The Evolution of Waste Stream Management with RiverRoad Waste’s Dan McGowan

July 29, 2015

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John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green Is Good. This is the Houlihan Lokey edition of Green Is Good and we are here in beautiful New York City, New York, and we are so excited and honored to have with us Dan McGowan. He is the Chief Operating Officer of RiverRoad Waste. Welcome to Green Is Good.

Dan McGowan: Thank you very much.

John Shegerian: Hey, Dan, before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing in sustainability at RiverRoad, can you share a little bit about your story? How you even got to this point in your life running one of the biggest waste companies in America.

Dan McGowan: Sure absolutely. I started off when I was younger. I grew up down by the Jersey Shore. I spent the summers down there. So really the passion for the clean ocean, making sure the beach was clean kind of developed at a young age and sort of led me down the career path and ultimately wound up – my career – working for a waste management asset company for the first 15-plus years of my career.

John Shegerian: Wow.

Dan McGowan: And then had the opportunity to join RiverRoad Waste about three years ago. It’s a unique opportunity because we truly get to partner with our clients to put waste and recycling programs into place to really help achieve sustainability goals and make sure that recycled materials are coming out of the waste stream and can be removed from a landfill.

John Shegerian: For our listeners out there and audience members that want to check out your great company – RiverRoad – they can go to

Dan McGowan: Correct.

John Shegerian: So explain what RiverRoad manages, how RiverRoad works as a company, what’s your real mission and essence for being?

Dan McGowan: Our goal is to align and partner with large national organizations and regional organizations that have multiple locations and really have them outsource their waste and recycling program to us. But our goals are aligned with theirs. We don’t own any assets. We don’t own and landfills, so really working to try and help them increase their sustainability goals while reducing cost as well.

John Shegerian: So a big chain comes to you – for this discussion, we’ll just call it “ABC Chain” – and they own 2,000 stores nationally. They come to you and you help them manage their whole waste stream better than somebody else.

Dan McGowan: Correct.

John Shegerian: So let’s do a comparison – you versus a large waste concern. Do you have advantages over them?

Dan McGowan: Sure. I think, No. 1, as compared with them, realistically, large waste companies do make money by having the waste end up in a landfill. It’s just where their profits are ultimately generated.

John Shegerian: Right.

Dan McGowan: Whereas for RiverRoad Waste, that’s not our motivation. Our motivation is truly to work to remove waste out of the landfills, how we can recycle more and really even work with our clients to determine what’s in their waste streams so they can go upside and try and remove that from the waste stream even right from the beginning of the process.

John Shegerian: So if I’m the person who is running the ABC retailing chain and you are now pitching me, not only is it a greener process and more sustainable handling of my waste stream now through RiverRoad, but also you’re going to be potentially saving me money.

Dan McGowan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, looking to save money and then using that money too to implement other recycling programs even further increased towards our sustainability goals as well as reducing cost, which we know is important to a lot of clients.

John Shegerian: Do you bring to what is a legacy industry in so many ways – that is maybe a little even considered opaque sometimes – do you bring more transparency to the industry by the processes and procedures that you implement with your client base?

Dan McGowan: Absolutely. We’re fully transparent to our clients. They can go in at any point in time into – we have a proprietary system called “MyRoad” that we use as a client portal that they can log on to and at any point in time they can see all the other services at any location, the status of any work orders or tickets, but also it provides them the reporting they need that will track their sustainability goals as well their spend over periods of time so they can compare that and bring it and use that internally as a selling point as well.

John Shegerian: So talk a little bit about when you go in to a client and you come into my retail shops and you’re trying to figure out how to help me manage my waste stream better, which is probably historically unmanaged – let’s just say. Do you come in and do like a waste audit first and create some sort of accounting of what I even have to get rid of?

Dan McGowan: Yeah. So we’ll have a team of recycling specialists that will go in and audit the waste. I mean, actually go in and fully dumpster-dive and get in there and pull all the different respective types of material out, and they’ll weigh those different types of material. Then we’ll go back to the client and say, “All right, these are the opportunities to recycle something. So typically, what you’ll find is a lot of bottles and cans that are in the trash then “Is there an opportunity for single-stream recycling in that market?” “OK. Let’s move that out.” Is there an opportunity for organics with restaurant clients? And where can we remove that waste and separate that out for the client as well.

John Shegerian: So now you go do that audit process. Then comes education. How does the education process work? How do you gently or less than gently explain to me how badly we’ve been handling our stuff historically – and maybe I know it or maybe I don’t – and how you’re going to help us and really transform the handling of our waste process?

Dan McGowan: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s where the set audits help to give real data. And we’ll find in certain locations – particularly in more educated markets – that have had recycling for a longer period of time, that the recycling levels are higher. But certain other markets are not. So even while they may be a corporate initiative to remove this recycling out, you really get the perspective from the waste audits of what’s actually still going into the waste. So then it is an education campaign and working with those individual stores or marketplaces to provide materials back to them on a one-time basis or a monthly follow-up to how they continuously get that back to show them it’s the breaking down of cardboard to be able to fit more into that container or the understanding of what exactly does single-stream mean, because that could mean something different in each respective market, but educating each individual marketplace with those stores so they can increase that recycling.

