Revenue from the Fall Classic goes to their mission, funding scholarships for students and solid waste research to advance sustainable waste management.
Please join us in sponsoring or attending this fantastic networking event for a good cause.
Visit the EREF event page to learn more about the event and safety measures in place!
The Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference will host an in-person conference October 4-6, 2021, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. A slate of diverse speakers, a large exhibit hall, and some fun networking opportunities are on tap for this event including SCS’s own women in waste management.
SMM – Vision for Iowa Project Update
(Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 8:00 AM)
Michelle Leonard’s first presentation will provide an update on the Sustainable Materials Management Vision for the Iowa Phase II project, including work completed to date, and the plans and process for the project over the next 18 months.
Food Recycling and Rescue in LA County
(Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 9:50 AM)
Michelle Leonard’s second presentation will provide attendees with detailed information on food donation and recycling. Details include how the programs were envisioned, the planning process undertaken by the County, the program results, and the County’s next steps. She will present details on the County’s, private business, and haulers’ roles and responsibilities, and will offer suggestions for how other communities can implement a successful food donation program.
Strategically Planning an Alternative Cover
(Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 4:15 PM)
Anastasia Welch presents how alternative covers come in many varieties and may be appropriate for an individual site based on a number of design criteria, performance standards, and material availability considerations. Apart from technical engineering issues, long-term financial and maintenance requirements are also considered. And most importantly, how does termination of post-closure care work with an alternative cover?
Anastasia’s presentation will bring current a summary of evapotranspiration and synthetic turf cover systems and the main permitting and design considerations of each. The second portion of her presentation will explore how the financial assurance, post-closure care, and post-closure termination aspects of landfill management are impacted by these two alternative cover systems.
Route Optimization for Waste Collection Finds Surprising Benefits for Even Small Municipalities
Running optimized collection routes is critical for a waste company’s or municipality’s bottom line; it’s also a dauntingly complex job. This is where experts skilled in waste collections route optimization come in. There could be thousands or more ways to get from one service point to the next along a single route; now think about an intricate web of routes traversed by a whole fleet. Then throw in other possible variables, like different route densities, overlapping vs. non-overlapping routes, and holiday and inclement weather schedules. And if you are like one fast-growing Midwestern city, you have plenty more to take on as you work to stay on top of that growth and changes that come with it.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) help achieve collection route optimization.
One way this Midwest municipality stood up to the challenges is with GIS, which stores, processes, analyzes, and maps spatial data. SCS Engineers’ Emily Smith helped the city leverage the technology to identify and make needed changes, better serve customers, and ultimately save money and time.
“When we came in to help, they had multiple small routes scattered across their service area, which was a problem that became more difficult as the city was growing. Haulers were putting in a lot of overtime to meet deliverables while complying with regulations restricting driving hours. They needed to take more breaks between driving time to stay within those limits, which stretched out their days further,” Smith says.
“Then there’s the wear and tear on tires and the trucks themselves and fuel cost, among issues.”
Working with route optimization consultant Kevin Callen, she used GIS to help restructure and better balance routes.
An ecologist, Smith started using the technology years ago to map out wetlands and for groundwater monitoring. That gave her the knowledge base to figure out how to develop maps to optimize collection routes; these powerful systems are flexible, with broad capabilities and applications.
“I like identifying where there is room for improvement and making visual representations of projects so clients can see the scenario as more than numbers on a page. It tells a story and makes it easier to grasp when they have a visual, color-coded representation,” Smith says.
GIS is useful to map out garbage carts and recycling carts down to an individual customer or street and the number of houses in a neighborhood. It can identify one-way streets or low bridges that larger trucks may need to bypass, among relevant information to plan the most efficient paths. We layer these details and other customizable data to get a comprehensive picture to help design the plan.
Smith began by teasing out information that the city already had. Using surveys created with targeted questions, she could obtain information about specific route challenges (tight alleyways, street parking, confusing setout locations, etc.). The information helped inform potential route modifications.
The outcomes for the Midwest municipality:
Existing waste routes can be modeled in GIS and revised that show impact before and after revisions under consideration. This capability extends beyond fine-tuning residential collection routes. For instance, GIS can do geoprocessing of data to calculate where to put a recycle drop-off center or transfer station that will service a given number of customers.
Additional supports weaved into GIS.
Besides saving labor, travel time, and fuel and vehicle maintenance expenses, routing has more qualitative aspects of gaining efficiencies.
