Erin Levine, WM EarthCare Specialist with Waste Management of Alameda County, has helped to grow the WM EarthCare product line into a profitable business over the past two years. Her focus is on working with people interested in using compost and other materials to create a healthy environment.
“Erin’s commitment to the closed-loop organics solution provided by WM EarthCare and her personal passion for the environment are a winning combination and source of inspiration to others in the industry,” says Barry Skolnick, President, Waste Management of Alameda County.
Levine was recently named a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient. She talked to Waste360 about creating closed loop solutions for the Bay Area.
Waste360: Who does Waste Management of Alameda County serve?
Erin Levine: We take organic material in from several Bay Area communities, for example Alameda, Marin, and Sonoma counties. We work with commercial landscapers, vineyards, Caltrans (The California Department of Transportation), nonprofits, community gardens and some municipalities.
I work at the composting site, which is Redwood Landfill in Novato. This is where the processing happens. We have a covered aerated static pile compost system. My full responsibility is to sell the finished product back into the community. Because of where we’re located, we have wine country in our backyard. Many of the growers that practice sustainable farming purchase our compost back as a soil amendment for their ranches.
Waste360: What are your major responsibilities?
Erin Levine: My responsibility is to move product out. We have a main processing site and we have six other sites that we have developed either at our transfer stations or our landfills where the public can come in and actually purchase these products that we sell. The compost is the main focus just because of the high volume of material we’re getting because of the diversion mandates in California, and also because of the demand of the product. We also sell recycled wood mulch that we recover from construction and demolition debris.
I handle the customer relations. I do the day-to-day sales of the compost. I help with marketing. I run the trade shows. I arrange and coordinate with the nonprofits and the schools that we donate to. I assist with the compost giveaways we do in the community.
Waste360: What was the intent of the California regulation mandating new uses for compost?
Erin Levine: It’s the next frontier in recycling. There’s a high demand for organic recycling. There are several counties in California that have banned organics from going into the landfill. Alameda County banned it many, many years ago. So, we took an opportunity to divert what we can’t send and make it into a higher and better use, which is the diversion of the soil amendment, this compost.
The closed loop (meaning that we collect it from the community and turn it back to the community to help to improve the quality of soil) is really important because with this drought that’s happening in California compost can help. It has a high water-holding capacity. It can retain a lot of moisture. That’s why it’s become even more popular.
We make the two products that people are using to convert their landscaping into a drought-tolerant landscape. There’s benefits all across the board. We’re diverting it from the landfill; we’re turning it back into the community to help with the healthy soil; we’re keeping it local. We’re keeping it within 50 miles of where we collect. It’s a really Bay Area-focused closed loop story of how we are recycling these organics.
Waste360: How did you find your way to the waste industry?
Erin Levine: In college, I had a friend that started a company to recycle electronic waste. That was as a result of a [California] Senate bill that passed that said electronics were now banned from the landfill. My friend had followed that and realized the trend that people were going to need a solution to collect and properly dispose of their electronic waste. I had taken an environmental studies course and I found it fascinating that this trend was coming and that he was developing this business.
I asked if I could help do some fundraisers. On the weekends I was doing the event planning. We would advertise and ask the community to come through and drop off their electronic waste, and then eventually I graduated college and joined the business full-time. I was hired to organize a collection route and I started shifting my focus from the fundraising side to the business collection side.
Next, I moved to a recycler, a company that was actually doing the disassembly and the physical dismantling part of the recycling. I realized the next trend coming was the organics ban at the landfill. I go to a lot of waste association events, and I was really interested in the trending that was happening in the organics ban. Then, I applied to Waste Management.
Waste360: It seems like your community is important to you. Why is giving back to the community something you do?
Erin Levine: I feel very passionate about the community that I live in because it’s where we get to spend our time, and where our resources are managed, and the air we breathe, and the water we drink. I think it’s crucial that proper sanitation services are participating to the highest level with any and all environmental concerns, and I just have a lot of knowledge and passion behind doing the right thing for the environment.
I’m a huge supporter of my local sustainable farms. I’m a true believer. I have an interest in healthy soils and I feel that it can be a big part of our future.
[At Waste Management of Alameda County], we do a lot of donations to schools and nonprofits. We do try to help as many community gardens as we can. Personally, I volunteer with my local green team to pick up trash along the street. As a community member, I just feel the importance of helping keep it clean and not having that waste go into the bay.