Superman. Further down, there’s a collection of Twitter posts. “Make petitions, protest, do whatever it takes to make schools green,” writes one young troublemaker. “The students will sprout into green adults, whose kids will be green too.” Especially if you get one of those Bio-In-A-Box setups for your room. There’s also a survey asking site visitors about their favorite animal. Currently in the lead with two votes is “seals from the beach,” followed by “dogs from in a house” with one vote. Trailing the field in a no-vote tie are “monkeys from the jungle,” “lions from Africa,” and “platypus from wherever they live.”

Finally, there’s the requisite Waste Management Facebook link. Incredibly, 763 people have signed up to be fans of the company, including Amy, Rob, Ashley and Ana. There’s lots of good stuff here: a video of the new McNeilus Rear Loader, photos of dumpsters, bins and toters updated just this past Tuesday, and some insightful comments from the fans. “Gosh it’s so scary when you think about our ozone layer!!!!!!!!!!!!! L” notes Savannah grimly, while Greg wants to know “was the picture with the blue equipment taken in Elkridge, MD?” Bill notes sardonically “it’s always nice to hear people talking trash.” Oh, that Bill.

All in all, WM.com is a very professional presentation and I would encourage anyone with a curiosity for rubbish, debris, litter or compost to pursue a more conventional interest, perhaps collecting baseball cards or robbing convenience stores. As for me, I’ve only managed this: wasting too much time on this subject of waste.

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5 Responses to “Website Review: WasteManagement.com”

  1. atticannie Says:

    I love your sense of humor. Have you always done such “out of the box” thinking?

  2. planetross Says:

    Another good solid review.
    I liked the “written for 60 year old children” insight.

    Some people have some serious garbage out there … but it’s pretty green over here at “DavisW’s Blog”.

  3. thirdcoast61 Says:

    Yet another insightful review. But I was wondering what I would use as a garnish for my “refuse juice”. I was thinking on the lines of a small onion or maybe a sprig of mint. I guess I could refer to the FAQ section of the website. Thank again for a well written piece. Love the humor.

  4. Phillip Donnelly Says:

    Leachate and sump pools; one day we will wallow in lakes of our own waste.
    Sad and funny!

  5. Rocky Humbert Says:

    DavisW writes: “Waste Management also offers a portable toilet service, but I think we’ll all agree that the less said about this, the better. ”

    I respectfully differ. The delightful syntactic gymnastics that portable outhouse companies use as corporate monikers might be worth an entire DavisW post.
    1) Johnny-on-the-spot Inc.
    2) The Royal Flush Inc.
    3) Call-a-head Inc.
    4) Dump&Pump Co.
    5) The Last Ditch Effort Co.
    And the list goes on and on and on and on …..

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