When New York City-based RoadRunner Recycling was looking for a new headquarters for its first big expansion in 2017, the high-tech firm landed in Pittsburgh for several reasons.

“The first is, and most importantly, I was focused on building careers for our key people,” says RoadRunner CEO Graham Rihn. “Pittsburgh allows those people to build rich careers in a professional sense, but also personally, as far as buying a house and building families.”

“The city is so livable and the quality of life is so high, that I got really excited about what we could make of it. The second thing is, we have great access to tech talent because of Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne.”

Now, the company that uses machine learning and algorithms to craft recycling plans is expanding again in Downtown Pittsburgh, adding about 140 employees in the next year. It’s now located at One PPG Place and will open another office at theK&L Gates Center.  They just raised a $28.6 million Series C financing round, from Greycroft, e.ventures and Franklin Templeton.

“We’re going to double, roughly,” says Rihn. “Pittsburgh is our headquarters, so this new capital allows us to launch into 10 additional cities. As we go from 10 to 20 markets, we’re really building out our corporate staff to support the functions of our growth.”

In 2019, the company recycled 43,000 tons that was diverted from landfills, according to Rihn.

“The waste and recycling industry is a very large industry; it touches every one of us every day,” says Rihn. “What made me start RoadRunner and initially get excited about recycling was just seeing the need in such a large  industry — it’s roughly a $70 billion industry — just seeing the opportunity to improve recycling at a very massive scale.”

Clients are typically mid-sized and large, ranging from healthcare and commercial offices, to hotels and schools.

“We recycle most common business recyclables, but we do it in what’s called a clean-stream format,” explains Rihn. “That means cardboard would be separate from mixed paper, which would be separate from mixed plastics, which would be separate from compost.”

There is a technology component that makes RoadRunner Recycling particularly efficient.

“We have big data and predictive analytics — it makes us really smart about what a business generates as far as recyclables, and what outlet that material should go to,” says Rihn.“On the hauling side of things, we don’t own assets. So we’ve built optimization and routing software, which basically matches the cardboard from a hotel (using one example) to a trucking asset of another company during its down or idle time, to ultimately do the hauling via a mobile app.

“It’s kind of like Uber for recycling.”

As the coronavirus changes life for so many, RoadRunner expects to keep on recycling.

“We’ve prepared continuity plans as a company,” says Rihn. “Waste and recycling is an essential business that must take place, as referred to by the governor. It’s very important that it continues. We’ve made sure we’re staffed appropriately to continue to provide a great service, obviously taking into consideration the safety of our employees, our customers.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife,...