Travon Grant, municipal relationship manager at Republic Services and Long Beach Chamber of Commerce board member, has taken waste and recycling to the next level by using his knowledge of the industry to help school districts like the L.A. Unified School District improve their waste and recycling programs. For the L.A. Unified School District, Grant helped implement and create a comprehensive program that improved the district’s recycling rate by 112 percent within the first year.
Throughout his career, Grant has worked hand-in-hand with thousands of students to ensure that they not only understand how to properly waste and recycle but that they find and create a career path for themselves, whether it be in the waste and recycling industry or another industry of their choosing.
Waste360 awarded Grant with a Waste360 40 Under 40 award earlier this year for his contributions to the waste and recycling industry. And recently, we spoke with Grant about how he got his start in the industry, his work with Keep California Beautiful and Republic Services’ goals for 2016.
Waste360: When did you get your start in the waste and recycling industry?
Travon Grant: Growing up, my neighbor was a trash man, and I told myself that I would never do that job. I attended college, graduated and was on the hunt for a job when my friend called me up and told me about an organization that I might be interested in. I had no idea that I wanted to be in the waste and recycling industry, but I made a couple calls and I got hired.
I was a little nervous starting off because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My first role in the industry was a front line manager. I was the direct manager to the drivers, and I was responsible for the day-to-day operations and making sure that the waste and recycling items were collected on a daily basis.
Landing a job in the waste and recycling industry was totally unexpected, but I am glad I fell into it.
Waste360: How did you help improve recycling in the L.A. Unified School District by 112 percent?
Travon Grant: The reality of the situation was that we didn’t have any money, we had people who weren’t eager to recycle and we had students who would really do anything that we trained them to do. Since I have an operations-driven background, I took an operations approach to help everyone learn and replicate the processes that we put into place.
To start, we had to make sure that each school had the appropriate equipment and tools to make these processes run smoothly. Luckily, we were able to use most of the equipment that the client managers had on the campuses so we didn’t have to buy any new equipment.
To get the client managers on board, we took a scientific approach to explain to them why improving their recycling was important. Our message actually had nothing to do with recycling because many people had heard the word “recycling” in the district for years, but it was a fly by night type of deal. For example, someone would come in and create a new recycling process, but the district would follow the process for a short time and then it would stop.
With our scientific approach, we used simple mathematics and ideas to get our point across. Before we started our processes, the plant managers were lifting anywhere from 1,500 lbs. to 2,000 lbs. of trash per day. And in this day and age, that is something that members of the industry just don’t do anymore because we have technology that can do the heavy lifting.
We suggested a process that would allow those plant managers to relieve more than half of that weight off their shoulders every day and started a campaign called I Do, We Do, You Do to help the members of the district learn the new processes that were set in place. With this campaign, someone from Republic does the work first, then a Republic employee and a member of the district do the work together and then after a couple days, the members of the district do the work on their own. And before you know it, we had a solid structure in place, and we were educating people and letting them know that simple processes and procedures can go a long way.
To reach our goals, I knew it was important to focus on the quality over the quantity. We weren’t going to leave the district high and dry like others in the past. Once the procedures and policies were set in place, we would visit each facility two to three times a year to ensure that each facility was sticking to the policies and procedures. If they weren’t following those policies and procedures, then we would help them get back on track.
I am happy to say that the recycling rates in the district are still holding strong today, and I am positive that it will remain strong in the future.
Waste360: Tell us a little bit about your volunteer work and work with Keep California Beautiful.
Travon Grant: For the last couple of years, I have focused on partnering with various school districts, specifically the L.A. Unified School District and the Long Beach School District. These two districts are part of a program called Link Learning, which is a huge grant that has been given to the districts to help students understand and create a career pathway.
With these districts, I have been volunteering my time to help the districts manage their externship and internship programs. In addition to helping students identify a career path, these programs allow students to experience what really goes on in the real world. I also help find companies that will take on these students as externs and interns. One of my favorite parts of my role is finding work for those who are interested in the waste and recycling industry.
Recently, I went to Sacramento, Calif., and partnered with the nonprofit Keep California Beautiful. For the second year in a row, we have won more than $5,000 for the districts’ recycling efforts. We love being able to bring that funding back into the schools, and the cash really serves as an extra motivator for those who are part of those districts.
Together, we educate students on the waste and recycling laws and assembly bills and give them a history of the sanitation industry. We also take students on field trips to recycling facilities and landfills so they can truly understand how the whole process of waste and recycling works.
One of our schools, Carson High School in the City of Carson, Calif., has a garden onsite with various animals so there’s no waste by the end of lunchtime. The students love feeding and taking care of the animals and everything that isn’t eaten by the animals will be composted.
All of the examples that I have mentioned are what drives me to go to work every day.
Waste360: What are Republic’s goals for 2016?
Travon Grant: This year, the focus has really been on Assembly Bill 1826, which states that we are required to provide organics services here in the State of California. My role with that is to make sure that Republic is putting the proper processes in place.
Last year, we started a couple of organics pilot programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District in preparation for the Assembly Bill 1826. With these programs, I have been focusing on understanding the best approaches and the best solutions to offer our customers. The reality is, not everyone understands organics and the proper way to dispose of them. The fortunate thing is that I have been involved from a hands-on perspective so I know the pros and cons of organics.
I am also working on encouraging people to shift away from the mentality of throwing out unused organics. I am educating them on where their unused organics can be used, such as a homeless shelter or for composting. At the end of the day, it’s more humanitarian to figure out ways to give unused organics to people first and then find other uses for it, such as energy.
Waste360: What do you wish you would have known before entering the industry?
Travon Grant: Being somewhat of a spiritual person, I believe that sometimes the career chooses you. Some people know that they should be a lawyer or a doctor, but some people’s careers choose them. I am one of those people whose career chose them. It has been amazing to be a part of something where I am making an active change in the local community, and I wouldn’t change anything about my career.
I love knowing that I am part of something that will get passed down from generation to generation. And now that I have been in the industry for some time, I have the ability to go in and train the decision makers of each municipality in the state to give them a better understanding of how they can make better decisions for everyone in their community.
So far, everything has gone the way God has planned it to go. At the end of the day, I am a believer that even though I do not know the future, I believe my future is bright and that the amount of knowledge that I acquire every single day makes me more of a valuable asset to my friends, my family, my peers and the future workers of our industry.