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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Environmental concerns spur business growth

Poole describes how environmental concerns actually helped his case, because as people grew more concerned with the environment in the 1970s, they wanted more and more for their reeking landfills to disappear. That was Poole's business. Environmental concern also accelerated the pace of growth once Poole's business was established, as he needed more and more manpower and vehicles to handle the need for sorting and transportation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JM: Let me ask about this. I'm curious to know about how the early environmental movement so to speak that's just kind of beginning to be kind of recognized in the US in the '70s, how does that come to impinge if at all on your business over time, recycling, landfill environmental concerns those kinds of things? We talked a little bit about that earlier, but how did that begin to be part of the landscape where you were operating? LP: There's really never been a time in the history of our company that public policy hasn't had a pretty dramatic impact on our business. Now, it's not been the same thing over the whole time, but public policy and public emotions and the political winds have always had a dramatic and direct bearing on our growth as a company and development as a company. We were not--in 1970, we were not an industry. We were a mom and pop business. There were 14,000 or so of us. There were ten thousand landfills. The inventory that comprised the infrastructure was really not known. It was a kind of a by guess and by golly sort of numbers. There was not an EPA. There was not a regulatory framework. But the first Federal initiatives and studies and grants where they found out what was in garbage and what are the bad health hazards that can emerge from not doing a good job with your garbage did in fact stir the public interest up. The public actually, once they were sensitized to it, found it quite offensive to have a burning dump right outside of town. Now it was very convenient, but those people who lived over there, it was kind of an obnoxious mess. It had rats and smoke and stink. In the bigger cities, which North Carolina doesn't really have any big cities, it was an even more of an obnoxious mess. It was a health hazard. The stuff was either being put into a, the place you put garbage is normally into a swamp or into some ravine. We just did a really bad job of it. Once the public got onto that, then they expected more and then that drove public policy and legislation to do a better job and to develop and construct sanitary landfills. Then the public said that we don’t want the landfills close to our house. We know we need them, but put them next to somebody else. That's the not in my back yard syndrome. So the end result of that was it became very, very difficult. We were closing substandard sites, but no one wanted you to open up another one. So there was a period of time that we went through this great fear of having a lack of capacity. When that occurred, anyone that had landfill capacity started charging rather serious amounts of money to use up the quote air space. That was in the middle '70s. There were actual lawsuits later that that had been contrived by certain business people and there that was, it was a contrived capacity scarcity thing only to feather their own pocketbooks or line their own pocketbooks. That was not the case, but that was a very big issue back in the '70s. I guess if you had to name the major driving force. It comes down to this we talked about doing a better job and standards but the recovery, resource recovery, that's the recycling part of it. The public embraced that to a much greater extent than even the politicians in their wildest dreams thought they would. The public said, 'We have got to recycle these resources.' With that, up until that point, we had basically a singular waste stream. It was some 200 million tons of solid waste. It was in this singular stream. It was all headed to the dump or the sanitary landfill, whichever way you call it. When we got into recycling, we also got into multiple classes of landfills. We excluded certain landfills, and we said that the landfill is not the final destination. There are multiple destinations. The upshot of that was due to public demand is this waste stream singular, split into thirty or forty components and taken to different places. The sanitary landfill wouldn't take a rubber tire. It had to go to yet another place. The sanitary landfill wouldn't take brush. It had to go to another place. So what that created was a lot of processing, and it created a lot of transportation, and it created a lot of work. That work took this from being a four billion-dollar industry in 1970 into the '90s, it suddenly became a thirty-five to forty billion dollar business. So what had an impact on us being successful is that the public said, 'Let's split it into thirty-two different piles and take it to different places that are further away.' That creates such an immense amount of work, we of course charged for that kind of work but the public wanted it. We were there geared up and ready to provide it and that had a dramatic bearing on our company.