John Shegerian: So RiverRoad is based out of here on the East Coast right? It’s in New Jersey?

Dan McGowan: Correct.

John Shegerian: So I assume – if I’m a retailer watching this show today or listening on the radio – you could handle any retailer in any zip code in the country.

Dan McGowan: Yeah. Absolutely. We manage over 25,000 locations nationwide.

John Shegerian: Wow.

Dan McGowan: And our largest client is a retailer with over 8,000 locations today, so really they are covered within every footprint within the 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and Canada.

John Shegerian: Wow. And how big is RiverRoad in terms of employees? How many employees do you have in New Jersey, and how many do you have around the United States?

Dan McGowan: Sure. We have 65 employees overall.

John Shegerian: Wow.

Dan McGowan: About 55 of those are in our corporate office in central New Jersey then we have 10 employees that work remotely that will go out and do site audits and travel around as well as doing client visits.

John Shegerian: And your CEO is actually a woman, which is a little bit of an anomaly in the waste industry.

Dan McGowan: Yeah. Absolutely. But she also comes from a background of an asset light facilities side so has had that experience and brought that to the waste industry as well but also shares the same passion for the environment.

John Shegerian: How many years ago was RiverRoad founded?

Dan McGowan: It was actually founded in 2004.

John Shegerian: In 2004. So you’ve grown now in 11 short years to be one of the largest waste management companies in the United States.

Dan McGowan: Correct. Our CEO came into the company in 2010.

John Shegerian: OK.

Dan McGowan: So we’ve had significant growth since 2010.

John Shegerian: Got you. And for our listeners and audience members who just joined us we’ve got Dan McGowan. He is the COO of RiverRoad Waste. To learn more about RiverRoad Waste, go to We’re going back to how the whole process works. You did the waste audit. You started the education process. How long does the optimization take of saving me money and getting me some documents that show how much is being really recycled and stuff of that nature?

Dan McGowan: Typically, it only takes 60 to 90 days. Once we come into a program, we like to make sure that over the course of the first 90 days we really understand the program. All the services that are in place are exactly what we have and we can confirm with the sites as well as the current providers. Then once we do that and make sure that everything is as the data says it is, then we’ll go and do the site audit during the course of those first 90 days and really at that 90-day point have a plan that we’re presenting back to the client for how we increased the recycling which increases recycling but then keep in mind we’re also looking to reduce the trash levels at the same time. So you get the benefit of the reduced cost and the trash along with increasing the recycling as well as we have an analytics team within the company that uses client data points – so it could be for a bank number of employees for a retail store, it could be case counts – to really estimate what’s the driving force to come up with the total yards of waste that they should have. So we will do that at the same point in time and say, “Hey, that store is getting an eight-yard container three times a week for service, but perhaps they only need one time a week of service,” so further reducing the cost, which again helps out with putting in additional programs for the company or additional recycling initiatives.

John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. I’m going to segue a little bit. You mentioned that you still have to work with some portion of their waste can’t be recycled, so you still have to dispose of a certain portion of their waste. So how do you interrelate with the waste companies now? Do you then work with the two biggest or three biggest waste companies out there? And how do they see you?

Dan McGowan: In certain situations, we do. There are a lot of franchise markets where the largest companies do provide service, but typically, we’re more on the large regional players and trying to partner with those and basically help them as acting as a national accounts wing but really we view ourselves as part of the supply chain and they’re not vendors to us. They’re really partners. And it’s working that partnership along a supply chain between the client and ultimately the service provider – whether that is a waste service provider or an organic service provider, whichever way it is – it’s really viewing ourselves along that, being able to provide consultative information back to our client as well as the data they’re reporting and – as importantly – one point of contact for customer service.

John Shegerian: Really? One point.

Dan McGowan: Yeah.

John Shegerian: So once you land a client – how many sales people do you have out there working on landing business? A lot?

Dan McGowan: No, we just have a couple of sales people.

John Shegerian: A couple of people. So then once you land it, does that client then get passed over to another point of contact to manage that account?

Dan McGowan: Yes. Then we have directors of national accounts who will help manage the program. So they will step in right away to manage the implementation process for the client.

John Shegerian: Wow. That’s so interesting. You mentioned earlier technology. You mentioned your tracking technology called “MyRoad.”

Dan McGowan: Correct.

John Shegerian: Can you explain to our audience members how important is that to create transparency and to create real-time tracking for your client base?

Dan McGowan: It’s real-time tracking. It’s web-based, so a client – again – can get on at any point in time and see all of their information. But it’s also very important in terms of the tracking to see are we making continuous progress for the client. So we like to pitch ourselves at RiverRoad as the one that provides continuous solutions. It’s great signing up and getting a new client on board, but where we really think we bring value to our clients at the end of the day is continually over the life cycle of the program looking at your waste stream, evaluating it and seeing how we can make continued improvement. So at every quarter, we’ll go back and look at opportunities for increased recycling, increased diversion.

