Erin Fanning, division manager at Bridgeton Landfill in Missouri, is committed to environmental compliance as well as community outreach and education. Each year, she hosts an average of 200 students and teachers for landfill tours and offers presentations at local schools.
“Erin is deeply committed to her work, and strives for excellence in all that she does,” says Jim Teter, director of projects for Republic Services.
When she joined Republic’s Forward Landfill team, she worked on a project near the local airport involving a falconry-based bird abatement program to keep seagulls away from the landfill for aviation safety and environmental health purposes.
“Bird challenges are a reality at landfills around the country, and implementing bird abatement and falconry services are vital,” says Teter. “In an effort to support the program as efficiently and effectively as possible, Erin became a general falconer and joined the falconry community to properly evaluate and assess the best approach to bird abetment.”
Waste360 recently spoke with the Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient about how she’s leveraged her background in biology and how she and a team of engineers, technicians and contractors ensure that Bridgeton Landfill remains in a managed and sustainable state.
Waste360: How did you get involved with the industry?
Erin Fanning: While I was wrapping up my master’s degree in biology in 2009, I had my first job in my career with Hurst and Associates, doing groundwater sampling at landfills. Then, I started doing nature and extent investigation with them, operating and maintaining the mediation systems.
A few years later, I joined Republic Services and moved out to Minocqua, Calif., to work as an environmental manager for an active landfill. I also managed three closed landfills at that point. Then, I moved back to the Midwest and joined Bridgeton Landfill as an environmental manager before I took it over in June 2016.
Waste360: Can you describe your current role as division manager at Bridgeton Landfill?
Erin Fanning: I oversee the entire facility, work with regulators and manage my environmental team and the operations team. It’s basically a reaction site, so there are significant challenges that come with managing at this type of landfill, such as the surveying we do to monitor settlement, the heat extractions system and a great deal of landfill gas monitoring.
Waste360: Have you been involved with any innovations at the landfill?
Erin Fanning: Our heat extraction barrier is a first-of-its-kind, patented system. It pulls thermal energy out of the waste after a closed loop system, where we send it down to a cooling tower and just recirculate fluid. That runs right across the neck of our landfill, creating a thermal barrier between our south quarry and our north quarry.
Waste360: I understand you also do a lot of community outreach. What initiatives are you involved in?
Erin Fanning: We do a large number of tours at Bridgeton Landfill. We'll also go out to schools and present there, but we have anywhere from middle school to college students and other community members come out to the facility. We give them a presentation generalized on science and technology, or we can really deep dive into the reactions or into solid waste and recycling.
For STEM teachers, we'll set up work stations where we break out into groups and deep dive into landfill gas or falconry-based abatement to give them a more in-depth view of certain components of what we do.
Waste360: What's the reaction of students and educators who visit the landfill?
Erin Fanning: Bridgeton has received a lot of media coverage over various points in our history, and people’s perceptions are completely different then their perceptions when they leave. We can do a lot of education and demonstration at Bridgeton as one of the most monitored sites in the nation.
Waste360: What keeps you motivated?
Erin Fanning: I'm an environmentalist, and you wouldn't necessarily see my counterparts working in this industry. But I think that industry strongly benefits from people who are still trying to make smart financial decisions but also really targeting compliance. My boss here doesn’t say, “Thou shall stick to your budget.” He says, “Do the right thing every day.” My mom also raised my family to make a difference in the world. I feel like I have a real opportunity to do both at Bridgeton. We're not just cogs here. The work that we do really manifests in a true benefit for the environment and the community, even within a challenging set of conditions.