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Covanta’s Moran Works to Take on Pharmaceutical Waste Stream

Covanta’s Moran Works to Take on Pharmaceutical Waste Stream

The 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient discusses implementing a program to help combat the opioid crisis and manage pharmaceutical waste.

Daniel Moran started his career as a junior analyst at a small mergers and acquisitions (M&A) shop, but when the financial crisis heightened in 2009, he lost his job—which was the precursor to his entry into solid waste management. He began at Interstate Waste Services (IWS) and has since worn three hats at Covanta, now as the corporation’s senior director of operations for its healthcare division. He supports operations of its Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-sanctioned reverse distribution operations that safely destroy pharmaceutical waste.

Moran has become an ace troubleshooter over time, working first to figure out how to establish a program that would gain consensus on how to manage a new waste stream that carried potential risks. The issue of safely managing unwanted or unused drugs had, to that point, received almost no attention. Today, with a growing movement to address the opioid crisis, his continued push is to mitigate potential environmental or mismanagement risks and ultimately help prevent accidental overdose. Working with both internal and external stakeholders, Moran has been instrumental in launching a program that has helped create a best-in-class solution for multiple government agencies. 

“Dan is diligent, determined and a team player. He is constantly focused on creating a service that is easy to use and meets all regulatory requirements,” says Derek Veenhof, executive vice president of asset management for Covanta. “He has been determined to provide a program in an area fraught with regulations and difficulties to implement/gain consensus and already has made great strides in less than two years. I'm sure Dan would give credit to a group of people, but he has been a big part of the program's early success in implementation.” 

Waste360 sat down with Moran, a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, to hear of his experience developing and implementing a program to help combat the opioid crisis and manage pharmaceutical waste in general, while protecting the environment from improper disposal. He talks of the need to fill a void resulting from a lack of standardized medication disposal methods. And he has a story about why he does not gauge his career progress in milestones, as well as how he does view where he is careerwise and what may lay ahead.

Waste360: What are your core responsibilities as senior director of operations for healthcare?

Dan Moran: My core responsibility is to support a team that operates several Drug Enforcement Administration reverse distribution facilities across the country. We focus on sustainably destroying pharmaceutical waste in a manner that is safe, compliant, efficient and easy to utilize for our customers. By leveraging Covanta’s unmatched network of energy-from-waste facilities for ultimate disposal, we’re able to offer unique and convenient services to customers that protect people and the environment from improper disposal of consumer and commercially generated pharmaceutical waste.

Covanta’s Moran Works to Take on Pharmaceutical Waste Stream

Waste360: What are some problems you've had to address in setting up a drug take-back program?

Dan Moran: The largest challenge we had to overcome in the early days was wading through several regulatory agencies. We had to garner consensus with regards to how this waste material can be collected, transported, stored and disposed. Regulators recognized that there was an urgent need for this type of service, but since it was a relatively new waste stream in the respect that it is consumer-generated pharmaceutical waste collected primarily in a public domain, traditional waste and pharmaceutical regulations did not contemplate this type of process.

We have successfully overcome this, in large part, because of the success of our Rx4Safety program, a one-of-a-kind community service initiative that provides disposal of material collected by law enforcement at periodic take-back events. When the DEA commenced this program in 2010, Covanta had to work with state regulators to destroy this material at our energy-from-waste facilities because this waste material was being generated outside of the typical regulations. 

Utilizing the ongoing conversations that started in 2010, we have built strong relationships with state and federal agencies, regulators and environmental groups, sharing information and federal guidance to address concerns and mitigate potential risks. Our service offerings for collection coupled with Covanta’s energy-from-waste facilities now provide the best way to safely, compliantly and conveniently destroy this material.

Waste360: I see you’ve held three management positions with Covanta. Can you tell us a little about each one and then explain what you took from your first two management jobs to apply in your current position?

Dan Moran: My first role at Covanta was as a business manager, which entailed collaboratively working with our facility operations team and energy-from-waste clients. This was an excellent opportunity for me to learn how Covanta’s facilities operate on a day-to-day basis to sustainably destroy various forms of waste, including municipal solid waste, industrial waste and pharmaceutical waste, just to name a few.

