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Davis Helps Salt Lake City Develop Effective Waste Diversion Initiatives

Mitch Davis
The Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner discusses his role as sanitation permit coordinator and some of Salt Lake City’s waste diversion initiatives that he’s helped implement.

Mitch Davis, sanitation permit coordinator for the Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and 2017 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, developed a passion for the waste and recycling industry at a young age, when he was the youth representative for the committee that was leading the development of a curbside recycling program in his hometown.

Davis eventually turned his interest in the industry into a career with the Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division. He began working as an intern and rose through the ranks to sanitation permit coordinator.

Throughout his career, he has helped design and implement the majority of Salt Lake City’s waste diversion initiatives, and he is currently helping the city move toward its goal of achieving zero waste by 2040.

We recently sat down with Davis to discuss his role with the department, some of Salt Lake City’s waste diversion initiatives that he’s helped implement and the proudest moments in his career thus far.

Waste360: When did you launch your career in the waste and recycling industry?

Mitch Davis: I attended the University of Utah, and as part of my bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, I had to complete an internship. I knew that I wanted my internship to focus on materials management, and Salt Lake City just so happened to have a recycling internship position open. I applied for the internship, and it ended up being a perfect match for what I was looking for at the time.

While my career really started in college, my passion for the industry began at a young age. When I was approximately 14 years old, the city that I grew up in was trying to develop a curbside recycling program. I found out about the program, and I worked as a youth representative for the committee that was leading the development of the program. After years of work and research, the City Council decided not to move forward with the recycling program, which was a disappointment for all of us. It was during that timeframe when I discovered my passion for the industry and knew that I wanted to make a career for myself in waste and recycling.

Waste360: Tell us about your role as sanitation permit coordinator for the Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division.

Mitch Davis: I work with special event coordinators to help them come up with smart, workable waste plans to divert as much waste as possible. As part of that, I help the special event coordinators set realistic goals and provide them with the tools they need to reach those goals.

In addition, I work with contractors for construction and demolition (C&D) waste, who are required to fill out a waste management plan for each project they work on. I help them review their plans and find resources for them to be able to divert as much waste as possible from these projects from the landfill.

Aside from that, I play a vital role in Salt Lake City’s new business and multifamily recycling ordinance that requires business and multifamily units that generate four or more cubic yards of waste per week to recycle and work with authorized waste haulers. I have been tasked with creating internal policies to ensure that the ordinance is successful and working with waste haulers, business owners and multifamily property landlords to make sure they are capable of starting programs within their own entities. The full rollout of the ordinance will happen in January 2018.

Waste360: How are you helping Salt Lake City move toward its goal of achieving zero waste by 2040?

Mitch Davis: Recycling is still an emerging market in the Salt lake Valley, and our current waste diversion rate is about 55 percent. As new waste diversion programs come onboard, we will be able to work toward our goal of achieving zero waste by 2040.

For example, we offer curbside glass recycling services to residents through a third-party collector, and we have the capability of tracking C&D waste through a city ordinance.  As a city, we can choose to take care of the costs now by creating new programs and diverting as much waste as possible, or we can pay the price later as hauling costs increase to move materials further to distant landfills.

Waste360: Tell us about some of Salt Lake City’s waste diversion initiatives that you have helped implement.

Mitch Davis: During my internship with Salt Lake City’s award-winning SLCGreen internship program, I worked on the curbside recycling program and helped develop tools for improving social behavior with the curbside recycling program. I also developed a contamination map so that we could track the areas where contamination was the highest. To create the contamination map, I walked from can to can to do point inspections before recycling collection. I would inspect the bins, and if I found a contaminated bin, I would tag the container to let the resident know why the container didn’t get picked up, as well as to let the hauler know not to service that bin.

When my internship ended, I was retained as a seasonal employee and eventually hired full time. When I started my full-time role, I helped create new outreach and education opportunities. This included working with a dedicated Education and Enforcement team to amplify the waste diversion message with city residents.

During that same time period, I worked to help residents understand the waste diversion goals of the city. I also helped them become acclimated with the yard waste program, which was a fairly new concept at the time. When Salt Lake City rolled out the yard waste program in 2010, the outreach team worked with residents to build support and trust that decisions made by city leaders would help divert more waste from landfill.

Waste360: What are you most proud of in your career thus far?

Mitch Davis: The proudest moment for me was watching the seasonal employees I worked with get hired on full time because I could personally relate to their experiences of being a seasonal employee and working with a wonderful management team who saw the vision for waste diversion education and outreach. In addition to that, I am proud of the outreach and education policies and procedures that I helped develop and implement. Over the years, those policies and procedures have helped improve recycling behaviors and drive down contamination rates.

Lastly, I am really proud of the business and multifamily recycling ordinance that has been developed. It has been a few years in the works, and I am anxious for it to reach its full implementation. We have been receiving calls from other municipalities asking about our program, and I love sharing our successes with them to help them in any way that we can.

Waste360: How have you seen the industry change over the years?

Mitch Davis: Specific to the Salt Lake City area, I have seen more and more surrounding cities develop recycling initiatives to keep up with the increase in demand for services. I have also seen traditional waste haulers add recycling collection to their list of services, which is exciting to see.

Waste360: What advice do you have for the future generation of industry workers?

Mitch Davis: Take the time to learn, take advantage of the networking opportunities available to you, take classes and certification courses to expand your education about the industry, join organizations like the National Waste & Recycling Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America, seek out internship opportunities and enjoy the ride.

You can set yourself up to succeed by getting hands-on experience and diving into the industry. My internship landed me a career in the industry, and I encourage others to do the same. If you have a passion and desire to see change in the world, you need to put yourself in a position where you can make that change happen.

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