The global waste industry is at a crossroads and finds itself in a complex period of transformation. While business as usual may seem daunting at times, the solid waste and recycling sector has a long history of pulling through and solving tough challenges.
At this year’s Global Waste Management Symposium (GWMS), Tara J. Hemmer, senior vice president of field operations for the southern tier at Waste Management, plans to leave attendees with a message of hope and inspiration during her keynote address.
“All the folks who will be in the room play a pivotal role in how we reframe the future for our cities and communities,” says Hemmer. “The infrastructure related to solid waste recycling and collection is key to any vibrant city and community. Their thoughts and ideas on how to change that are critically important.”
During her keynote, “The Transformation of Our Industry: Looking Back and Moving Forward,” Hemmer will reflect on the evolution of the global waste industry, the emerging themes impacting how business is done today and her projections for the future.
Hemmer's speech will be broken down into sections that frame the current state of the industry, the history of the waste and recycling sector and provide a look at why the industry is at a crossroads, among others.
“The people in the room that I am going to be speaking to are the key to unlocking the future of the solid waste industry,” she explains. “We also will be talking about where we’ve come from, what we built from an infrastructure perspective and a little bit of a discussion of the current state and recent trends, so that’s where I intend to talk more about recycling.”
In addition, Hemmer will more broadly discuss the megatrends that are emerging outside of solid waste and how they will impact the way the industry thinks about waste management moving forward.
“Some of those megatrends are the rise of cities, a global versus local view, social responsibility and our planet being part of our world,” she notes. “I’ll translate those trends and what they mean for the solid waste industry.”
Hemmer also will discuss some of the innovations that have changed the way the industry does business today.
“I think technology, more broadly, is something that is transforming every aspect of our business. So, it’s thinking about the collection model and all of our entities—from our large transportation and logistics companies and how we route our vehicles, to the technology that is on our trucks, to the conversion from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles,” she explains.
Waste Management operates more than 60 percent of its routed fleet as CNG, with a goal of getting to 90 percent by 2025. Hemmer also notes that today's landfills might look more like hubs of renewable energy in the future, and her keynote will address what the future of materials management could look like.
“There has been a lot of discussion about how the recycling model is broken, but technology and education can fix that. We even invested in the MRF [materials recovery facility] of the Future in Chicago using robotics and advanced sorting technology. But we are also thinking through what might be that next technology that could replace landfills," she explains. "Some of that is about small incubators of innovation and what that might mean as we translate how we process hundreds of millions of tons of material in the long term.”
Hemmer is a 25-year veteran of the waste and recycling industry. Her entry into the industry was through a consulting firm, where her primary client was USA Waste. At the time, she worked on large infrastructure projects for USA, primarily designing transfer stations and landfills and working on landfill siting projects. In early 1999—six months after the USA Waste/Waste Management merger—she began her career at Waste Management.
“I came on board and distinctly remember thinking, ‘I’ll stay here about five years and then I’ll go on and do something else,” says Hemmer. “I just celebrated my 21st anniversary with Waste Management.”
“One of the reasons I’ve been here as long as I have is there is always something interesting, new and exciting going on in our industry,” she adds. “Just when you think that you’re about to get bored, there’s some new, challenging thing that comes along—whether it’s recycling, organics, sustainability—there has been so much here that has kept me engaged and busy and really thinking that I have a long-term purpose to change what we’re doing in the environmental space.”
As senior vice president of field operations for the southern tier of Waste Management, Hemmer is one of nine members of the company’s senior leadership team. In her role, she is responsible for eight of Waste Management’s 17 geographic areas, primarily in the southern half of the country.
“As I partner with Tara on her remarks, I think her keynote will be really inspirational,” says Andy Izquierdo, Waste Management’s vice president of communications. “With her expertise and years in the industry, I think she is really going to paint a picture of where we’ve been, where we are and not only where we’re going, but where we hope to go. To Tara’s point, all of those people in the audience will be able to play a hand in shaping that. I think that Tara’s remarks will really engender that conversation and the next wave of action and innovation.”
GWMS will be held from February 23 to 26 at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Calif. Check out this year’s agenda and registration information here.