John Shegerian: You’re never done.

Dan McGowan: We’re never done.

John Shegerian: That is so exciting. As a business enterprise, Dan, when you’re marketing against your competitors, what does the universe look like? How many competitors to RiverRoad are there out there?

Dan McGowan: Sure. I mean, there are really a few. We do have the large national waste companies that we are competing against that have national accounts programs as well.

John Shegerian: Right.

Dan McGowan: But again from our opinion as compared to them, we’re really sustainability focused. We’re really about aligning our goals with our clients’ goals, and we don’t make any more money by up-selling services to our clients. So that’s half of our segment. Then there are a lot of “waste brokers” – I’ll call them – that realistically are just a price play where they try and leverage volume of services and get the cheapest rate. But we are really in between those two. We’re really trying to provide the value to our clients, all of the technology benefits and be a sustainability consulting company that happens to provide great customer service and managing of the program.

John Shegerian: So one of your big trademarks is delighting your customers, giving great and amazing customer service.

Dan McGowan: Absolutely. All we are at RiverRoad at the end of the day is really people and technology.

John Shegerian: Right.

Dan McGowan: So providing customer service is extremely important and that’s what we found within the waste space. Companies with assets do a tremendous job of picking up waste efficiently.

John Shegerian: Right.

Dan McGowan: But in terms of managing the overall program for them – that great customer service experience – they can come to RiverRoad Waste and get one point of contact who understands their business and who understands them as a client so whether it’s the location in Spokane, Washington, or Naples, Florida, they’re calling one 1-800 number to get in touch with RiverRoad customer service.

John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. Share with our audience some of the more fun and better stories that you have on big wins that you’ve had. You don’t have to give names if you don’t want, but give us some examples of customers you’ve come in and turned around and literally taken a waste mess and turned it into a real positive.

Dan McGowan: There are customers when we started the program that didn’t know exactly what their waste levels were getting data from other clients and really putting it together and helping them fully understand what’s in their program and then taking it from that and setting a baseline of how do we increase the recycling and the diversion and we went out and put programs into place and ultimately even implemented back-calling programs. So the client went from even the recycling program where they were spending half a million dollars to a million dollars a year.

John Shegerian: Wow.

Dan McGowan: To all of a sudden getting a couple million dollars of rebates for their material sales, which for them they can use in a variety of ways and hopefully part of it goes back into additional recycling programs as well.

John Shegerian: So in some instances you’ve taken a negative and made a positive out of it.

Dan McGowan: Absolutely. We’ve taken certain costs that were in the program and were able to consolidate those, back all that material, take it to one central point and actually get rebates for the materials.

John Shegerian: Dan, with this cycle of business, 11 years isn’t that long of a time and you’re the leading brand in creating a new waste segment in the industry. What does the future hold? How big can you grow this, and what are you looking to do in the years ahead with RiverRoad Waste?

Dan McGowan: Sure. Absolutely. We still think there is an opportunity to grow within our core segment today of the standard waste and recycling.

John Shegerian: Right.

Dan McGowan: But we’re also branching out, and have branched out in other areas in managing other waste streams where our clients now have come to us and said, “Hey. You do a great job on the waste recycling side, how can you manage hazardous waste? Could you manage tires for us? Grease and oil for restaurants?” so we’ve added in all these ancillary services offerings to our programs and made sure when it comes to grease and oil – cooking oil is a rebateable product. A lot of companies don’t know that they should be getting rebates for those. So we are able to manage that and not only make sure that they get a rebate, but we’re making sure that they’re getting the appropriate rebate as well.

John Shegerian: That’s great. There are a lot of young people that watch and listen to this show both in the United States and around the world, Dan, and there are a lot of them that will watch you or listen to you today that want to be the next Dan McGowan. What’s the road that they should be taking educationally and from a work experience to become one of the leaders in sustainability?

Dan McGowan: Sure. Well, I think the first thing that comes into place is passion, right?

John Shegerian: Yeah.

Dan McGowan: So making sure you have a passion for what you do, and then it’s truly not work. It’s fun. And I think it’s learning about the different types of recyclable commodities that are out there and how they can be recycled effectively and efficiently. There is a lot of new legislation that is coming out and being on the forefront of looking into those different types of opportunities and seeing – there is a lot of composting organics legislation that’s how – what are the different ways that we can recycle that material where it’s effective. And get involved, and just do some research and start with a company like RiverRoad and be able to help out and start with the grunt work of doing waste audits and seeing what’s in the material, but ultimately then doing the research to figure out what’s the best way to really recycle commodities.

John Shegerian: Well, that’s perfect. We’re going to leave it at that today. We’re going to have you back another time, Dan, to continue the story of RiverRoad and the success of your great company. And for our audience members out there to learn more about what Dan and his colleagues are doing at RiverRoad Waste or to reach Dan and hire RiverRoad to manage your waste stream, go to Dan, you’re an inspiring entrepreneur, a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you for joining us today.

Dan McGowan: Thank you very much, John.

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