Duckett Couples Engineering Expertise with Financial Acumen and Creativity
July 30, 2021
The engineer in Ryan Duckett tends to want to build the biggest, most top-of-the-line waste and recycling facilities whenever he can, but always what is practical for his clients. SCS’s mission states that employees adopt our clients’ environmental challenges as our own, and that includes their budgets and social goals as well.
“I appreciate that the waste management enterprises I work with are businesses and care about more than the engineering of a project. They care about the economics, and they look for guidance in both realms to get maximum value and efficiency,” says Duckett, who came to SCS Engineers as a new environmental engineering graduate. Then he went back to school for his MBA. He wanted to join both the technical and financial puzzle pieces.
“Everyone, especially local governments, is constrained by tight budgets. You have to think about the interplay between design and construction and financial feasibility,” he says.
That’s his job – to plan technically sound programs and facilities, whether new builds, upgrades, or changes in operations or services. Or it can be developing protocols for clients to tap into low-carbon fuel credits.
He’s learned to look through both developers’ and operators’ eyes to help clients accomplish what they want at budget levels they set while maximizing what they get from their programs, facilities, and systems.
“You need to make assessments and quantify details to answer questions like, what would an operator have to charge for a given service to break even? Is this service fee reasonable given market conditions? What are estimated operational costs and capital costs for an expansion? Financial analysts vet these questions, but very few of them are intimately involved in solid waste practices or engineering,” Duckett says.
A holistic approach in play
He calls the work he does integrated solid waste management, which involves understanding the entire operation and how one component affects the other, whether routing and collections, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), transfer stations, landfill gas systems, or others.
Duckett shows this holistic approach in play by explaining how grasping the way collections work helps design transfer stations. These major builds can run up to multimillions, even when project managers have the skill set and foresight to plan for efficiency and sustainability.
“You can better estimate how to design queuing space, how to design surge capacity, how to size facilities,” he explains.
“Adding, for example, an extra day’s storage capacity at a transfer station or MRF provides extra flexibility in the event of a disruption farther down the line. In an emergency, owners could potentially save significantly by having more time to identify or negotiate more economical alternatives.”
Some of the solutions he finds are simple but require thinking out of the box—literally in one situation where cardboard boxes were stockpiling at a convenience center because they didn’t fit through the slot in a single-stream receptacle. Simply creating an acceptance area only for boxes diverts multiple truckloads a week from landfills and generates thousands a year in revenue.
Then there are the major construction projects where Duckett digs deeper, such as one plan to site, design, and build a MRF. He conducted a feasibility study looking at different sites and calculated estimated operational costs and upfront capital costs for each identified site.
“We ultimately determined that by co-locating a facility at the existing landfill, the client would save over $200,000 in operating costs, with savings from scales/scale house reuse, the reduced distance of residual stream hauling, labor efficiencies, and other areas.”
In this same scenario, adding robotics for additional processing comes with anticipated savings of about $300,000 in manual sorting costs annually.
When do you recommend spending more upfront?
This question often comes up in Duckett’s world.
He finds that sometimes spending more upfront and on what’s built to last translates to substantial savings in the long run. He reflects on when a client had to replace a transfer station floor every couple of years.
“These floors take so much impact, so this is not an uncommon problem. But you can provide a huge ROI by reducing floor replacement frequency. They can run over half a million to replace properly, even for relatively small facilities,” Duckett says.
He ran budget numbers for different approaches and found in this scenario the higher-end approach, cement with additives such as fly ash, was the better deal.
“It might cost 50 percent more upfront, but the floor could last three times as long, breaking the cycle of frequent, costly replacement,” he says.
What do you recommend when budgets are so tight, there’s no cash reserve to invest?
Duckett and his team have found solutions in this scenario, too; often, the strategy is to figure out if a phased approach is possible.
“You could spend ten years waiting to generate enough funds to build infrastructure for a major project. Your citizens are missing out, so sometimes it’s best to build smaller, as soon as you need it. Then increase capacity as you can afford it.”
Expert advice from his colleagues
A very positive thing about his holistic approach is that Duckett can reach out to his colleagues who specialize in long-term financial management plans for utilities such as solid waste. This team, led by Vita Quinn, specializes in helping clients build sustainable financing models and plans.
