Cristian Benitez’s waste management career with the City of El Paso began when he was a college intern. While studying industrial engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, he worked as a landfill/environmental technician. After graduating from college, Benitez was hired as a full-time employee and provided technical support for landfill operations.

Now Benitez oversees all landfill operations for the City of El Paso. He manages a staff of 25 employees who operate the city's regional Type I landfill.

“Cristian is a strong leader who sets the example by his work ethic. He strives to improve operational efficiencies while also providing quality service to the customers. He recently implemented the use of alternative daily cover at the landfill which has saved valuable air space, and he is currently working on the design of future landfill cells,” says John Garza, Deputy Director, Environmental Services Department.

“Cristian is a dedicated public servant who has taken on a multitude of roles and assignments. His leadership, managerial, and technical skills continue to increase as he provides a valuable service to the health and safety of the El Paso region,” says Garza.

Benitez was recently named a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient. In this interview, he talks about his career with the City of El Paso.

Waste360: What are your main responsibilities?

Cristian Benitez: I manage two programs: the landfill operations and the landfill technical support. The landfill operations includes providing the disposal waste management services to the community, to residential and commercial customers.

Waste360: You’ve had a wide variety of responsibilities within the organization, do you think that this was your original career path?

Cristian Benitez: Not at all. I graduated as an industrial engineer. I saw myself working at a manufacturing facility, but I guess my internship kind of directed me in this direction.

Waste360: What do you think drew you in?

Cristian Benitez: I like serving the public. I like to think that I am able to contribute back to the city and in some way helping with keeping my city clean and beautiful. We do our part by managing the waste of the community.

Waste360: Do you think that your educational background prepared you for your career or is it something you have learned on the job?

Cristian Benitez: I think both. Education always helps. You never know when you’re going to need those tools you learn from school, but also you’re going to learn a lot of what you need doing the actual work.

Waste360: Have you had the experience of having mentors?

Cristian Benitez: I would say that I’ve had great supervisors, including my director. She always gives us the tools but also a lot of freedom. [The leadership] lets us innovate. I’ve been very lucky to have the supervisors I’ve had.

Waste360: You used the word “innovate.” Do you think this field has space and opportunity for innovation?

Cristian Benitez: Yes. There’s always change in this field. With all of the emergent technologies, the rules and regulations are changing constantly, plus the day-to-day opportunities.

Waste360: Who is your client base?

Cristian Benitez: Our clients are mainly the residents of El Paso. We do our own garbage collection services for residents. At the landfill we receive everything—both residential and commercial.

Waste360: What do you wish people in your community understood about your city’s landfill?

Cristian Benitez:  The purpose of the landfill. That it’s not just a dump. We need to somehow efficiently and safely dispose of our trash and our recyclables. It’s not easy but we do our best to have a clean facility. In some ways, I would say, we’re protecting and preserving the environment for future generations, for our kids.

Waste360: In your application, the nominator said that you are a strong leader. What do you think leadership means to you?

Cristian Benitez: My strongest values (and that’s pretty much what I use) are to provide guidance, to be honest, be respectful with my co-workers, and be fair to them. They’re the ones doing the work. I treat them the way I would treat myself and my family. Also, they’re the ones who bring the ideas. So I’m just helping them to connect those ideas by providing the best guidance from the experience that I’ve gained here through the department.

Waste360: Is there something you would like to see happen in the industry in the next few years?

Cristian Benitez: I would like to see the community [residents and commercial entities] work in partnership [with our department, Environmental Services] so that we can together do a better job of taking care of the city. There’s still a lot of opportunities out there. I think if we worked together as partners we could do a better job.

Waste360: Are there new initiatives that you have coming up?

Cristian Benitez: On surveying, we are implementing new technology such as drones. We’re in the initial phase, doing all of the research. We do our own topographic surveys so we want to give it a shot with this new technology. It can do the actual topographic survey and take pictures. You can do it faster and cheaper than doing it the conventional way. We’re also working to preserve as much air space as we can [using new techniques].

Waste360: What advice would you give to someone starting out in this industry?

Cristian Benitez: You need to like what you do. I love what I do. Then, take whatever opportunities you can to learn as much as you can. There’s a lot of classes, seminars, and conferences in the industry. Like what you do and do it in the best manner possible.