What We Do
We are proud to work with our communities to support local initiatives and to volunteer our time, expertise and resources. From community stewardship projects that create economic opportunities and provide educational resources, to programs supporting sustainable and environmentally responsible communities, every Covanta facility is involved with its surrounding community in some way.
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We believe we have a role to play in the continued success of the communities in which we operate, whether by providing economic opportunity, helping community members in need, or helping to build and support local community organizations.
EfW facilities provide well-paid and highly skilled jobs to local communities and support local economies. In 2019, the RENEW Institute at the University at Buffalo conducted an independent assessment of the contribution of the Niagara Falls EfW facility. The Niagara Falls facility provides steam to six companies, which, together with Covanta Niagara, employ 600 people. Availability of steam from EfW and EfW’s role in more sustainable waste management were factors in Greenpac’s recent $500 million investment in a brand new 100% recycled paperboard mill. The University of Buffalo study concluded that every $1 in facility output supported an additional $0.92 in output at other establishments in NYS, 95% of which were in the Niagara County and next-door Erie County. For every job at the facility, an additional four jobs were supported elsewhere in NYS, of which approximately 91% were in Erie and Niagara Counties.
Supporting Communities in Need
Covanta’s facility-run volunteer programs are focused on helping community members in need, with efforts ranging from hosting clothing drives to supporting food pantries. For example, at our Morristown headquarters and other facilities, employees are volunteering their time at local soup kitchens and even working with a local school to make centerpieces for the tables as part of a school art project. In Camden and Rahway, NJ, we help bring Thanksgiving to families in need, providing baskets of turkeys and other food.
Also at Camden, our contractors have been part of the community as well, bringing in Christmas and holiday gifts for local children when they arrive. In Elizabeth, our employees are donating to the local homeless shelter, helping offset their costs during the cold winter months. It’s a way for our employees to give back and work one-on-one with the communities in which they live and work.
Globally, we donated approximately $2.0 million and $1.8 million in 2017 and 2018, respectively, to local community groups and projects. We also strive to combine resource donations with volunteerism, so that for an event like a litter cleanup, we are donating not only bags and gloves, but also our time.
Whether it be forming partnerships with local energy services organizations, supporting youth teams, donating to local charities, or volunteering in local events, we believe in being active members of the communities in which we work and live. For example, our Covanta Niagara employees partnered with Habitat for Humanity to assist with the remodeling of a vacant property in Niagara Falls. In Indianapolis, we partnered with Playball Indiana to support the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. RBI teaches baseball and softball values to youth and families in inner city Indianapolis.
In demonstration of our commitment to building community, Covanta has created a new program called Covanta Cares, an employee volunteerism initiative in which Covanta employees will be provided with paid time off so they may participate in volunteer / community service activities with a nonprofit organization of their choice. Employees will be given the equivalent number of hours as their regularly scheduled shift to use in a minimum of half-shift increments for volunteer work. Covanta Cares will begin as a pilot at one facility in each region.
As part of the approval process for the Dublin EfW facility, a community gain fund was established. This fund invests in projects that provide environmental, community, educational, and recreational services and/or facilities that will benefit the local communities. Click here for a list of projects supported to date.
We strive to have a strong community participation strategy with the communities where we operate, including contributing new solutions and ideas related to sustainable development.
Facilities as Community Infrastructure
EfW facilities represent key community infrastructure, providing local, reliable and sustainable waste management and energy services. In addition to providing day-to-day service, these facilities can help make the communities more resilient. In fact, when weather and other natural events disrupt the grid, WTE facilities can remain operational, managing both routine waste and the resulting debris from those events, regardless of whether the grid is able to receive the power it can generate. Already providing reliable power to water and wastewater treatment facilities in several communities, and even providing steam to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, there is a further potential to integrate WTE into community microgrids.
