Portable Sanitation Is a Logical Addition to a Massive Company in America’s Heartland

Rumpke Portable Restrooms is part of a family conglomerate of waste-related divisions with 3,200 employees crossing four Midwestern states.

Portable Sanitation Is a Logical Addition to a Massive Company in America’s Heartland

The Rumpke Waste & Recycling corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. 

In the midst of the Great Depression, William Rumpke started a junkyard and coal-delivery business near Cincinnati. A willingness to alter course and adapt to changing circumstances over the years led to new lines of work and has also been the name of the game for his successors, whether figuring out what to do with bartered pigs, doing their part for the war effort, or handling a 21st century pandemic.

Today Rumpke Waste & Recycling has locations in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, employs 3,200 people and operates 14 landfills and 11 recycling plants. Waste management accounts for the bulk of their work but complementary divisions include Rumpke Hydraulics (fleet servicing), Rumpke Haul-It-Away (junk hauling) and Rumpke Portable Restrooms. 

“We’re one of the largest privately owned residential and commercial waste and recycling companies in the country,” says Amanda Pratt, director of corporate communications. She says it’s still very much a family-owned business with about 75 members of the family on staff. “Bill Jr. is our president and chief executive officer, his brother Jeff is our west area president, and his brother Andrew is our east area president,” she says.

PIGS, GARBAGE AND LANDFILLS

When Rumpke received pigs from a customer as payment for services in the early days, he added garbage collection to his business as a way to feed them. It turned out to be a fruitful idea and by the mid-1940s he had 45 acres, 2,000 pigs and brought on his brother Bernard to join him. But in 1955 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration passed a law prohibiting feeding raw garbage to animals raised for meat. The Rumpkes continued collecting trash but sold the livestock and converted the farm to a landfill. Recycling operations began during World War II when they started pulling needed metals, glass and rags from the trash stream.

 The portable restroom division was created in 1992 through an acquisition as a way to meet the needs of roll-off customers, says Carl Walter, Cincinnati-area portable restroom division operations manager. Today the division has five locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, enabling them to cover about a 100-mile radius in the tri-state region.

HORSE RACES AND FLYING PIGS

 Construction accounts for most of their portable restroom work. A current large multiyear project is a new Amazon hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Major events include the Kentucky Derby, Taste of Cincinnati, Thunder Over Louisville, the Flying Pig Marathon, the country’s largest Oktoberbest and Cincinnati Reds baseball games. The company also donates equipment and service for first responders and a number of nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

The company uses PolyJohn equipment. Deodorizer products are from DuBois Chemicals, Walex Products and J&J Portable Sanitation Products. Their Kenworth vacuum trucks are built out by Engine & Accessory with 1,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater stainless steel tanks and Masport pumps.

The Cincinnati office has 27 employees, 32 vacuum trucks, 4,000 units (event, construction, flushable, wheelchair-accessible), 75 hand-wash stations, 125 hand sanitizer stands and 18 restroom trailers (Ameri-Can Engineering, Black Tie Products, Wells Cargo). Dayton, Ohio, has eight employees, 1,700 pieces of equipment and 10 vacuum trucks. And the Louisville, Kentucky, Georgetown, Ohio, and Columbus, Indiana, facilities each have about three employees, 400-500 pieces of equipment and three vacuum trucks. The offices share equipment and personnel as needed. They also work closely with other divisions of the company when event organizers request trash or recycling services.

The portable restroom division also has a tractor-trailer subdivision. They provide liquid waste hauling and disposal for other Rumpke branches. For example, when rainwater saturates their landfills, they haul away the leachate for processing at local municipal wastewater treatment plants. They also provide services for industrial and commercial customers. 

“We service a lot of our municipal wastewater plants, we do sanitary bulk hauling, liquid waste hauling,” Walter says. “If an industrial customer has liquid waste from their manufacturing process we can solidify it, bulk it up, haul it away and landfill it.” Equipment includes a 4,000-gallon International vacuum truck, a 4,700-gallon Peterbilt vacuum truck, and 16 5,500- to 7,000-gallon tankers (Brenner Tank, Dragon Products, Kruz, Polar Tank).

BRUTAL HONESTY 

Walter says they’re completely transparent with prospective employees about what the job of a portable restroom technician entails. “There are still some stigmas about the industry,” he says. “You’re dealing with human waste and not everybody is OK with that.” 

