They say that you never really appreciate something until it’s gone. When it comes to garbage pickup, could anything be more true? Take labor strikes for example. It’s not unusual for a labor strike to last for months, sometimes longer. Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing, part of Hexagon AB, supposedly holds the American record, with a strike lasting over 10 years. Now think to yourself, what’s the longest you’ve ever heard of a garbage strike lasting? The City of Toronto recently settled an especially lengthy garbage strike. Garbage piled up on the streets all over town, forcing the city to turn parks and arenas into temporary mass dumps. Eventually summer camps, libraries, and even swimming pools were shut down, as citizens tried to deal with the stench and potential health threats. The situation finally became unbearable, and a settlement was worked out. The entire episode lasted a grand total of only 36 days. Garbage strikes never last very long.

The moral is clear: garbage is a big deal. People can go a long time without the fruits of this or that industry, but they’ve got to have something for their garbage. And the volumes we’re talking about are indeed staggering. Each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, America alone produces enough garbage to cover the state of Texas two and a half times (if you’d like to know, that’s a total of over ½ million square miles). It turns out that much of that garbage is simply paper packaging material, much of which can be recycled, and the move is on in communities all over the country to do just that.

Of course, whether it’s land-filled or recycled, someone has to be there to pick it up, haul it away, treat it (both hazardous and non-hazardous), and ultimately dispose of it. And that’s where the waste handling industry comes in, all those people that you don’t ever want to go on strike. These days the handling of waste goes far beyond two guys in a truck. According to First Research (a division of Hoover’s Inc.), the private waste management industry in the U.S. includes 15,000 companies, with total revenues of $80 billion, and it covers an increasingly complex mixture of chemical and biological waste products along with all those cardboard boxes and tin cans. In addition to physical pickup and processing, associated industries are developing, dedicated to things like specialized site cleanup, and environmental consulting and engineering.

Publicly traded waste processing companies include the following:

• American Ecology Corporation (NASDAQ: ECOL), through its subsidiary US Ecology, serves industrial, medical, academic, and government clients across the country. Its focus is hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste, with major processing sites in Nevada, Idaho, and Texas.
• Ecology & Environment, Inc. (NASDAQ: EEI) is a major environmental consulting, testing, and design firm, with offices throughout the U.S. and the world.
• BWI Holdings (OTCBB: BWIH), out of Canada, is a growing full service waste handling and recycling company dealing in solid and liquid waste, water hauling, and septic services for commercial, industrial, and residential clients.

As in many industries, technology is beginning to change things. General Environmental Management, Inc. (OTCBB: GEVI) is a unique waste management and environmental services provider that offers an innovative Web-based enterprise software system for designing customized waste management and transportation solutions. The system, called GEMWare, provides on-site waste treatment system management, and is now the industry’s leading information management system. Among other things, the company intends to use its proprietary software technologies to ease the integration of its own acquisitions. Its technology-based growth strategy is aimed at what it sees as a huge and ever growing market worth billions. I guess you could say that’s a lot of garbage.

Let us hear your thoughts: General Environmental Management, Inc. Message Board