CleanScapes, Not Such an Underdog Any More, Pisses Off Competitors in the Garbage Biz

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Earlier this week, we reported that CleanScapes--Seattle's brash, eco-minded upstart in the trash-hauling business--is merging with a San Francisco company so that it can expand into recycling and composting. Judging from the reaction we've gotten over the last few days, it looks like the battle over this region's trash is going to get heated.

To recap, CleanScapes, which currently collects half of Seattle's garbage, intends to join forces with Recology, a significantly bigger company. CleanScapes' founder and president Chris Martin told us that one of the main attractions of Recology is that the California firm has "has the largest recycling division on the West Coast" and the "biggest and best composting" facility in the area. Martin also said that he hoped to be able to capture methane gasses released at composting facilities, such as the one run locally by Cedar Grove, and turn it into energy.

First we heard from Cedar Grove, who insisted that its facility does not release methane gasses.

Then, we got a cri de coeur from Jeffry Borgida, general manager of the local division of Allied Waste Services, an industry powerhouse which is known nationally as Republic Services. In an e-mail to SW yesterday, Borgida suggests that his company has the biggest facilities.

As a case in point, he cites Republic's "materials recovery facility" in Anaheim, which he says handles 6,000 tons of recyclables a day. Recology's largest facility, he says, can take a mere 2,100 tons.

"I don't really want to get into a tit for tat," replies Martin. But he thereupon proceeds to say that such figures can be deceiving because, for example, Republic's Anaheim facility takes regular garbage and yard waste as well as recyclables. (The 6,000-ton figure refers only to recyclables, however, according to Borgida).

Martin then makes even a sharper dig. "When you get down to it, cities serviced by Recology have the highest division rates [referring to garbage that is "diverted" from landfills into recycling and composing]. San Francisco is over 70 percent. Las Vegas (a Republic/Allied Waste city) is at 20 percent."

Borgida says this is an unfair comparison because the two cities have vastly different economies and Las Vegas doesn't have the recycling culture that San Francisco (or Seattle) does. A better comparison with San Francisco, he suggests, would be Bellevue, which is serviced by Allied and sends 68 percent of its trash to recycling or composting facilities.

Borgida might be feeling especially touchy about CleanScapes this week as the fight over a collection contract in Issaquah plays out. On Tuesday, the city let it be known that it is likely to jettison Waste Management--its current collector and another giant in the business--in favor of CleanScapes. Allied had also put its hat in the ring, and Borgida wondered aloud why his company's bid, which was considerably lower than CleanScapes', wasn't given more weight.

He also urged people to take a harder look at his homegrown rival now that it is aligning with another company. He noted that, in Recology's hometown, the deal is being seen as an acquisition by the bigger company, not a merger. It's true that CleanScapes will become a subsidiary of Recology, even though the two firms are technically merging.

"CleanScapes was well understood. Everybody knew Chris Martin." But Recology, Borgida, says, is "a new player."

And apparently it is making CleanScapes, once such an underdog that it seemed incredible that it could win a major garbage contract (see our cover story at the time), more of a threat than ever.

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