In addition to monthly company-wide safety meetings, the portable restroom division holds Toolbox Talks to discuss various issues that come up — what to do if you find needles, what to do with certain chemicals, and so on. “And I always make sure we have a little bit of breakfast, doughnuts or things they can take with them,” Walter says. 

For summer fun, they typically team up with other nearby Rumpke offices and have monthly cookouts. “I or one of the other divisional managers will man the grill and just cook up for everybody,” he says. Of course, these activities were cancelled during the pandemic.

Drivers are given safety glasses, gloves and Rumpke-branded apparel but Walter says it’s up to them to wear whatever they want as long as they have work boots and look professional. 

“The various divisions of Rumpke and its 60 locations are in constant contact with each other,” Pratt says. “We have an intranet, an email broadcast system, monitors in break rooms to share company communications, a quarterly newsletter and a monthly newsletter. We also do a CEO Chat, which is a video with Bill Rumpke Jr. talking to the employees about what’s going on in the company.”

In September employees and their families come from far and wide to attend the annual company picnic held at a small local amusement park rented out for the occasion. For the year-end holiday season, the company gives everyone grocery store gift cards. Walter also likes to add a little something extra for the portable restroom division personnel — perhaps blankets or hats — and treats them to an employee luncheon.

NEW NORMAL

As an essential service, the company kept busy during the pandemic, despite losing most of their events. “Construction has not stopped,” Walter reports. “If anything, it’s picked up because people quickly realized, ‘We need to have cleaner restrooms and more of them — and, oh, by the way, do you have hand sanitizer, do you have sinks?’ Those demands went through the roof.” New requests for portable restrooms came from companies such as warehouses who wanted to prevent delivery drivers from entering their buildings and mixing with employees.

Suppliers were hard-pressed to meet the sudden demand for hand-wash stations in the country. The company was told to expect a four- to six-month wait. Hand sanitizer stands took a month. Sanitizer was unavailable from their Purell supplier as most of it was committed to medical and military contracts, but eventually another sanitizer source was found. The company made a few procedural changes — eliminating in-person safety and training meetings, daily sanitization of trucks, and sanitizing portable restrooms with an industrial-grade sanitizer from Dubois Chemicals as part of the standard service regimen.

The company is now figuring out the best way to service hand-wash stations. “The historic pump truck has a lot larger waste tank than freshwater tank,” Walter says. “Hand-wash stations obviously will need the reverse. That’s one of the things we’re looking at for next year because I have a feeling those are going to be required at most construction sites and all our events.” The likely solution will be to put hand-wash stations on their own service routes and use dedicated trucks.

NEW DIGS

For more than 10 years Rumpke leadership tossed around the idea of building a new corporate headquarters building. By 2019 they made it happen — a $26 million, 65,000-square-foot project. “We were all spread out in seven buildings,” Pratt says. “So for the first time all our corporate employees are together under one roof, right next to the original Rumpke family farm where our largest landfill is.” Currently there are about 180 personnel (with room for 220) working in the building, including senior leadership, marketing, accounting, information technology, human resources, engineering and safety. 

Pratt says the building has some interesting design features. The lobby wall has a 3D graphic illustrating the timeline of memorable moments in the company’s history along with relevant artifacts. Eating areas include three restaurant-style spaces, a 100-seat outdoor space, balconies and accommodations for food trucks. Wellness elements were built in such as sit/stand desks, a wide attractive stairway and a walking trail. As a recycling company they wanted to incorporate recycled elements into the design — for example, wood for some of the furniture, tires for the print shop floor, and glass for a conference table. 

Another large project for the company is a multimillion-dollar technology upgrade, which will include customized tracking and fleet management software for the portable restroom division.

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

After 20 years with the company, Walter says although he brings a lot of diverse experience to his job, he’s still learning and there’s something new every day. Pratt, also a 20-year veteran, echoes these thoughts. “I love the complexity of the waste and recycling industry,” she says. “It’s ever-changing and evolving. There’s a lot of innovation and technology.”

Both agree Rumpke provides employees a lot of opportunity, and innovation is built into the corporate operating philosophy. “It’s always been a place where, if you work hard and you have an idea, you get the opportunity if you make your case, to try new things and bring new progress to the company,” Pratt says. “You really get to put your stamp on the Rumpke organization.”  



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