The models help communities manage financial impacts such as COVID disruptions; make investments without burdening community budgets, and help take advantage of commodity market swings such as in the value of recycled paper. Models are useful to show community leaders and citizens the different options and what-if scenarios that make sense based on current and future conditions.
Going back to the drawing board to improve a system
Not long ago, Duckett’s team had to figure out what to do about a decal-based, pay-as-you-throw system that wasn’t working. The operator’s initial plan seemed logical and simple: residents purchase decals and place them on their bins for pick up. But some of them let their subscriptions expire. The city was losing money servicing outstanding accounts. It hired enforcement officers to check every decal for validity, which soon proved too labor-intensive.
“We found an alternative: adding fees for trash and recycling to the water and sewer bill. It’s bringing in more revenue. And the city is saving on hours spent checking thousands of decals, freeing the enforcement officers for other jobs, like bulky and yard waste enforcement,” Duckett says.
Duckett’s greatest lessons learned?
“In my seven years on the job, I have learned that the solid waste industry is complicated with a lot of intricate, moving parts that interconnect. Who would have thought trash was so complex?”
He’s also learned it’s critical to have comprehensive teams with diverse backgrounds to gather different perspectives.
“It goes back to the concept that you need more than engineering expertise to deliver that value add. That value add is important to our customers, so we strive to understand the business challenge along with the technical and social goals.”
Speaking as a young professional to other young professionals and students thinking about careers in waste management, he says: Check it out. Give it serious thought.
“I do not know of another industry that involves so many interesting disciplines: biology, hydrology, geology, engineering … even data and computer scientists.”
He shares this proposition for the young and ambitious:
“As technology advances and regulatory requirements heighten, our teams learn a lot on the job. But we appreciate our sharp graduates who bring the latest knowledge from academic settings. We depend on them to share new ways of thinking and help us solve challenging and intriguing problems.”
His motivation to get into environmental engineering evolved from his passion for the outdoors.
“I grew to appreciate conservation, which centers on doing more with less to preserve resources. Nothing is wasted in nature; everything is cyclical and gets used,” Duckett says.
“That’s what our waste system could emulate, and as a nation, we’re moving in that direction. It’s not just about reducing trash. It’s about reducing wasted effort and money spent beyond what’s necessary. It goes back to the idea of efficiency and getting the most out of something – instead of a using-disposing-buying new mentality.”
The 79th Annual Conference is one of the Midwest’s largest gatherings of safety and health professionals. It is the perfect opportunity for decision-makers to find new products and services, and learn more about the environmental concerns they are facing. SCS Engineers’ Cheryl Moran is attending; she looks forward to meeting and greeting you soon! Cheryl is ready to share her industry expertise with colleagues and peers on safety.
Half-day sessions starting at 8:00 am on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 – Thursday, April 22, 2021
Wednesday at 10:00 AM join us at Session #17 PFAs – An Update On This Emerging Contaminant
Tony Kollasch, Project Manager, and Jeff Marshall, Vice President, National Expert on Innovative Technologies, SCS Engineers discuss the history of PFAs, why people are concerned about PFAs, the current state of environmental
regulations regarding this substance, and the likely future of PFAs concerns.
UW-Madison Hosts Solid Waste Landfill Design Short Course
March 22, 2021
SCS Professional Betsy Powers will present a session at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s on-line Short Course on Solid Waste Landfill Design, March 22-24.
Betsy will cover the Landfill Drainage and Runoff Control session.
After attending this course, you will have a firm grasp of the background and design specifics necessary to compete in this industry, including industry-leading information on the principles and practices of solid waste landfill development, design, construction, and management. Understand practical emerging technologies including polymer-based bentonite composites in geosynthetic clay liners, landfill gas containment and management for emission control and regulatory drivers, design of gas-to-energy projects, management of CCR landfills and impoundments, and characterization and management of industrial residuals.
Who Should Attend?
