The Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference planning committee is diligently working on hosting an in-person conference October 4-6, 2021, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. Naturally, we’ll be attending if at all possible. So get your vaccine and plan to head to Cedar Rapids in October.
Check back; more information to come! We are recycling it here 🙂
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 leasers will discuss new US EPA Recycling Goals, Food Waste & Organics Recovery, pandemic responses, and lessons that can be applied as we move forward.
The summit will be followed by a virtual networking event.
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…
California’s SB 1383, the Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Act, sets a statewide goal for reducing organic waste to landfills of 50 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2025. Included in SB 1383 is a goal to recover 20 percent of edible food waste for human consumption.
Meeting these requirements, particularly the recovery of edible food, is not as straightforward as it might seem. For example, it is difficult to accurately identify edible food from other waste once it’s in the waste stream.
“We can estimate the amount of edible food during waste characterizations, but we find working directly with businesses to identify the edible food they can make available and in what quantities is a more holistic approach,” said Tracie Bills, SMM Northern California Director. “We assist businesses with identifying edible food recovery partners with reputable community programs to distribute food to people in need.”
SCS Engineers partners with Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen in San Jose to create a sustainable solution that could become a model for how municipalities can meet the 20-percent food recovery requirement.
Loaves & Fishes is a non-profit organization with roots going back 40 years. It’s grown from a simple soup kitchen to one of the leading providers of meals in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. The organization recently opened its new location in San Jose.
“Last year, we served more than 1 million meals, almost twice as many as just a couple of years ago,” said Mauricio Cordova, Loaves & Fishes’ COO. “With the help of local restaurants, grocery stores, and others, we’re able to use the food they can’t use to feed residents in need. In our new building, we expect to increase capacity to 10,000 meals per day.”
“Creating these partnerships isn’t part of our typical scope of work,” adds Bills. “But it’s important to go beyond simply identifying edible food. As we work with potential contributors and partners, we’re able to create a sustainable network that achieves a common goal.”
Says Cordova, “Through our A La Carte Food Recovery program, we can help companies divert perfectly safe and usable food away from composting and landfills, and re-distribute them in the form of meals to our most vulnerable neighbors. The all-around win is that people in dire need of food assistance – compounded by the impact of Covid-19 – can receive healthy, nutritious food, and companies lessen their food waste levels and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Loaves & Fishes has recovered more than 1 million pounds of edible groceries and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1,058 metric tons.
SCS Engineers welcomes Project Manager Jeff Phillips to the Clive, Iowa office. Jeff works with a growing number of solid waste management clients interested in integrating sustainable materials management into their solid waste master plans. The practice is widely known as Integrated Solid Waste Management, ISWM.
Jeff Phillips comes to SCS with over two decades of designing and implementing ISWM programs. His expertise includes a comprehensive list of individual tasks and services, including facilitating strategic planning and consensus-building sessions, performing waste and recycling industry market analyses, developing and presenting comprehensive financial plans to solid waste agencies, identifying, authoring, and managing federal and state grants. He also designs, performs, manages waste characterization analyses, authors and produces videos for training and education purposes, and is involved in community outreach events for solid waste agencies, city councils, and the public.
“Jeff provides innovative approaches to develop and strengthen programs and operations in Iowa,” said Christine Collier, senior project manager. “He fits right into our SCS philosophy of ensuring client success.”
Jeff is an active member of the Solid Waste Association of North America and the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations, where he previously served on the Board of Directors and Conference Planning Committee. He earned a Bachelor of Arts, Geography, and Environmental Studies from the University of Iowa.
The Dallas City Council recently authorized a three-year service contract, with two one-year renewal options, for environmental monitoring and engineering consulting services supporting Dallas’s Department of Sanitation Services. SCS Engineers will use its integrated specialized practices to support the City’s McCommas Bluff Sanitary Landfill, Bachman Transfer Station, Fair Oaks Transfer Station, and Southwest Transfer Station.
