The commercial waste industry has evolved in many ways over the years, but the basics are often the same: a truck will come sometime to take waste somewhere and customers wonít know the difference as long as everything gets picked up.
Recycle Track Systems (RTS) is among a group of new companies looking to change that dynamic. While they operate as a waste broker in some cities, RTS also offers technical solutions which go beyond that traditional role. Over the past two years, theyíve quietly grown in markets across the country by finding ways to make waste collection easier and verify that itís all going to the right place.
“Our initial focus was that there needs to be transparency and accountability with removing materials,” said Greg Lettieri, co-founder and CEO of RTS. “Itís no longer acceptable to bring that food waste material, after the customer has gone through all the sorting, and put it into a garbage truck.”
Since launching in 2014, RTS has expanded beyond its New York base to cover accounts in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago and parts of New Jersey, California and Virginia. They currently employ 30 peopleóincluding technology developers and contractorsóand have attracted some strong talent.
At its core, the companyís technology is about taking guesswork out of the collection process. For customers, this means having the ability to schedule on-demand pick-ups through the companyís phone app, look at pricing options, receive notification of a truckís arrival, and get reports on how their waste was diverted for recycling. For haulers, this means having tablets in their trucks that provide efficient routing information and other features for all of their stopsónot just the ones handled by RTS.
Lettieri and his longtime friend Adam Pasqualeóco-founder and COO of RTSófirst had the idea for the company over beers a couple summers ago as a way to combine their two different backgrounds.
The technology product development and corporate management experience came from Lettieri. He was director of sales for the telecommunications company Pacnet based out of Hong Kong and later became a senior vice president at Bank of America.
Pasquale grew up working collection routes as part of a multi-generational business in the New York waste industry. In 1998, he took over his familyís companiesóIdeal Sanitation Service & Sam Pasquale Cartingóand eventually learned every job from driver to dispatcher. He later sold the companies to the Action Environmental Group in 2005.
This industry perspective helped RTS gain a foothold in the tough New York market more quickly than a new company probably could have. So far theyíve lined up accounts with companies such as the Four Seasons, Shake Shack, WeWork, and select Whole Foods locations among many others.
Of course, RTS isn’t the only company trying to bring technological innovation to the waste industry. Rubicon Global has received major funding for a business model that is similar in a number of ways. Companies such as Air-Trak, GPS Insight, FleetMind Solutions and many others have their own fleet management software. Yet RTS believes that in addition to proprietary technology, their approach to working with haulers is one of the ways theyíre unique.
Rather than asking multiple haulers to bid on an account, RTS finds the right fit for the job and negotiates a price directly with the customer.
“If our haulers are not profitable then we have no business model,” said Lettieri. “Weíre not looking to pick the lowest cost provider.”
This technology lets RTS see the location of vehicles and in turn notify customers of their pending arrival. That heads up can allow a security guard to open up a loading dock or workers to start carrying waste down to the pick-up area when a truck is close.
These tracking capabilities are also useful to haulers as well. When a customer recently called to complain about waste not being picked up, RTS was able to verify the exact time and duration of the truckís stop that morning. It turned out the hauler had done their job, but someone had put additional waste out after the pick-up.
“The hauler did not have to send a truck there,î said Pasquale. ìIn that scenario the hauler is validated that he was there.”
Despite all of these innovations, the collection process can still have its problems. Earlier this month, RTS received a barrage of calls about late pick-ups on the morning of July 5 due to extra volume from the holiday. Having the technology to specifically locate trucks and provide accurate arrival times was key, but it was their teamís individual focus on customer service that smoothed everything over.
“The real value is owning the customer relationships,” said Lettieri. “When youíre picking up waste and recycling every single day thereís going to be truck issues and thereís going to be service issues no matter how great your platform is.”
That approach has also yielded good results for clients focused on sustainability as rigorous waste diversion goals become a higher priority. For interested clients, RTS has a LEED-certified team that can visit to put up signage, educate employees and find new separation strategies. By request, customers can even get photos of their food scraps being turned into compost on the farm later.
This year RTS brought these methods to Whole Foods as part of New Yorkís Zero Waste Challenge and helped them improve on an already strong recycling and composting program. RTS worked directly with individual departments of the store to boost recycling by 10% and surpass the challengeís goal of a 50% diversion rate.
As more cities set ambitious waste and recycling standards, RTS believes itís well-positioned to meet the increasingly specific needs of both customers and haulers.
“Everyone is looking to make a change and theyíre buying into the program. They want to do more and weíre giving them the tool to do it,” said Lettieri.
Next up, RTS is working on new technology to address the industryís continuing focus on safety and has big plans for growth. They aim to open a Philadelphia office later this year and are looking at a European expansion soon after.
– Cole Rosengren | WasteDive