Civil engineers and landfill designers
Landfill owners and operators
Local, county, and state regulatory agency staff and officials
Public works professionals and municipal engineers
Geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineers
Geological engineers, hydrogeologists, and geoscientists
Facility managers with on-site disposal cells
Contractors and estimators
Geosynthetic manufacturers and product representative
Wisconsin Integrated Resource Management Conference Goes Virtual in February 2021
February 22, 2021
The Wisconsin Integrated Resource Management Conference (WIRMC) is the place to market your business to Wisconsin solid waste and recycling professionals. WIRMC 2021 will take place as a virtual conference from February 22-25, 2021. Several SCS professionals will be presenter, and SCS Engineers is a Gold Level sponsor of this important event. Please stop by our Virtual booth!
Featured Hot Topics and Speakers include:
2020 Wisconsin Statewide Waste Characterization Study (Monday, Feb 22)
Speaker: Casey Lamensky, WDNR and Betsy Powers, SCS Engineers
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has sponsored statewide waste sorts in 2002, 2009, and 2020. The 2020 study is being performed in October through December 2020 by SCS Engineers. This presentation will hit on the highlights of the project (participating facilities and methodology), share challenges and how they were addressed, and present some preliminary results and how the DNR hopes to use the information. We will discuss patterns that are standing out and lessons that can be shared.
School Sustainability Programs: Thriving in Changing Times – Panel (Tuesday, Feb 23)
Panelists include: Angeline Koch, Milwaukee Public Schools, Claire Oleksiak, Sustain Dane, Chris Jimieson, Madison Metropolitan School District, Janet Whited, Recycling Specialist, San Diego USD, moderator Debbi Dodson, Carton Council
Landfill Technology Innovations: YPs Improving Operations and Management (Tuesday, Feb 23)
Speakers: David Hostetter, Joy Stephens, Melissa Russo, and Sam Rice all of SCS Engineers
The technologies for operating and monitoring landfills are expanding and changing rapidly. Hear from several SCS Young Professionals about the exciting developments currently underway.
Food Recycling and Rescue – A Major City’s Three-Pronged Approach (Wednesday, Feb 22)
Speaker: Michelle Leonard, Vice President, SCS Engineers
Los Angeles County’s unincorporated area is home to almost 1 million people, and each year its communities dispose of approximately 128,000 tons of food. At the same time, approximately 1 in 7 individuals are food insecure, lacking regular access to quality nutritious meals. In the last three years, Los Angeles County Public Works has launched a number of programs to reduce wasted food. These include in-house recycling, food scraps collection, and edible food recovery. These programs have saved millions of pounds of food from going to waste. We will provide attendees with detailed information on food recycling and donation. Details will include how the programs were envisioned, the planning process undertaken by the County, the program results, and the County’s next steps, and will provide suggestions for how other communities can implement a successful food recycling and donation program.
Changing Air Rules for Landfills (Thursday, Feb 25)
Speaker: Mark Hammers, SCS Engineers
On March 26, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) finalized amendments to the 2003 National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. The NESHAP rules affect air permits and landfill gas system operating requirements for most active landfills. Some of the changes, like revised wellhead operational standards, may be welcomed by permittees. Other changes include additional monitoring requirements for wells operating at higher temperatures, and correction and clarification of Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) requirements. State agencies with air permitting authority are now incorporating the new NESHAP requirements into Title V permits. The interaction between the recently amended NESHAP rules and existing New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) rules (Subpart WWW and Subpart XXX) is creating some unique challenges. Learn about these unique challenges along with the history, applicability, timelines, and primary requirements of the revised NESHAP.
Yakima County, WA, won the Heroes Excellence award from the American Public Works Association. Karma Suchan, Solid Waste Manager, generously shared the news and acceptance video with John Richards in the Northwest Business Unit.
The County was nominated for its perseverance and excellent customer service during the pandemic while experiencing record-setting customer counts, tonnage, wildfires, and poor air quality conditions.
Now that’s dedication!
Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am
EPA Solid and Hazardous Waste Updates and Summaries
September 10, 2019
Proposed Amendments to the Coal Ash Regulations, Public Hearing Registration Open
EPA is proposing further amendments to the regulations governing the disposal of coal combustion residuals, commonly known as coal ash.
The proposal addresses two issues remanded by the courts back to EPA for action. EPA is proposing a modification to one of the criteria used to determine if coal ash is being beneficially used or would be considered disposal. The second proposed change is to the requirements for managing piles of coal ash. Other proposed changes include revisions to enhance public access to information.
