Local garbage collection company
A south suburban man had been hauling garbage for a few years in the early 1970s when he decided to strike out on his own.
Beecher resident Richard Van Hattem bought his first company – acquiring one garbage truck and a single route where he picked up trash from restaurants, hotels and office buildings in the Chicago Loop. He loaded and hauled off reams of paper, tons of pop cans and a lot of leftover food.
His only goal at the time was to get off the truck. Van Hattem, who is an assistant secretary and treasurer for Faith Church in Dyer, was hoping for a cushy office gig where he would oversee drivers.
But Van Hattem dreamed up innovations, such as establishing a transfer station so his garbage trucks would not waste so much time driving out to the dump, and recycling discarded business documents and selling them to paper mills. He bought out competitor after competitor, taking over smaller companies when their owners decided it was time to retire or sell.
After a merger and then an acquisition, Van Hattem helped establish Republic Services, a national waste disposal business that earned $8.4 billion in revenue last year. He was one of the founders of the second-largest trash collection company in the country.
He never really got off the truck, at least not until his company went national and he spent more of his time in corporate offices. But when Van Hattem was still running National Scavenger Service, one of Chicago's largest independent haulers until he merged it with Allied Waste in 1992, he would still jump on a route anytime one of his drivers called in sick or went out of vacation. He ran a multimillion-dollar company with 120 employees and 30 trucks, and still filled in when needed.
The 44-year veteran of the trash business was recently inducted into the National Waste & Recycling Hall of Fame. Van Hattem was recognized for pioneering ideas that help trash haulers be more efficient and cost-competitive, which have since been embraced across the industry.