Resiliency and Microgrids
Microgrids are energy distribution systems that can operate independent of the main electrical grid. Covanta is working with several local municipalities to establish microgrids connected with our EfW facilities. For example, we are working with the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority in New Jersey to establish a microgrid to power critical local infrastructure during an emergency where the power supply is impacted. The Onondaga County Resource Recovery facility features prominently in the Syracuse Community Microgrid. Awarded Stage 2 for detailed design, the Syracuse Community Microgrid would tie together the Onondaga County EfW facility with critical infrastructure, including a hospital, fire department and police department, a nursing home, a 911 dispatch center, places of refuge and other commercial and residential power demands in a microgrid that could be separated from the larger grid during a loss of grid power or in the case of an emergency.
Cultivating Green Spaces
An important part of Covanta’s community engagement strategy relates to supporting environmental stewardship, including cleaning up local rivers, streets and parks, planting trees or participating in local household hazardous waste programs. At our Camden facility, we continue to support the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership (CFP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing high-quality urban redevelopment projects to revitalize the City of Camden in New Jersey. To date, CFP’s work has focused on redeveloping Camden’s downtown waterfront area, restoring neighborhoods and ensuring the economic growth and security of residents. Because of a lack of tree cover in many places around the city, they are increasingly focusing on green space development. This effort is intended to not only enhance scenic beauty, remove blight and encourage recreation and connectivity, but also provide related environmental benefits, such as improved air quality and flood mitigation.
“From book bag giveaways to complimentary waste disposal at community events to enthusiastic participation in Camden Collaborative Initiative working groups, Covanta is a generous and committed corporate partner in Camden.”
Kris Kolluri, CEO, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership
Part of cultivating green spaces is participating in community cleanups. For example, our employees at our Burnaby facility in Canada joined ABC Recycling in their “Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup,” removing trash from local creek beds and ditches. In New Jersey, Covanta Morristown and the New York Red Bulls joined forces with Jersey Cares in a day of service at Camden Street School in the City of Newark, NJ, to beautify the campus. In Wisconsin, a group of our CES Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI) employees volunteered at a local Villard Avenue cleanup. The CES team worked alongside community leaders and other local business leaders to collect litter and spruce up the neighborhood. Covanta Bristol (Bristol, CT), the Bristol Boys & Girls Club, Home Depot and Quantum Bio Power made their community a little greener by refurbishing nine urban garden beds and building nine more at local affordable housing developments.
The third pillar of our community strategy is supporting youth and education, particularly as it relates to environmental issues, responsible waste management and sustainability.
We do this in a variety of ways, from supporting educational programs to hosting informative exhibits. For example, Covanta York (York, PA) sponsored the York County Envirothon, a hands-on environmental problem-solving competition in which 188 teams of high school–aged students complete training and testing in five natural resource categories: aquatic ecology, forestry, soils/land use, wildlife and current environmental issues. The event provides students the opportunity to explore future careers in environmental conservation and related fields. We’ve also supported Envirothons on Long Island and in Onondaga County. Covanta Hempstead received the 2018 Corporate Partner Award from the Prosper Program, an alternative high school for at-risk students. Hempstead was recognized for hosting expanded tours where students got to view the facility and receive professional and life lessons from the staff.
Building a Green Workforce
We are also committed to providing educational opportunities to the young people in our communities by exposing them to possibilities in “green” careers. Covanta’s Green Workforce program seeks to introduce youth in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York to career ideas to consider after graduation.
Through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs in Newark and Union County, NJ, Covanta helped organize a Green Careers Development Program for students in middle school and high school. The youths embarked on several field trips during the summer, including to a pair of Covanta facilities.
Groups from both clubs traveled to Philadelphia to tour the Covanta Environmental Solutions E-Waste Recycling Facility. The students learned about the potential environmental hazards posed by the improper disposal of electronic waste, then watched how Covanta Environmental Solutions breaks down the various e-waste items it receives and saw the valuable recyclable material recovered before final disposal. The clubs also took a tour of Covanta Union to learn about the Energy-from-Waste process and how it benefits the environment.