In addition to accepting written comments on this proposal, EPA is holding two public hearings – one in person in Arlington, Virginia on October 2, 2019, and a second one that will be held virtually.
Upcoming e-Manifest Fiscal Years 2020-2021 User Fees
EPA announced the new e-Manifest user fees for fiscal years 2020-2021 (October 1, 2019-September 30, 2021). These user fees are set based on the manifest usage and processing costs for each manifest type.
EPA encourages the hazardous waste industry to adopt fully-electronic manifesting as soon as possible so that industry members can take maximum advantage of the benefits and cost savings of electronic manifesting. However, EPA acknowledges that it will take time for industries and receiving facilities to fully transition to electronic manifests. EPA supports the wide adoption of electronic manifesting by the regulated community as soon as it is feasible.
Comment Period Open for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) 108(b) Electric Power Industry Proposal
EPA is seeking public comment on a proposed rule not imposing financial responsibility requirements under CERCLA Section 108(b) for Electric Power Generation, Transportation, and Distribution facilities.
Incremental Sampling Methodology (ISM) at PCB Cleanup Sites
ISM has been shown to be a valid and effective method for determining the concentrations of contaminants, including PCBs, in heterogeneous soils when designed appropriately. This document has a brief description of ISM and provides EPA’s policy of reviewing and approving site-specific applications to use ISM at PCB cleanup sites: https://www.epa.gov/pcbs/incremental-sampling-methodology-ism-pcb-cleanup-sites.
New and Updated Pharmaceutical Frequent Questions Posted
EPA recently updated several frequent questions about the final rule establishing management standards for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals and amending the P075 listing for nicotine. Additionally, EPA added a section about the sewer ban, which was effective August 21, 2019.
Use these EPA resources to learn more, or contact SCS at and we’ll help answer your questions.
Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:03 am
Veteran Paul Migwi Values Teamwork at SCS
November 11, 2018
Paul Migwi joined SCS in May 2017 as an Associate Professional in the Overland Park office. Paul graduated from Kansas State University in 2017 earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering with a structural and environmental focus. He is now pursuing his Master’s in Engineering Management at KSU.
Paul was born in Kenya, and at the age of sixteen moved to the United States with his family. As a child, his dream was to become a pilot. When he grew up, he chased his dream and joined the military. Paul chose the United States Air Force because of its Civil Engineering and Pilot programs. In the four years that he served in the Air Force, he learned a lot about teamwork, engineering, and how to achieve his career goals.
After a year in training, Paul was deployed to Afghanistan for six months. After he returned, he worked at different Air Force bases and learned about construction, buildings, and concrete sheet metal. One of his best experiences and most memorable moments was at his first station in Guam where he worked with colleagues to construct a building in the middle of the forest. They used a technique called concrete tilt-up, which is pouring concrete sections horizontally on concrete slabs, and once they are cured, raising, or “tilting”, them with a crane and attaching them on a Pre-Engineering building (PEB). After multiple sections are created and raised, a building is eventually created. When the project was finished, Paul was amazed. Seeing the results of all the hard work he and his colleagues put into a building was a very gratifying feeling. He learned a lot about the technical process, but also about the importance of working as a team. To this day he still remembers just standing there and looking back at the completed building; “it looked awesome,” he said.
Paul’s military experience has helped him in so many ways, especially working well with others. He learned the value of teamwork, and how to work with different personalities. Teamwork has definitely helped him be successful at SCS Engineers. Paul says his favorite part of working at SCS is the people. It doesn’t matter what project he works on, he always enjoys working with his colleagues. They are helpful and supportive and always happy to lend a hand, and they are a big reason why he feels he has been successful at SCS.
Although Paul’s dream to become a pilot led him to join the military, his career goals and ambitions have changed. He enjoyed mathematics and science and wanted to pursue a career where he could use those skills. He majored in Civil Engineering and interned with a construction firm, envisioning a career in construction. Environmental engineering had not crossed his mind until he attended a KSU Career Fair where he interacted with an SCS employee who opened up his eyes to the possibilities. Later that day, Paul did his own research on SCS and was extremely impressed. He loved everything about the company, from what we do, the size of the Overland Park office, and the projects we perform. It also helped that he had friends who had interned with SCS in the past.