My second role was as director of mergers and acquisitions. This role was a bit serendipitous for me as Covanta was just embarking on its strategy to further develop its Environmental Solutions business via acquisition. Before Covanta, I spent over four years in M&A with a municipal solid waste company located in the Northeast. Therefore, I was able to leverage my M&A experience and my understanding of the energy-from-waste operations and apply that to evaluating acquisition opportunities.

The experience I gained in my previous roles has proved invaluable in my current position. First, I gained experience in the energy-from-waste business; having a good understanding of operations and how waste is destroyed has been a critical component to how our DEA facilities receive, consolidate and ship waste into our energy-from-waste facilities. 

Second, I gained experience through relationships. One of the benefits of working on an M&A team is those deals require input and involvement from nearly every department in the company. Those relationships have been critical in supporting the establishment of our healthcare business today.

Waste360: What’s different about focusing specifically on healthcare than general business management and/or mergers and acquisitions within solid waste management?

Dan Moran: The primary difference, from my perspective, is that pharmaceutical waste streams, especially controlled substances, require significantly more labor to manage effectively versus municipal solid waste. This includes safety, compliance, transportation and regulatory documentation. Regardless, my foundation in understanding the energy-from-waste business is something I utilize every day, and my existing role would be much more of a challenge without my foundational years as a business manager.

Covanta’s Moran Works to Take on Pharmaceutical Waste Stream

Waste360: What has been most meaningful to you in your current role?

Dan Moran: What is most meaningful to me is twofold. First, our services play a critical role in combating the opioid crisis while protecting the environment from improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste. The fact is that the U.S. still lacks a safe, standardized way to dispose of unused medications. I am fortunate enough to work for an organization that seeks to fill that void by providing a critical service so that medication does not end up in the hands of those who are most vulnerable as well as in our waterways. These are priorities of meaning to me. The results of our efforts are a tangible benefit to our communities, which brings a level of satisfaction and gratitude unmatched by growth or financial success.

What else is especially meaningful to me is the ability to work with incredibly talented people focused on expanding our services and growing a critical business. 

Through Covanta’s Rx4Safety program, we’ve destroyed more than 6 million pounds of material to date. We are all extremely proud of this program; however, our communities and customers are seeking everyday solutions for pharmaceutical take-back that make the collection of this material convenient, cost effective and compliant. My team is focused on this effort, and we are proud to work with several states and customers throughout the country to do just that.

Waste360: It appears you first transitioned to waste management when you went to IWS. Prior to that, you were in entirely different industries. How and why did you end up in waste management? 

Dan Moran: Back in 2009, I was working in M&A as a junior analyst. When the financial crisis became widespread, I lost my job and was out of work for more than eight months. IWS gave me an opportunity to join their team, and I am forever grateful for that—those life lessons and the opportunity to join such an incredible management team. 

Waste360: What do you do with your time when you are not at work?

Dan Moran: My wife, Marie, and I are blessed with a beautiful 5-year-old named Gracie. So, when I am not at work, I am primarily focused on hanging out with my family, which can include swimming, ice skating, going to the lake or park, bike rides, Barbies or even watching Bubble Guppies (but I prefer anything else besides Bubble Guppies).

Waste360: Where did you think you would be careerwise by this time? Was your prediction on target? And what are your priorities for the moment?

Dan Moran: This is a hard question for me to answer as I try not to approach my career in milestones or target jobs. One of the lessons my parents instilled in me was whatever you chose to do in life, pursue it to the best of your ability. I have tried to apply that to both my personal and professional life. While the healthcare team certainly has long-term goals, we are intently focused on doing a great job today. We are consistently asking ourselves: how can we help our communities, customers, environment and team today? I strongly believe that hard, well-thought-out and diligent work every day can lead to new projects, milestones or even jobs.

For now, at Covanta, I am intently focused on supporting my team to try and solve the urgent need to provide our customers with sensible solutions that help protect our communities and our environment.

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