After reviewing hundreds of nominations, Waste360 announced five of the most influential women in the waste and recycling industry for their leadership, achievements, and empowering others. Congratulations and thanks to Anne Germain, Joy Grahek, Dana Gunders, Michelle Leonard, and Ana Wood. Be sure to say hello to them all at Waste Expo! Read more about these five remarkable people on Waste360.
About Michelle Leonard
Michelle has invested more than 35 years into a career focused on solid waste management, working to lead communities nationwide in their efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste materials. She is a leader and influencer in the waste industry and at SCS Engineers. Michelle sits on the firm’s Board of Directors as a senior vice president and leads the future-focused practice of sustainable materials management (SMM). SMM to reduce waste directly correlates with climate change as an implementable solution to reduce emissions. A recent quote from one of her clients epitomizes her impact, “Even if I already knew, I still get amazed every time realizing how knowledgeable you are.”
Michelle mentors, guides, and influences all SCSers and young professionals.
She is particularly interested in promoting the cause of women, diversity, and equity in the industry and at SCS. She guides and mentors young female professionals on their professional journey in her practice and the broader company. “As someone newer to this industry, I feel very fortunate to work with Michelle. She constantly supports my growth within the industry and our company,” states Kelli Farmer, an SCS young professional and SMM team member.
In the words of SCS President and CEO Jim Walsh, “Michelle informs some of the country’s largest cities and waste company programs. Her knowledge and dedication to her clients, industry, and within SCS earn our respect.”
Recognized for her positive influence on the waste industry, Michelle is a sought-after speaker at industry organizations and has served on their boards and key committees. Look for her presentation Why is Multifamily Recycling So Hard? at Waste Expo.
She is well-known for her guidance in successfully helping businesses, educational institutions, and municipalities adopt a sustainable materials management program as a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycle. As one of five influential women, Michelle’s work finds new implementable opportunities to minimize environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs across the nation.
A History of Serving
In 2016, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Michelle to serve on the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee (ETTAC) from October through the term of the Committee’s charter in August 2018. Michelle represented SCS and the U.S. environmental technology industry’s waste management and recycling segment. Following her term of service, Michelle said, “I was honored to help support the unique role environmental technologies play in advancing the solid waste industry. We can safely help mitigate many global environmental problems.”
Michelle is a Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) member and has been on the Board of Directors of SWANA’s Southern California Founding Chapter since 2009. She has led the organization in various key roles as International Board Past President and Past Director of SWANA’s Recycling and Special Waste Technical Division.
Michelle is the past Southern California Waste Management Forum Director and the Women’s Environmental Council President. She serves on the leadership team of Southern California Women in Solid Waste and Recycling.
Recognized by SWANA with their Distinguished Individual Achievement Award (DIAA), the organization acknowledged Michelle’s success and service to their Technical Division and her clients for long-term achievements in the solid waste industry.
“Michelle Leonard’s influence and work are supporting communities and states to manage waste economically and responsibly,” said SCS President and CEO Jim Walsh, “Her work greatly benefits her clients, our industry, and the public.”
Impacting the waste and recycling industry
Michelle’s expertise in solid waste management regulations and practices has helped many city, county, and state regulators to manage successful and award-winning waste management and recycling projects. She is a proponent of integrating the principles of a circular economy into the waste industry. She promotes municipalities and private waste companies adopting circular strategies, which reduce waste going into landfills. Reducing waste reduces methane emissions, thus improving air quality and public health, and safety.
Michelle says, “Sustainable materials management can help meet the challenges of waste reduction and management as states impose disposal bans, diversion mandates, and emissions restrictions. It’s economically sound and socially responsible, too.”
Michelle stays attuned to evolving regulations, maintains relationships with regulators, and keeps her clients and the industry abreast of current issues. She publishes peer-reviewed papers, articles, blogs, and presents on these issues at various industry organizations.
Working at SCS
Born and raised in Southern California, Michelle graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Berkley. While working on energy conservation projects in California, Michelle worked her way into a position at SCS Engineers. She is now a senior vice president and SCS Board of Directors member. As the firm’s National Expert on Solid Waste Planning, Recycling, and Sustainability projects and plans, she drives the firm’s strategies and response to California Senate Bill 1383. This experience and understanding of economic sustainability enable her to meet the growing need for composting strategies, technologies, and facilities nationwide as more states and regions aim to go greener.
Michelle is a mentor, guide, and influencer for the 341 women and young professionals at SCS Engineers. She is particularly interested in promoting the cause of women and diversity and equity at SCS Engineers and in the industry. Elizabeth Purington, a young professional at SCS and SMM team member, says, “As a young woman in the solid waste industry, I am inspired by all that Michelle has been able to accomplish in her career. She leads the Sustainable Materials Management practice and sits on the company’s Board of Directors, all while empowering other women to become leaders alongside her.”