Vice President Ryan Kuntz, P.E., the team’s principal consulting engineer, said, “SCS is privileged that the City of Dallas entrusts us to partner with the City’s staff to maintain the landfill and the transfer stations’ safe and efficient operations. The Department of Sanitation Services support the citizens and the environment; we’re honored to be of assistance.”
Landfills are extraordinarily complex systems integrating liquids and gas management systems, and the City’s McCommas Bluff Landfill is one of the largest landfills in the State of Texas. Transfer stations also require expertise in technical and regulatory issues for successful operation.
The City finds it cost-effective to employ an engineering firm, such as SCS, that specializes in solid waste engineering. SCS enhances environmental services with its specialized in-house practices, providing comprehensive capabilities and advanced technologies that improve efficiency and help control costs.
SCS Engineers will provide monitoring and engineering support staff from the firm’s Bedford, Texas office, along with the help of our minority/women-owned business partners. The SCS Bedford team’s professionals and field technicians are experienced and knowledgeable of regional and local geology, regulatory policies, and technical challenges.
SCS Engineers’ environmental solutions and technology are a direct result of our experience and dedication to solid waste management and other industries responsible for safeguarding the environment. For more information about SCS, please watch our 50th Anniversary video.
As reported in the July 29, 2020, digital news by Environmental Business International
Electronic waste represents billions in lost value
A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21% in five years, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. Only 17.4% of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled, meaning gold, silver, copper, platinum and other recoverable materials conservatively valued at $57 billion were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse. The report predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, making e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream. Global E-waste Statistics Partnership is a collaboration between UN University, International Telecommunication Union, International Solid Waste Assn. and the UN Environment Programme.
What can consumers do to help protect human health and the environment?
We can’t simply toss phones and electronics into our trash or recycling bins at home. To protect our health, water resources, and our communities we can reuse many of our devices and electronics. Try these; the links help you find local resources.
Discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones are electronic waste or (e-waste). Toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are found in many types of electronic equipment and pose a severe risk to human health and the environment if not handled in an environmentally sound manner.
While most electronics are not designed or assembled with recycling in mind, separate collection and recycling of e-waste can be economically viable for products containing high concentrations and contents of precious metals. Cell phones and computers contain base materials such as gold.
Recycling programs are often confronted with the costs of recycling vs material recovery markets, and because the recovery of some materials is especially challenging. Within the paradigm of a circular economy, the mining of e-waste can be considered an important source of secondary raw materials.
Thanks for helping us keep our communities safer!
For community recycling and reuse program development visit our Sustainable Materials Management website.
SCS Engineers is known for sharing best practices, and now we’re expanding our video library online in the SCS Learning Center. Our first video is for Solid Waste Managers and Departments struggling to keep their programs funded, especially recycling.
Strategic Planning for Financial Security is an educational video providing insight into the relationship between solid waste strategic planning and financial security. Less than 30-minutes and available for association events with Q&A.
The video discusses strategies that are useful when developing a business case analysis for SMM, recycling, or composting programs. The process also helps you identify opportunities to increase efficiency and reduce operating costs; design a Capital Plan and secure support for rate increases.
Vita Quinn presents a financial modeling scenario employing financial modeling and solid waste facility software packages to help decision-makers visualize the impact of various alternatives on the planning process. The model is helpful when planning scenarios for budgeting and testing alternative outcomes regarding future solid waste policies, strategies, and funding.
The model is especially useful for cost-benefit analysis of alternatives, fine-tuning strategies as more detailed information and data become available, or when revenue streams or funding levels change following natural disasters, pandemics, market swings, or economic downturns.
SCS Management Services® offers financial sustainability with preventative solutions and long-term financial management plans to public agencies facing environmental and market challenges, shifting regulations, and those aiming for new clean energy goals. Utilities and public-sector organizations provide life-sustaining services to their citizens and communities; providing these services while managing budget constraints; reporting, compliance, and operational challenges; and maintaining affordable rates. We support agencies and companies responsible for managing solid waste, stormwater, wastewater, brownfields-remediation, and energy programs that require integrated skill-sets and financial sustainability for optimal value.