“By talking to collectors with boots on the ground, we find ways to enhance driver safety by identifying problem areas like locations prone to flooding and those with low-hanging tree branches or power lines. Leveraging GIS can also help reduce truck impacts to roads and neighborhoods and reduce emissions. And it can help address customer service issues — for instance, by mapping and taking notes on special backdoor service customers with limited mobility, collectors know to pick up their bins closer to their homes,” says Ryan Duckett, an SCS engineer who leverages GIS to support clients on the East Coast.
For one Texas city, it was a way to systematically and quickly clean up volumes of existing data that had inaccuracies. This was key to later being able to perform an analysis providing intel for route load balancing.
“There were approximately 200 points that needed to be updated to reflect their actual locations. We provided a method to verify and change the information via an online interactive GIS mapping application. They can edit each field, inputting appropriate route information,” says SCS’s Brooke Aumann, who has 14 years working with GIS. The municipality used this same system to review the new routes and provide comments, allowing its staff to be an active collaborative partner in optimizing each route, Aumann says.
Curbside waste collection is hard work. It involves a lot of physical labor, operating heavy equipment, adhering to tight schedules, and sometimes pivoting fast.
“Having this powerful tool that enables us to streamline the process and make collections easier and more efficient is a big plus, especially as we continue to expand and improve other waste and recycling services that depend on, or impact, collections. GIS is a unique opportunity to apply computer technology to come up with practical approaches to real-life problems and realize substantial savings in time and money,” Duckett says.
The International Awards Committee and Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Board of Directors unanimously voted to honor Tom Conrad, the “C” in SCS, with the Robert L. Lawrence Distinguished Service Award at WASTECON 2021 in November. The Lawrence award is the highest accolade SWANA bestows on a member of the waste management industry, reserved for those making meaningful and lasting contributions.
“I’m honored and humbled to be selected for the Robert L. Lawrence Award. I thank you and am especially thankful for what SWANA and SCS are today,” stated Tom Conrad.
SWANA recognizes Conrad for over 60 years of significant influence on the waste management and environmental services industry. Conrad, a Founder, Executive Vice President, and Director Emeritus of SCS Engineers, dedicated his career to advancing solid waste management, most notably through the founding of SCS Engineers (Stearns, Conrad, and Schmidt Consulting Engineers) more than 51 years ago.
Tom Conrad worked on a wide range of environmental engineering projects touching almost every aspect of solid waste management throughout his career. As an environmental engineering firm and consultant to the newly created US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the founders recognized that responsible solid waste management was increasingly important for protecting the environment and the health and safety of the general public.
Leading SCS, he helped the EPA develop the first federal regulations for sanitary landfills, managing and capturing landfill gas, waste sorting protocols, sludge management, and land remediation.
Environmental services, including wastewater management, were always a significant part of SCS services and the waste industry. When new regulatory policies began expanding in the ’80s, SCS’s techniques, technology, and expertise helped a broad range of industries comply with environmental needs and continues today with the firm’s greenhouse gas, landfill technology, renewable energy, remediation, and sustainable materials management programs.
Conrad is also known for hiring and mentoring today’s SCS leaders, many of whom are SWANA leaders, by creating and fostering SCS’s culture encouraging employee participation in industry associations, community, and SCS’s mentorship and leadership programs.
Before his retirement in 2016, Conrad held professional engineering licenses in 24 states. He was a member of SWANA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Waste and Recycling Association, and the Society of American Military Engineers.
He maintains his “work hard – play hard” lifestyle. He is active at SCS, participating in Board of Director meetings and speaking at the Young Professionals Group events and celebrations. While no longer mountain climbing and biking cross-country, he has a vigorous walking, swimming, and biking schedule.
Popular Mechanics recently published an article entitled The Pungent History of America’s Garbage Mountains. The article starts with a little-known ferryman on Lake Michigan when a storm beached his craft on an oﬀshore sandbar in July 1886. Thus started Chicago’s open dump on today’s Lake Shore Drive, home to landmarks such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Wrigley Building, the Chicago Tribune Tower, Northwestern University, and the Magniﬁcent Mile – all on turn-of-the-century garbage.
Transportation centers, stadiums, and even entire neighborhoods are now built on landﬁlls. This is a fascinating, well-written article on the history and possibilities of building on remediated properties and brownfields.
“Landﬁll redevelopment projects tend to be real estate projects, and you know what matters in real estate: location, location, location,” says Mike McLaughlin of SCS Engineers, who specializes in brownﬁelds and landﬁll redevelopment. “A landﬁll in an urban area might be the only piece of open land in that area. People go to extraordinary lengths to redevelop because the property is so valuable.”
Media Borough, Pennsylvania’s Food Compost Program uses a witty video encouraging participation in its organic waste diversion and composting program. We had to share – not only is it fun – it works!