His everyday work varies at SCS; he designs using AutoCAD, and his main focus is on solid waste. He prepares Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPP), Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Plans (SPCC), Facility Response Plans (FRP), and Control Quality Assurance (CQA), among other projects. Paul’s goal is to be out in the field more often. He believes that, in order to become a better designer, he needs to understand how things work in the field.
One of the biggest challenges that Paul has been successful in overcoming is balancing work and life. As a full time student and full time SCSer, it sounds very simple, but time management has made a huge difference in Paul’s life.
One of his greatest achievements and contributions at SCS was working on a permit modification. When one of their sites was at risk of a permit violation, Paul and the team had to redesign a practical and feasible landfill that would be acceptable to the state. When redesigning this landfill, Paul had to keep certain requirements in mind, such as water storage and how it affects the existing infrastructure, elevation, slope, and overall design. This project involved a lot of long days and nights, and, according to Paul, has been the best project he has worked on by far. It helped him see the big picture and truly understand how other projects work.
Paul is very ambitious and goal-driven; he has done a lot in his career and continues to push himself to grow every day. In his free time, he likes to be challenged and enjoys biking on bike trails. His advice to anyone interested in SCS is to, “Jump at the first chance you get; it is an awesome place to work!”
SCS would like to thank Paul and all of the Veterans at SCS for their service. Happy Veteran’s Day to everyone who has served!
Posted by Laura Dorn at 7:41 pm
SCS Engineers Founding Sponsor of WISR – Women in Solid Waste and Recycling
November 5, 2018
SCS Engineers announces today that they are a founding sponsor of WISR – Women in Solid Waste & Recycling. WISR is the first of its kind nonprofit organization created in 2017, dedicated to preparing women for leadership positions in the industry by organizing chapters in key industry centers and providing opportunities for networking, leadership development, career mapping and mentoring. SCS Engineers’ support will help establish education programs in leadership as well as contribute to the creation of new chapters in at least six cities by the end of 2019. WISR is in the process of forming chapters in key industry centers — including Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlanta — that will offer quarterly programs including professional development with skills training, site tours, networking and leadership training.
“We look forward to meeting with colleagues in the solid waste, recycling, and environmental services fields to share our scientific, financial, and technical knowledge to move sustainable waste management forward in the U.S.,” stated Michelle Leonard, a vice president of SCS Engineers. “WISR will help us make a difference; for women and for the industry.”
Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am
Our Congratulations to the SWANA 2017 Scholarship Winners
November 6, 2017
University of Central Florida, MS
Robert P. Stearns/SCS Engineers Master’s Scholar
Project: Field Investigation of an Elevated Temperature Florida Landfill
For reasons that are not entirely clear, incidents of elevated temperatures in municipal solid waste landfills are occurring at increasing frequency. These landfills present temperatures that well exceed the range tolerable for micro-organisms (~176°F). Given the significance of elevated temperatures at landfills and the growing number of landfills with these issues, the goal of Joslyn’s research is to develop a more complete understanding of elevated temperature landfills using landfill gas and leachate monitoring data, specifically in the state of Florida.
Robert P. Stearns, Chairman and CoFounder of SCS Engineers, joined the EREF Board of Directors in 1999 and served as Chairman from 2004–2005. At SCS, he directed or served in a review capacity on many of the firm’s solid waste management-related projects. In 2007 EREF awarded the first Robert P. Stearns/SCS Engineers Master’s Scholarship, which was established to expand EREF’s successful doctoral-level scholarship program.
Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am
Back Office and Customer Information Systems
September 7, 2017
In this day and age, a back office customer information software system is a “must” for solid waste agencies managing inventories, work orders, and large numbers of customers.
However, many solid waste agencies have inadequate computer hardware and software systems to enable tracking of work productivity and customer service. Oftentimes, many use a combination of an Excel-based software system and manual card systems to track residential and commercial accounts. To the world of business operations, these manual systems are analogous to a stone and chisel versus a typewriter.
There are a wide variety of management information and software products used by solid waste agencies across the U.S. Each has its particular advocates and uses in the solid waste management practice. This article will provide an overview of the major trends in software development.