A Passion for Sustainable Waste Management
Caglia Environmental, a Caglia family company, specializes in state-of-the-art collection and processing of trash and recycling. Ahead of their time, the Caglia family companies have spearheaded sound ecological practices for over 80 years, setting an impressive precedent and helping to preserve and protect the environment of California’s San Joaquin Valley.
The Caglia family launched the Cedar Avenue Recycling and Transfer Station (CARTS) in 2004 as a next generation facility. CARTS stands out because, unlike a traditional garbage dump, it is a fully integrated materials recovery facility that can process mixed recyclables from a wide range of sources. Construction and demolition materials, green waste, food waste, trash, recycling from industrial, commercial, and residential sources—all of it can pass through CARTS. “It is one-stop shopping for all the solid waste needs that a typical business or community would have,” General Manager Alan Davis summarizes.
CARTS diverts from landfills more than 70 percent of the source separated material that passes through the station. “Our main goal for all the waste coming in to the facility is to divert as much of it as we can from landfills.” Much of this waste is repurposed into raw materials that will be transformed into new consumer products. Food wastes are de-packaged and diverted for animal feed or sent to anaerobic digesters which convert the food waste to biogas used to produce electricity. “Our most recent diversion initiative is to get food waste and organic waste out of the landfills,” Mr. Davis shares.
CARTS’ power is supplied by landfill gas from the adjacent Orange Avenue landfill, which is also owned by the Caglia family and is no longer in operation. “Our electricity is generated by a reciprocating engine that is powered 100 percent on landfill gas. That landfill supplies 100 percent of our electricity needs for our whole facility, which is over 1 million-kilowatt hours a year. So we don’t use any diesel motors to run any of the processes at the facility.”
The local utility company buys excess power from CARTS, so the project is a win for the environment and for the business’ bottom line. “It is a net metering project; the utility company gives us power when we need it and when we make extra, they take it back. At the end of the year, if we made more than they gave us, they will give us a credit. It is very similar to how a solar project would work.”
The Caglia family is reducing the use of diesel on the roads as well as in their facility. Caglia Environmental’s collection company, Industrial Waste and Salvage (IWS), is in the process of converting its fleet of garbage trucks from diesel to compressed natural gas. “[That] is a cleaner, carbon negative fuel, which is very important in the Central Valley because we have some air quality issues in this part of the country,” Mr. Davis points out. “That is a big part of our sustainability plan.”
The family’s commitment to sustainability has been in place from their earliest days in the waste management business. “Reuse and recycle as much as you can. That is something that has always been [important to] the whole Caglia family.” The business’ founder, Frank Caglia, emigrated from Italy in the early twentieth century and settled in the Fresno area with his family. He took a job at the Electric Motor Shop when he was just 12 years old, eventually working his way to the top and buying the business. The family still runs this electrical contractor and electrical supply wholesale house under Caglia Enterprises.
After buying Electric Motor Shop, Frank branched out and bought the Orange Avenue landfill. “He started recycling things right away,” Mr. Davis reports. “Everything he could [recycle] was recycled and saved from being put in the landfill.” Frank also embraced Earth Day before it caught on. “In the early days, before Earth Day was popular, Frank would hand out vouchers to people [entitling them to] a free pickup truck of material that they could bring in to help clean up the local community.”
The Caglia family companies have maintained success into the third generation—a notoriously difficult feat. In addition to a strong work ethic and intergenerational drive, one of the secrets to surviving into the third generation is to be humble enough to welcome outside experts. “I think the key is that they were smart enough to recruit and bring in experts in the field to run their business with them. They brought in people who had experience running that business and they [the family] listen to them.”
This outside perspective has helped the company remain relevant and forward-thinking. “They were able to work with [the outside experts] and make the culture changes that they needed to make in order to survive as a business.” These adjustments are critical “when you are competing with multinational businesses in your marketplace—which we do. We compete with the larger corporations every day.”
After eight decades on the job, Caglia family companies have become well-known local fixtures that are committed to the community. “We are local and our customers know the Caglias,” Mr. Davis points out. “They know the name in the Fresno area, and they know that they are going to get great service for a reasonable price, and that we are going to keep our promises, and that the money is going to stay local. I think that is very important.”
The team gives back to the local community through active involvement in numerous charities. “There are multiple nonprofits that we work with throughout the valley. Family members are on multiple boards of nonprofits and spend a lot of time on nonprofit activities.” One important partnership is with the Fresno Metro Ministry. Through a program called Food to Share, the team works hard to get unused food to hungry mouths. “It ties into our organic waste program,” Mr. Davis explains. “A lot of that food is still good; it can be reused as long as you can get it quickly to the people who need it.” Whenever possible, the team diverts the unused food that they collect to local shelters and food banks, rather than taking it to CARTS to be repurposed.
The Caglia family knows that they need to be prepared for the future in order to continue their success into future generations. Mr. Davis notes several industry trends that the company is keeping an eye on. One is automation. “There is going to be more automation because minimum wage in California has already been approved to go to $15 dollars an hour over the next several years, which is going to make the economics of automation look much better. So that is going to be a big push.”
Another game changer is that customers are expecting much more from their waste management provider than in the past. “I think there are going to be more service-driven demands from customers who expect same-day service from their waste provider,” Mr. Davis details. “They also want their waste provider to handle all of their needs, including things like light bulbs and batteries and their bulky waste from renovation work. They want one-stop shopping with one provider who can track all the waste generated from their facility.”
Utilizing a single provider simplifies paperwork for customers who need to keep tabs on their waste disposal methods. “They can track all of it through one service provider so that they have the reporting to show their shareholders and the community and the regulatory agencies what their true diversion is for their total facility. We are seeing more customers [who] want everything to go through us. We are tracking it all and we can give them whatever diversion reports they need to satisfy their internal and external requirements.”
CARTS is taking on more and more types of material to satisfy these customers, and if the team cannot handle it themselves, they subcontract out the work. That way, customers can depend on Caglia Environmental to whisk away everything from grass clippings to medical waste. “Even grease trap waste gets recycled.”
In addition, the company is expanding its reach by launching a new venture that will clean up worksites. “There is a lot of new homebuilding going on in the valley,” Mr. Davis explains. “And there are new requirements from the Cal Green building code that requires, as of January 1, 2017, that 65 percent of construction and demolition waste being generated from new construction needs to be diverted from landfills. It is different than just hauling dumpsters; we are actually doing the cleanup onsite for those contractors.”
With so many new initiatives, the Caglia family is well prepared for the future of the industry. A success story that started 80 years ago by a hardworking immigrant with a dream – and a passion for sustainability – has made it to the third generation of ownership, and there are no plans to slow down anytime soon.