When it comes to Waste Management and the environment, the company has set some ambitious goals to meet by 2020. After all, as a business that manages the collection and disposal of garbage and recyclable materials for more than 20 million customers in North America, it’s impossible not to think about the long-term effects on the environment in the course of daily operations.

Most of the company’s goals are spelled out in Waste Management’s sustainability report, on which this article is based.

In the next 10 years, Waste Management plans to help the environment in a number of ways:

Increase waste-based energy production: At the moment, Waste Management produces enough energy to power 1 million homes each year. By 2020, the company wants to double that annual amount by constructing several new plants designed to create electric power from landfill gas. On a related front, Waste Management made a big push into the renewable fuels area in November 2009 when it announced plans to work with the engineering company, Linde North America, to produce liquefied natural gas from decomposing organic material at a facility located at the Altamont Landfill near Livermore, California. According to Waste Management, the plant can produce up to 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas a day, enough to fuel 300 Waste Management collection vehicles. The facility, which was built by Linde, is the world’s largest facility that converts landfill-produced methane gas into liquefied natural gas.

Increase the volume of recyclable materials processed: The company currently manages about 8 million tons of recyclable material. By 2020, Waste Management wants to manage more than 20 million. Its subsidiary, WM Recycle America, is already the largest recycler of residential material in North America. Waste Management has touted the effectiveness of single-stream recycling, whereby recyclable commodities are put into a single container rather than being separated by the resident. In Denver, the single-stream system is credited with significantly boosting collections of recyclable material. The amount of recyclable material collected has gone from 16,000 tons in 2004 (the last year the city used a dual-stream system) to 26,000 tons in 2007.

Improve fuel-efficiency of its fleet: By 2020, Waste Management wants its suppliers to help them develop a truck that improves fuel efficiency by 15 percent and reduces emissions by 15 percent. Given the company’s 21,000 collection and transfer vehicles, this would be a huge environmental benefit. The company has already replaced 500 diesel-fueled trucks with vehicles that run on 100 percent natural gas. Waste Management previously announced plans to spend $450 million per year on fuel efficiency upgrades for its fleet and heavy equipment.

Increase the number of wildlife habitats: By 2020, the company wants to see a four-fold increase in the number of its facilities certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council. This would bring the number from 24 to 100 over the next ten years. In addition, it would translate to 25,000 acres set aside for conservation and wildlife habitat.

For more information on Waste Management and the environment, check out the environmental stewardship section of the company’s Web site.