The Borough launched its pilot program to gauge the feasibility of adding food scrap collection to its current recycling efforts. This month the program is available to all residents. The food scrap collection program provides residents the opportunity to separate food from the rest of their household waste for collection and composting at a local compost farm.
Media Borough estimates it has 70% recycling participation in the community – that’s an impressive number. Its current recycling and yard waste programs divert close to 30% of residential solid waste from landfills and incinerators. Adding a food scrap collection program can reduce residential waste by another 30% and create compost.
The Borough’s Public Works website explains the reasons why organic matter, matters.
Thank you to this Pennsylvania community and its Public Works department for helping to sustain future generations with their reduce, reuse, and recycling actions. We hope by sharing their video and results, we’ll see greater participation in communities nationwide.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is hosting a virtual Sustainable Materials Management Summit on Tuesday, June 15.
This half-day virtual event will bring together the recycling, organics recovery, and resource management professionals. Industry leaders will discuss new US EPA recycling goals, food waste & organics recovery, pandemic responses, and lessons that can be applied as we move forward.
A bonus session at 1:30 pm ET, features case studies of successful SMM programs implemented to address:
Lisa Coelho, pictured far left and right above, is a California girl, but it was a trip to Ethiopia that inevitably brought her to SCS Engineer’s West Coast hub. When she made that 7,000-mile trek, she had no idea she’d later land where she is now; she’d been traveling a very different path.
She was studying agricultural engineering, thinking she wanted to grow food. But now Coelho is about getting on top of the glut of nutritious edibles that already exist, rather than making more of them. Her title is Sustainability Materials Management Specialist. Her job: developing strategies to keep organics and some other materials out of landfills and make sure what’s of value is used as intended. And she teaches communities how to manage their discards.
What brought her to Ethiopia was a service project to help develop better systems to grow food.
“I asked a council of elders [knowledgeable of old traditions of the area] about their sustainability practices. I wanted to look at their long-standing practices before suggesting another way,” Coelho reflects.
They told her they don’t throw out the stock of kale; they eat it. They save and regrow the potato eyes. And they compost almost all their scraps to amend their soil.
“It was eye-opening to see what they were doing – going back to basics to grow food and respect land,” she recalls.
Then came a second epiphany.
“I’d flown thousands of miles to help feed people, and some of them said, ‘thank you, but aren’t there people where you live who need help?’ It was like, ding! That’s right!”
She knew that in the U.S., unlike Ethiopia, the quandary is not a lack of food; rather that roughly 40% of it gets tossed. She switched to Environmental Science, wanting to develop approaches to prevent food waste, but fast saw an opportunity to work on trash problems beyond food. That’s when she thought the waste management industry was for her. The industry was becoming part of the sustainability landscape, and their work in this space would grow, she believed.
These days Coelho spends a lot of time in the field, teaching best practices to businesses and apartment dwellers, whether how to comply with local laws around organic waste diversion or what to put in which bin.
“I tell them I’m here to talk about that place called ‘away’ where they toss something and don’t think about it anymore. That’s where I’m from –away.”
Coelho helps them break old habits and form better ones. She meets them where they are, which entails asking a lot of questions. For the Mom-and-Pop burger shop, it could be: “What containers do you need? What do you want to look out for? Maybe keeping kitchen workers’ gloves out of organics bins?”
For families living in apartments around the corner, it’s questions like “Who takes out the waste at your house, and what steps does this involve?”
It’s a dirty, tough job that has value.
One job she’s proudest of is week-long trash sorts, where she digs into mega volumes of garbage to learn what’s in the stream, then uses what she discovers to help municipalities improve their recycling and diversion programs.
She’s at the materials recovery facility before the sun’s up, unloading garbage containers and shovels from her truck, ready to join her team in the grueling task of hand-sorting 2,000 pounds of waste into several dozen categories designated by CalRecycle. Then comes the job of weighing it to calculate the proportions of each material in the total stream.
Coelho is on her walkie-talkie with the scale house asking when the next load is coming while keeping a close eye on her surroundings.
“There’s heavy equipment and hazardous materials in the waste like sharps, gas cylinders, and different chemicals. I have to be present for my team.”
Breaks are short, and she takes them standing up, wanting to miss nothing.
“You’re lifting 50 to 150 pounds of trash at a time and sweating because you’re in a Tyvek suit and steel-toed boots, and your mask makes your safety glasses fog up.
I come home smelling like trash, and my dog loves it. He loves to sniff my yucky shoes,” she laughs.
Interestingly, Coelho compares waste sorts to another personal lure: backpacking.