Michelle is instrumental in the education and certification of young professionals, municipalities, and members of professional organizations. She strives to help others find ways to reduce waste and recover more materials to meet their environmental responsibilities sustainably.
Michelle would be the only woman in the room at the start of her career. Today, Michelle is proud to see the industry evolve, albeit slowly, and noted, “I think there are a lot of very strong and vital roles that women are playing in our industry now.”
In various roles in the industry and at SCS, Michelle firmly encourages women to be smart, search for opportunities, and use personal strengths to their advantage. She firmly believes that women can play an important role in the environmental consulting and waste management industries and is happy to see women take on more critical roles.
Join SCS Engineers professionals at “REimagine California” the 47th Annual Conference & Tradeshow of the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA), August 13-16, at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport in Burlingame, CA.
Each year, the CRRA organizes one of the most comprehensive and informative conferences dedicated to recycling and sustainable materials management in California and beyond. The Annual Conference and Tradeshow attracts over 600 individuals annually and showcases some 30 sessions with over 100 industry experts as presenters. The conference includes
This year’s event will be a hybrid, available live as well as online via streaming. All speakers will be presenting live from Burlingame.
SCS Engineers is a Silver Sponsor of the ninth Global Waste Management Symposium in Indian Wells, California, February 25-28, 2024.
The GWMS serves as a forum to discuss applied and fundamental research, case studies and policy analysis on solid waste and materials management. The community of researchers, engineers, designers, academicians, students, facility owners and operators, regulators and policymakers will participate.
The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is a strategic partner of the symposium.
Meet SCS Engineers professionals and visit us at BOOTH 111 at SWANA’s SOAR (Sustainability, Operations, Action, Resources) Conference, April 17-20, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
SWANA’s new premier technical spring conference, themed “Technical Solutions for Resource Management,” will bring together industry professionals from ALL disciplines of the resource management community. Hear presentations by SCS professionals, including
Join professionals in Collection & Transfer, Landfill Gas & Biogas, Landfill Management, Waste Conversion & Energy Recovery, and Sustainable Materials Management at this enhanced and productive technical summit. Spend a few days diving deep into technical education, developing new business connections at networking events and joining game-changing conversations with experts in North America. Most importantly, you’ll leave SOAR with actionable, fact-based solutions to implement in your facilities.
Delivering practical solutions to the solid waste industry’s most difficult problems, SWANA SOAR showcases the promising technologies, ideas, and solutions that transform waste into a resource. As SWANA’s premier technical conference, SOAR connects experts and problem solvers in industry-changing conversations about your most complex challenges.
Cutting food loss and waste is widely recognized as one of the most powerful levers we have to address climate change and preserve our natural resources. In the United States alone, surplus food accounts for 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions, 14% of all freshwater use, and 18% of all cropland use. We’re wasting precious resources to produce and ship food only to have it end up in a landfill or rot in a field. [ReFED]
These are key action areas where the food system can focus its efforts over the next decade to prevent, rescue, and recycle food at risk of becoming waste. Strengthening food rescue and recycling anything remaining into compost or anaerobic digestion facilities creates beneficial by-products.
The USDA offers grants of up to $300,000 to composting and food waste reduction pilot projects benefiting community food waste and production programs.
Eligible projects can be in rural, urban, and suburban communities. The application deadline is fast approaching on September 1, 2022. USDA anticipates making selections by October 30, 2022, and executing the grant awards by February 8, 2023.
Visit SCS Engineers to learn more about this grant opportunity, check program qualifications, and sign up for free consulting supporting communities interested in this unique USDA grant program.
In this Waste Advantage article, sustainable materials management expert Ryan Duckett discusses how this critical infrastructure helps manage discarded materials properly, keeping communities cleaner and safer.
Finding staff and personnel, equipment, and materials transportation costs can strain localities’ limited budgets when designing these Convenience Centers. Duckett’s holistic planning approach can sustain a community’s infrastructure investment for decades.
For comprehensive solid waste and recycling advice, visit:
The Food DROP and RecycleSmart case studies in this EM article illustrate the successful collaboration between local governments and stakeholders in food recovery. In both cases, local government staff invested time to understand the barriers and benefits of different aspects of recovery. The resulting recovery programs provide local benefits by supporting the community and the collective benefit of reducing the amount of food waste sent to landfills in California.
As environmental professionals, we believe that positions us as key collaborators for these recovery programs across the country, whether helping businesses overcome the barriers and participate in food donation programs or to support the capacity expansion of recovery organizations and services. We encourage you to learn more about the food recovery organizations and services in your community and start a conversation about how to best support their work.
Start by reading the article, Collaboration Is the Key to Successful Edible Food Recovery, for advice from these SCS Engineers environmental professionals.
The former General Manager of the Monterey Regional Waste Management District and current Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Vice President, Tim Flanagan, is now a Project Director with SCS Engineers in Pleasanton, California. Flanagan is putting his three decades of recycling and solid waste expertise to work for the firm’s clients.