Go Green Initiative
The Go Green Initiative (GGI) has been Covanta’s premier environmental education partner for over a decade. The GGI works directly with public school districts in some of Covanta’s most strategic regions and helps schools create healthy learning environments for their students. In NJ, Covanta and the GGI helped the Camden City School District (CCSD) avoid $12 million in fines for being out of compliance with state recycling laws. Additionally, the GGI helped CCSD’s Brimm High School earn the highest level of recognition under the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. Covanta will be working with the GGI to replicate this success in the Newark Public School District in the coming months.
CAUSE at the Camden Aquarium
Covanta supported the Community and Urban Science Enrichment (CAUSE) program run by the Center for Aquatic Sciences at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. The CAUSE program provides youth in the community with “character education, life skill training, mentoring and advanced aquatic science education that leads to paid work as educators for younger kids in their community in summer and after-school activities.” These student educators have a high school graduation rate of 100% in a community that averages 50%. Their college attendance rate is also approaching 100%. Our support has permitted them to develop a marine debris and plastics curriculum, which has now been implemented.
Demonstrating Energy Recovery at Mystic Aquarium
At the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, thousands of visitors since 2016 have visited “Covanta Cove,” an interactive exhibit sponsored by Covanta. Visitors learn how ocean plastics and marine debris can be collected, recycled and turned into clean energy to power neighborhoods at Covanta’s EfW facilities.
Earth Day Education
To support the next generation of environmental leaders, Covanta works with school students on creative ways to share the importance of recycling and responsible waste management. For example, in honor of Earth Day in April 2019, middle school students in Tampa, Florida, participated in a Recycling and Science Poster Contest, jointly organized by Covanta’s eight EfW Florida facilities and Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that administers scholarships for Florida schoolchildren.
The contest asked students to visualize their commitment to recycling and science by depicting a theme, such as Energy-from-Waste, composting, recycling, electronic recycling and more. For its participation, the school received a $500 gift card to Staples to be used for school supplies.
Through Step Up For Students, Covanta has funded over 140 scholarships for deserving Florida students since 2016. The funds are donated through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which serves lower-income children in Florida by allowing them to attend the school of their choice.
Now in its tenth year, the Covanta Scholars Program recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of Covanta employees’ children by providing a financial contribution toward their college education. Each year, Covanta awards two $2,500 scholarships and up to twenty $1,000 scholarships to eligible students on the basis of academic achievement, community involvement, leadership and financial need. In addition, many facilities contribute to scholarship programs at local schools and districts. For example, the Babylon Covantage EcoTech Scholarship Contest is designed to encourage students who are conducting science fair projects or advanced study projects in environmental science courses to focus on renewable energy sources, greenhouse gas reduction, development of alternative building materials or any other means to reduce global warming and environmental degradation.
The fourth pillar of our community strategy is about listening carefully to the waste and pollution concerns that are most important to our stakeholders and then implementing local solutions that help reduce the impacts from waste management. We’re always proud to contribute unique solutions that support local environmental responsibility.
Prescription for Safety (Rx4Safety)
Opioid-related drug overdoses are a growing crisis in the United States. Safe disposal of expired or unwanted medications is an important step to addressing this crisis; but improper disposal, such as by flushing unused medications down the toilet, can poison waterways and damage the ecosystem.
Learn more about Pharmaceutical Waste.
Launched in 2010, Covanta’s Rx4Safety program seeks to address this challenge by providing the means for safe, secure and anonymous disposal of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, veterinary medications and nutritional supplements through participation in community-sponsored, drug take-back events. Pharmaceuticals collected at these events are properly disposed of through thermal destruction so that they do not end up in public waterways and drinking water. Since 2010, Covanta has successfully disposed of more than 2,000 tons of unused prescription medicines, generating more than 1.3 million kWh of renewable electricity, or enough to supply 128 homes with power for a year.
“Pharmaceutical waste disposal is something we are deeply concerned about on behalf of residents across Long Island. Safe disposal methods for unwanted and expired drugs are critically needed to ensure homeowners are not flushing them or pouring them down the drain. Incineration is the only way to ensure that these substances are not getting in our drinking, coastal and marine waters. Covanta’s leadership through the Rx4Safety program has been extremely meaningful to our island.”
Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Each year, 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or abandoned around the globe. During a hurricane season in Florida, for example, up to 300,000 traps can be displaced, along with up to 3,500 miles of rope and nets. In addition to the significant economic loss this presents for fishermen, it causes extensive marine life entanglement, damages sensitive habitats and presents navigational hazards for boaters. Abandoned fishing gear never stops fishing, resulting in harm to fisheries and local biodiversity.
Fishing for Energy—a partnership between Covanta, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and Schnitzer Steel Industries addresses this problem by offering no-cost solutions to recycle and recover energy from derelict and retired gear that would otherwise become marine debris. Over the past decade, 4 million pounds of derelict fishing gear has been collected by engaging more than 1,000 fishermen in 55 U.S. fishing communities in 12 states on the east and west coasts. Through collection events and the installation of collection bins at strategic ports, the program is preserving marine wildlife and has generated enough clean electricity to power more than 44,000 homes for one year.
Thermostats, thermometers and other household items containing mercury are considered hazardous waste. When discarded with everyday trash on its way to landfill, the interior mercury bulbs of these items often break, becoming a dangerous environmental hazard and a major public health concern. Covanta has led mercury awareness initiatives and conducted collection programs since 2000. Our EfW facilities use sophisticated air pollution control equipment that removes 95 percent of mercury. Through these efforts, we have helped divert more than 4,152 pounds of mercury from the waste stream, which is roughly equal to the amount of mercury found in 1.5 million thermostats.
We also believe that the best strategy for preventing releases of mercury and other toxins in the future is to reduce their use in consumer products in the first place. We support well-designed extended producer responsibility programs, and we’re a sustaining partner of the Product Stewardship Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to minimizing the negative impacts of consumer products and packaging.
“Covanta is very dedicated to our mercury collection event. Even though the use of mercury in consumer products has been phasing out for years, it’s always amazing to see how much mercury is still out there in need of responsible collection. Thanks to the generosity of Covanta, we are making progress on that every year to the great benefit and health of our local communities.”
Dereth Glance, Executive Director, Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA)
We also work with community partners to support local e-waste collection events. For example, in 2018, for the fifth year in a row, Covanta participated in Newark, New Jersey, collection events in partnership with Panasonic, the City of Newark and other local partners. During a single event in the Ironbound community, approximately 7,700 pounds of material, including over 6,000 pounds of old television sets, were collected. Other items collected included computers, CD/VCR/DVD players, fax/copy machines, cameras and more. In combination with other e-waste collection events in the Newark area, Covanta has recycled 155,000 pounds of e-waste from residents since 2012.
Flag and Wreath Retirement
We are pleased to be able to provide vital services in support of organizations that remember and reverently honor the deceased men and women of our military. In accordance with U.S. law, the American flag should be “retired” when it is tattered, torn or discolored beyond repair. When that happens, it is to be retired in a dignified manner, historically through a ceremony where it is burned. Though veteran organizations have flag collection and retirement programs in place, the volume of retired flags can become unmanageable as the synthetic materials used to make the flags are unsafe and unhealthy to burn openly in a ceremony. We are pleased to have been able to safely and respectfully dispose of excess flags in our EfW facilities. Led by the many veterans working at our facilities, we conduct retirement ceremonies in partnership with veteran groups. Since Flag Day, June 14, 2018, Covanta has disposed of 55,000 retired flags.
In partnership with Wreaths Across America, we sustainably recycle and dispose of wreaths that are laid on gravestones of military veterans at cemeteries across the United States. In the weeks following the end of the holiday season, for example, hundreds of thousands of evergreen wreaths from more than 1,640 locations are delivered and processed at nearby Covanta EfW facilities free of charge. Covanta’s facilities recover energy from the organic portion of the wreaths, and the metal frame is collected for recycling. Covanta’s Long Island facilities alone collect approximately 40,000 wreaths during the holiday season, generating enough energy to supply electricity to eight homes for one month. In addition, the metal recovered from the Long Island facilities amounts to over 1,000 pounds, enough to manufacture over 8,000 soup cans.