by Jon M. Casey
The Tennessee Recycling Coalition (TRC) held its Annual Conference & Awards Dinner on October 16-18 at the Oak Ridge National Labs, Y-12 New Hope Center and nearby Double-Tree Hotel. This year’s theme was “Recycling by Design” and attendees enjoyed networking and interesting workshops by industry professionals as well as exhibits and displays staffed by companies and environmental agencies from across the state and region. Exploring many new environmental and recycled content products coupled with a strong educational component focused on re-use and recycling was the mission of the statewide organization and participants were quite impressed with the three day conference.
Keynote speaker, Marty Dunkin, division vice president for Waste Connections, Inc., began his presentation by pulling a number of recyclable items from a cloth bag, asking the audience to show their enthusiasm for each of the items with applause. He pulled out a glass bottle, an aluminum can, a fluorescent tube, a Styrofoam food container, a plastic shopping bag, cardboard and a baby diaper, all troublesome items that have little alternative use following disposal. Since the environment is very important to Dunkin and his company, the third largest company of its kind in North America, he wanted to emphasize the importance of the culture and leadership in any company that serves the recycling industry. With over 16,000 employees throughout 40 states and all the provinces in Canada, the success with the management model that Waste Connections, Inc. demonstrates, is an outstanding pattern for other companies, large or small, to follow.
Dunkin recommended the book, The Secret Leader Guide by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller as the ultimate resource when it comes to managing the workers within an organization. He said that servant leadership, as outlined in this book, is the cornerstone of his company from top to bottom. “None of us is as smart as all of us!” he said.
“This form of management culture has helped us face our challenges as a company,” he said. “It’s going to take vision over the coming decades (for our industry to overcome these challenges).” He used the joint effort between Kennecott Mining Company and the U.S. Department of Energy to begin recycling through mineral smelting of electronic equipment. He said this would deal with a segment of the recycling industry that is currently going unmet.
Servant leadership helps to improve communication throughout the entire business. All of the employees are allowed to talk to anyone else within the organization. “Anybody can talk to anybody,” he said. “Make everyone part of the process.”
“What did you give up to be here today?” he asked in closing. “If it is important enough to be here, it’s important enough to participate (in what you learn here today). Learn to lead your teams more effectively.”
Following a daylong program that included 15 breakout sessions along three topical tracks, the evening banquet and awards ceremony featured an address by TDEC Division of Solid Waste Management Director, Patrick Flood. Director Flood began by noting his department is celebrating 25 years of service to the people of Tennessee. Flood said with the creation of TDEC in 1991, through the Solid Waste Disposal Act, there has been little change in how the department works because the law and its wording at the time was designed to protect the state’s environment and not necessarily provide for any guidelines in recycling as part of that plan. He said that at that time, the focus was on diverting material from landfills rather than recycling them. Composting was not a major consideration at that time. The same went for recycling other materials. They were diverted. Much of the recyclables were diverted from a Class 1 landfill to a Class 3 landfill, nothing more.
He said that disposal in 1991 was not much more than throwing unwanted items over a hillside and driving away or if you really were environmentally advanced, you burned it. “A lot has changed since 1991,” he said. “The economy is doubled and our population has increased by 35 percent.”
“How do you make recycling work when there are no [built in] drivers to make it work?” he asked. “Moral persuasion,” he answered. “You have to change the culture. You have to teach them to want to do the things they should be doing. Without regulation, there is nothing we can do to change the culture. We have made great strides thus far. We should celebrate that.”
He added that citizen’s access to recycling containers by waste companies began the change. Instead of throwing things away indiscriminately, households had a place to take their solid waste. Today, recycling containers are available in both public and private places. “It’s unusual to go someplace and not find recycling containers today,” he said. “Since 1991, the culture has changed. You changed the way an entire state thinks.”
Flood concluded by saying that changes are on the way. In the past, regulators made recycling difficult, but today, the state government is working to make recycling easier. “We made composting extremely hard,” he said. “When I came onboard (four years ago), we were using composting regulations that were 25 years old. It was extremely hard to get a permit for composting. We only had two permitted compositing facilities in the entire state of Tennessee!”
“Over this summer, we have been revising our regulations and they have finally been approved,” he said. “By being able to offer recycling grants under the new legislation, within a short time, we have received 20 new applications for composting facilities. Challenges and opportunities await us. We are just scratching the surface.” For more information on the Tennessee Recycling Coalition, visit www.tennesseerecyclingcoalition.org .