Flanagan is well known in the waste industry and continues making significant contributions in North America and globally. He’s accomplished many successful waste diversion and recycling programs and sustainable facilities. He played a key role in developing a pilot anaerobic digestion facility, which processes food waste and other organics into energy. This facility was the first in California to process organics from the municipal solid waste stream.
He is the Past Director of SWANA’s Recycling and Special Waste Technical Division and presently the Vice President of the SWANA International Board. In that capacity, he plays an integral role in developing the Association’s new strategic plan and participating in identifying, selecting, and prioritizing the plan goals and strategies. Flanagan is also a past Gold Rush Chapter president, where he spearheaded efforts to team with the California Resource Recovery Association for the very successful Zero Waste Certification training program.
Flanagan’s public sector experience started in the City of Palo Alto and with the County of Santa Clara before he moved into the private sector. He was Waste Management’s Western Region Director of Recycling overseeing a thirteen-state network of MRFs and material sales and District Manager of collection, recycling, and transfer station operations covering northern and southern California for seventeen years.
In 2015, the Monterey Regional Waste Management District (MRWMD) appointed him as General Manager following his ten years as the Assistant General Manager. During his tenure, Flanagan oversaw $50 million of facilities expansion and development in materials recovery facility recycling and composting operations, equipment maintenance, household hazardous waste, engineering, and landfill site operations. MRWMD, a leader in effective solid waste management and resource recovery, has been recognized by SWANA as one of the “Best Solid Waste Systems in North America.” In 2016, SWANA’s Sustainable Material Management division recognized Flanagan with its “Distinguished Individual Achievement” Award.
In 2021, Flanagan initiated the partnership with the Veteran’s Transition Center of Monterey County with The Last Chance Mercantile. This public/non-profit partnership that Flanagan helped create has the benefit of providing stable jobs for veterans in transition and the reuse of recovered items instead of landfilling. The store offers an extensive inventory of unique items ranging from books to boats, scrap lumber to furniture, and clothing to household treasures. It’s been selected by the Monterey County Weekly Readers Poll as the “Best Eco-Friendly Business in Monterey County” for many years.
Michelle Leonard, SCS’s senior vice president leading its sustainable materials management practice, has this to say, “Tim is a collaborator, a mentor, a motivator. He embodies the spirit of resource recovery in all he has accomplished and his industry contributions. It is our pleasure and honor to welcome him to SCS Engineers.”
As noted in Waste360, SWANA’s recent report, “Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs,” shows stubborn resistance to recycling even after an intense education and enforcement campaign in two towns. A bit more than one-quarter of the households simply didn’t seem to care. While the solid waste industry finds that hard to comprehend, we’re always looking for solutions, and we don’t give up.
Here’s a simple set of recommendations from Consumer Reports published in September for using less plastic. After all, if you don’t recycle, at least try to use less plastic! Most of the recommendations will save you a lot of money and are easy to do, some of which you’re probably already doing.
Thanks to Consumer Reports for its outstanding article that we share with you here.
In October, Republic Services’ Otay Compost Facility at the Chula Vista, California, Otay Landfill opened for business. The compost facility helps communities in San Diego County meet the requirements of California’s SB1383 law mandating the diversion of organic waste from landfills.
The composting facility designed by SCS Engineers in collaboration with Sustainable Generation operates completely off the grid using solar energy. It is the first fully solar-powered compost facility in the state and can process 100 tons of organics per day, with plans to double capacity by year-end.
Both organics recycling and reuse leaders, Republic Services hired SCS Engineers to design the Otay Compost Facility. The design uses renewable energy to run 100 percent of the composting operations at the site. The facility design includes using technologies to speed the maturation rates and reduce excessive odors. Blowers to aerate the organic material, oxygen and temperature sensors, and advanced compost cover technology produce a high-quality product.
“Republic’s taken the goals of SB 1383, to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants further. They’re running a sustainable facility that enables residents, businesses, and government to easily reuse and recycle more within a smaller carbon footprint than ever expected,” says Vidhya Viswanathan, engineer and project director.
As California collects and recycles organic materials from homes and businesses, local governments will use the products made from recycled organic material for compost and mulch. Recycling organic waste into compost creates a nutrient-rich soil amendment, preserving natural resources and reducing water consumption working within a circular economy. This California jurisdiction is ready for the SB1383 deadline on January 1, 2022.
“Republic Services supports California’s effort to divert food and yard waste from landfills to facilities such as this one,” said Chris Seney, Republic’s director of organics operations. “We’re grateful to SCS for their partnership in helping us bring this facility, co-located at an active landfill, to reality.”
Please watch the YouTube video to see the facility and learn more about its environmental value.
SCS Engineers is proud of helping our municipal and private clients bring the most value to their environmental solutions and communities. To learn more about SCS Engineers, view our 50th-anniversary video.