AN UPDATE FROM WHITETAIL DISPOSAL – FEBRUARY, 2021
2020 was a challenging year for us all, and at Whitetail the unexpected has become the new normal. Until this year, a basic tenant in the trash business was routine, and more importantly, the same routine each day of the week. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the normal or routine for many of us. Early during the pandemic, a lockdown quarantine was ordered requiring everyone to stay home. This lockdown created the need for everyone to manage their lives 24/7 from the home. An unexpected result of the lockdown was an almost overnight 25% increase in trash volumes, and on many recycle routes, volume increases of up to 40%. For example, a “routine” trash route may be designed to service 500 homes and take seven to eight hours to complete. Now, the 500 home’s trash volume equaled 625 home’s trash volume, and on many recycle routes 700 home’s recycle volume. In addition, requests for bulk services have skyrocketed as a direct result of customers working from home and/or making online purchases for home improvements. This increase of demand created a significant routing or logistical challenge. Routes that “routinely” take eight hours and collect 12 tons of trash/volume are running 10 hours or more, and collecting 15 tons volume requiring an extra dumping of the truck. Another challenge, many trash and recycle collection facilities and municipalities were not prepared to handle the increase in volume. A collection facility has limited hours and may only operate between 6am and 4pm, or a municipality may only allow service between 7am and 5pm. This substantial change in volume required Whitetail to analyze, test, internally implement, and launch a new routing system in less than three months while meeting the aggressive goal of a July 1, 2020 start date. The re-route affected almost 75% of our customers, and I want to thank all of our customers for their patience with the changes, and firmly believe the move will benefit everyone both today and long into the future. We want to assure everyone this wide-ranging change in our routing is a once in a lifetime event! Today, we’re confident Whitetail Disposal is prepared to meet any new routing challenges brought on by the pandemic or for that matter most any other daily event like the occasional tropical storm, hurricane, or the first and second nor’easter winter storm in three years. Please find below changes and improvements for our collection services.
As many of you may have seen, Whitetail is working hard on improving our customer communications. The improvements include the new bulk service department, a new phone system, additional staffing in the call center, expanded hours for customer service through email, email updates for individual route challenges and delays due to weather, or challenges and delays on individual routes due to COVID-19 and employee pandemic quarantines. We’re are aware that calling into the office can be challenging when the office is experiencing high call volumes. During times of heavy call volumes to the office, please feel free to utilize firstname.lastname@example.org, you should expect a response before the end of day, or by noon the following work day. Our commitment to assist each customer individually whether by phone or email will continue through the New Year as we both hire and train new team members for the recently expanded call center. This commitment will improve getting calls answered as quickly as possible.
We’re excited to introduce the new Whitetail Bulk Service Department. To safely and properly service your bulk needs, all bulk items must be scheduled and confirmed via email utilizing email@example.com, or phone a minimum of 48 hours before your service day. During periods of heavy demand, bulk services may be scheduled further out on the calendar. Please make sure to alert the bulk department as early as possible, and you’ll receive confirmation of date for service. Visit our bulk page on the website for more details and to review common Q’s & A’s.
For 2021, Whitetail will have a renewed focus on “good recycling” to reduce high contamination levels in the recycling stream by non-recyclable material, trash, and most unfortunately yard waste. In any neighborhood, one bad street, or several bad recyclers on any one street can contaminate the whole load, wasting everyone’s valuable time, hard work and best intentions to be environmentally friendly. The direct result of contamination in the recycle stream is dramatically higher recycle costs for both Whitetail and our recycle partners. Whitetail is committed to improve and expand our customer education on what exactly is “good” recycling material. We also have begun a program converting recycle routes to automated truck service, and upgrading all recycle equipment to 96 gallon recycle toter service. This commitment will allow us the ability to require clean, loose, recycle toter service, vastly improving the quality of our recycle material. The improvements in our recycle effort will REWARD everyone for their valuable time, and hard work on being environmentally correct. In addition, it will help Whitetail maintain stable pricing for recycle service by reducing unnecessary recycle costs incurred from contaminated recycle loads. The goal for 2021 is to have 100% of the recycle routes upgraded to 96 gallon equipment, and have 50% of our recycle fleet automated by years end.
ENERGY & REGULATION
As we look toward the upcoming year and try to plan for what it may hold, we have been forced to reflect on the last year and what it has meant for our business. We hoped and prayed, the challenges of COVID-19 would be behind us by now. Nearly a year into the pandemic, our residential trash and recycle volumes continue to be up nearly 10%. We’re excited about the potential for widespread vaccinations, but are forced to deal with the reality of higher dumping volumes at a minimum for the foreseeable future. Experts from both inside and outside the waste industry say higher volumes might be the new normal, a permanent result of more people working from home long term. COVID-19 continues to drive higher costs including higher volumes, safety and PPE gear, office fumigation, sanitizers, gloves, masks, and finally the major cost of additional employment (routes). Today to complete our routes the daily additional volume requires our crews and trucks to work longer hours driving up our employment costs, repair bills, and finally requiring multiple trips to dump the trucks forcing us to consume more fuel and incur higher dumping fees.
The end of 2020 also brings us a change in the national administration and a renewed focus on environmental sustainability. Whitetail has always striven to operate in an environmentally correct manner. The new administration’s focus is on being “green” with policies that aggressively move to a non-carbon based economic model. The new administration’s environmentally sustainable approach is honorable. The reduction in use of fossil fuels, or movement away from a dependence on carbon based energy sources is a societal and a national decision. On November 3rd, 2020 crude oil prices closed at WTI $37.66 a barrel. Today, February 4th, 2021 crude oil prices are trading at WTI $56.27 a barrel, an almost 50% increase. Higher crude prices directly correlate to higher fuel and operating costs. Whitetail will not be able to absorb higher fuel prices moving forward, and especially considering the higher operating costs due to the pandemic.
Crude Prices (last six months)
We’re hoping for a leveling in fuel costs. Realistically, we believe both in the near and long term there will be a sustained increased in costs. In the near term, we anticipate the price of fuel and oil related products continuing to move higher with the seasonal increase in demand going into the summer driving season and as the economy opens pent up demand coming out of the pandemic. In other words, operating costs across the board will be impacted. Whitetail will always work hard each day to control operating expenses and provide stable pricing as long as possible to our neighbors. We believe the United States is entering into a period of higher costs in general, and more specifically higher operating costs for the waste industry nationwide. For our continued ability to service our customers and the communities in which we operate, and to ensure the longevity of our family business, we may need to address and pass through costs that are not under our control and more driven by government policy.