“The rest of the world fades. You’re not caught up in calls and emails. You’re just focused on getting to the ‘top,’ and when you get there, it’s great. A shower feels awesome, and food never tastes better!”
She got her start in Sunnyvale, California, launching a community food scraps program, then started another program like it nearby when SCS came calling, inviting her to interview for a similar position.
At the time, she had a five- to 10-year plan to be part of a large company that did solid waste consulting.
“I thought, it’s happening now? It’s here? I can help so many cities all at the same time!
My interview with Tracie Bills – my boss – who runs Sustainable Materials Management in Northern California was exciting. I’d heard her speak at conferences and knew her to be a powerhouse as a woman in the waste industry. I’m going to interview with her?”
Besides Coelho’s fieldwork, there’s her desk job writing detailed reports analyzing what’s in the waste stream; she uses them to help identify effective processing changes and design outreach and education campaigns.
Making supplier to distributor connections.
Supporting food recovery operations is her favorite job. She helps connect businesses with the surplus, edible food with the organizations that feed people in need. And she pilots her clients’ food recovery projects.
It’s not easy. There are logistical and operational barriers to breakthrough for food businesses and food recovery agencies running on razor-thin budgets.
“Food recovery has a special meaning to me because I see our fractured food system. We have all the puzzle pieces, but we don’t put them together correctly. We have edible food going to waste, and we have too many neighbors that do not know where their next meal will come from. It breaks my heart,” she says.
The notion of waste management pros being a force in moving the needle excites her.
And there’s an impetus for her California clients to take the challenge; it helps them comply with a steep state mandate: recovering 20% of edible food that is now disposed of by 2025.
“I envision our role as learning as much as possible about the existing food recovery system; supporting recovery agencies with funding, logistical innovations, and solutions to infrastructure gaps. And I see us encouraging collaboration with other industries. It’s piecing together the puzzle,” Coelho says.
She likes that she uses both mind and muscle to try and figure out creative solutions to hard-to-fix situations between all her roles.
And she likes connecting the pieces, ultimately coming full circle while working toward long-term change.
“You sort and study what people put in the waste stream. Then tailor community outreach and diversion programs based on what you learn. You sort again and see how what you did in the field is working. Then it’s back to finding ways for greater improvement.”
Curious, creative, and determined.
She got what she calls the best gift from her mother: determination.
“She told me you can do whatever you want. And I learned it’s okay to question the norm. To be the only girl at the party telling everyone out for a good time that red beer pong cups are not recyclable.”
Coelho attributes her inquisitive side and craving to solve problems to genetics.
“My grandfather wrote a lot of crazy, out-of-the-box stories, and in each one, he asked himself philosophical questions. He was always self-analyzing and wanting to figure out more … I think this is important to do as an individual, but also as an industry.”
She has never had a boring day at SCS Engineers.
“We are busy, and there’s constant change as we work toward improving systems and practices. I like that I am in a place where I’m always learning. I can try new ways to get to a goal. I can always reach further.”
Learn more about Lisa and our Sustainable Materials Management team.
More great reading:
Achieving Florida’s 75% Recycling Goal presents unique challenges and opportunities for policymakers and professional staff. Across the country, local governments who had become accustomed to receiving operational cost offsets from their recyclable materials are now paying higher fees to continue their recycling programs. Renewable News covers how Leon County and the city of Tallahassee are managing both through their partnership.
They are uncovering opportunities to improve upon current operations, including but not limited to potential changes to facilities, infrastructure, programs, and partnerships. New opportunities are helping both develop long-term policy strategies and recommendations to continue a financially viable recycling program and meet goals.
We all enjoy a success story, especially when it comes to reducing contamination in recyclable materials. Congratulations to the city and citizens for their Clean/Green campaign with its many benefits. Bill Bensing, Director of Public Services in Kirkwood, takes us through his journey in this timely APWA Reporter article.
As it does nationwide, Florida’s aspirational 75% recycling goal presents unique challenges and opportunities. Specifically, Florida municipal policymakers and professional staff are wrestling with contamination and changing global commodity markets that affect the financial viability of their recycling programs…
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – WDNR is performing a waste sort to determine what’s in the trash going into Wisconsin’s landfills. During the waste audit, the team will collect at least 200 samples of waste from 12 waste disposal sites across the state for eight weeks. It’s a dirty …
Cities have begun to “right-size” their recycling systems by evaluating the usage of community recycling containers and reducing/redistributing containers to maximize the quantity of recyclables each site receives. Communities are evaluating curbside recycling programs to increase efficiency, and decreasing contamination is a priority…