33%

Reduction

in greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 compared to 2010

1053114

Tons of Solid Waste

were reduced, recycled, and reused by Casella in 2019

733560

Metric Million BTU

The amount of of renewable energy that Casella's facilities generated from landfill gas, solar, and geothermal energy in 2019


The Path to Drawdown: Landfill Gas

While carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that’s often talked about, methane has 34 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide over the course of a century. And the biggest source of methane are landfills, accounting for 12% of the world’s total methane emissions.

Methane is produced by the organic matter in landfills like food scraps, yard trimmings, junk wood, and wastepaper. Their decomposition produces biogas, a roughly equal mix of carbon dioxide, methane, and small amounts of other gases.

As diets change, waste is reduced, and recycling and composting grow, we’re hopeful that landfill waste as a whole will decline. But for now, as the modern way of life continues and organic matter in landfills continues to decompose, landfills and landfill methane emissions keep growing.

The way to manage this is landfill methane capture - the process of capturing methane generated from anaerobic digestion of municipal solid waste in landfills and incinerating the captured biogas to generate electricity. This solution has double benefits: it captures methane from landfills, and it replaces conventional electricity-generating technologies like coal, oil, and natural gas power plants. 

Currently, enough methane is captured to generate 33.1 TWh of electricity, or 0.13% of total electricity generated worldwide. In the best-case scenario for the year 2050, landfills wouldn’t exist, and integration and waste feedstock availability would mean a net greenhouse gas sequestration, rather than emission. In a less ideal scenario, 70% of the world’s landfills will have adopted methane capture, and they help reduce 2.2 gigatons of CO2e between 2020 and 2050

About

Casella Waste Systems (stock ticker: CWST) is a waste management company based in Rutland, Vermont. They’re a regional, vertically integrated solid waste services company, providing resource management expertise and services to residential, commercial, municipal and industrial customers, primarily in the areas of solid waste collection and disposal, transfer, recycling and organics services.

CWST's Role in Drawdown

Casella (p. 7) operates in six states in the eastern United States, providing integrated solid waste services. Their revenue comes from customers’ fees for solid waste collection and disposal, landfill, landfill gas-to-energy, transfer and recycling services. They also generate and sell electricity at some of their landfill facilities.

Casella owns or operates (p. 3) 46 solid waste collection operations, 58 transfer stations, 20 recycling facilities, eight Subtitle D landfills, four landfill gas-to-energy facilities and one landfill permitted to accept construction and demolition materials.

In 2019, Casella recovered over 4.5 million Million British Thermal Units (MMBtu) (p. 1) landfill gas. They used 50% of it for energy and 50% for flaring.

CWST: What We Like

Casella has been proactive in setting sustainability targets and reducing its carbon footprint over the last decade:

  • They reduced their carbon footprint by 45% (p. 7) between 2005 and 2010 and earned the 2012 EPA Climate Leadership Award for Excellence in GHG Management
  • By 2019, they achieved 33% CO2e reduction (p. 8) compared to 2010
  • Casella is aiming for further cuts, with a target to reach 40% reduction in CO2e below 2010
  • By 2030, they aim (p. 30) to improve their fuel efficiency by reducing the Gigajoules of fuel consumed per tons of waste and recycling collected by 20% below a 2019 baseline

On top of this encouraging focus on sustainability, Casella has also been expanding fast in recent years through acquisitions (p. 33) and landfill permit increases (p. 4)

  • In 2018 they acquired six solid waste collection businesses and one transfer business in its Western region and two businesses consisting of solid waste collection and transfer operations in the Eastern region. 
  • Nine businesses acquired in 2019, mostly tuck-in solid waste collection businesses
  • In 2020, they acquired ten businesses, ranging from seven tuck-in solid waste collection businesses and a solid waste collection business, a transportation business, one recycling operations
  • Since early 2016, Casella has been successful in advancing permit increases at many of their landfill sites in the Northeastern states. Cumulatively, these have added 462,000 tons per year of permitted capacity and ~50.9 million cubic yards of permitted airspace.

 

CWST: What We Want to See Improve

Comply With Environmental Regulations


Casella had 15 environmental compliance sanctions (p. 42), including notices of violation, enforcement orders, and notices of non-compliance/deficiencies. These violations (p. 90-95) range from the contamination of drinking water sources or soil, off-site contamination caused by pollutants or hazardous substances. To stop incurring costs from these violations but more importantly to protect their reputation and moral standing, we urge Casella to thoroughly adhere to environmental rules and regulations.

Scope 3 emissions


We applaud Casella for their comprehensive Sustainability Report, the fact that they track their scope 1 and 2 emissions, and sustained ambition to reduce these emissions. But we would like to call on Casella to go even a step further by reporting their scope 3 emissions so that investors can evaluate the carbon footprint of Casella’s entire supply chain.

Accelerate Renewable Energy Adoption


Part of Casella’s commitment to continue reducing their GHG emissions is to slowly switch to low- or no-emissions energy for their waste collection. But this process is going too slowly. As of 2020 (p. 30), 4% of Casella’s vehicle fleet runs on compressed natural gas (lower carbon footprint than standard diesel trucks) and they intend to pilot one or more electric refuse trucks in 2021. We urge Casella to accelerate their transition to zero-electricity energy sources for their fleet, especially given that they flare 50% of their captured methane, which essentially wastes the potential energy.

Other Landfill Methane Capture Stocks in the Climate Index

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