Tobin McKnight, PE, BCEE, is the solid waste department manager at Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc., an engineering firm that provides solid waste management solutions, including landfill design and closure, bioreactor systems, leachate collection systems, groundwater monitoring, bottom liner systems, recycling studies and permitting.
After starting his career at Jones Edmunds as an engineer intern, he now oversees the solid waste practice for the firm. In this role, McKnight has project management, marketing and technical design responsibilities, and he manages a team.
McKnight is a University of Florida graduate with a masters of engineering degree from the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences. He is a board-certified environmental engineer, and a licensed professional engineer in both Florida and Georgia. He is also a Solid Waste Association of North America-certified (SWANA) manager of composting programs.
He has given presentations at numerous industry forums, including SWANA and the Global Waste Management Symposium, and has served as an instructor for the SWANA Manager of Bioreactor Landfill Training Course. He has also served as a guest lecturer for undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Florida, including solid waste containment design.
McKnight was recently named as a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient. He recently spoke to Waste360 about his career and how he's helping to create long-term solid waste solutions for Florida’s communities.
Waste360: What type of clients do you work with?
Tobin McKnight: Our clients are primarily counties throughout Florida, from Pensacola down to Fort Myers. Typically, they are county-owned solid waste management facilities. We support all facets of their operations, including design, feasibility studies, permitting and quality assurance. We excel at landfill design, whether it’s bottom liner systems, closure or landfill gas collection and control.
Waste360: How long have you been with Jones Edmunds?
Tobin McKnight: A little over 13 years; I started here out of college. I went to the University of Florida and got a B.S. in environmental engineering, and then I stayed and got a masters of engineering degree. I worked with Dr. Townsend, a well-known garbage researcher, and at the time, we worked pretty closely with the firm I am with now. When it came time to graduate, it was a natural transition over to this organization.
Waste360: As an undergraduate student, did you know that you wanted to go into the waste industry?
Tobin McKnight: Certainly not when I started out my freshman year. I started with another major—mechanical engineering—and at some point, I transitioned to environmental. When I began taking courses on solid waste, it really kind of piqued my interest. It seemed like more of a natural fit for me.
Waste360: What do you think piqued your interest, in particular?
Tobin McKnight: Some really good courses that I took with Dr. Townsend as an undergraduate. I guess is also goes back to growing up in the 1990s, when there was a lot more focus on what we do with our waste. That has always stuck with me. Managing waste is an important part of what we need to do as a society. Given the opportunity to study and even research it in college was something I enjoyed.
Also, I potentially started in this direction because I grew up in scouting, and that was a very important part of my life growing up. That is probably where my environmental stewardship started. I continue to be involved in that. Now, my sons are in the Cub Scouts program, and I am a leader with that organization.
Waste360: What are some early projects you worked on and some lessons you learned when you started your career in the field?
Tobin McKnight: I supported a lot of projects. I spent the first couple of years working on an illegal dumping project and helping a client to clean that mess up.
One of the things that attracts me to this field, particularly on the engineering side of it, is that it’s very multidisciplinary and very diverse. You are doing a lot of different things on any given day, any given week, to support the whole waste management industry.
Waste360: You like the diversity?
Tobin McKnight: Yes, that is what has kept me going. Another thing that I really enjoy is the aspect that we serve people on many different levels. As a consultant, we serve our client, but they are serving much larger populations, and that service aspect is something that drew me into this field as well.
Waste360: What would you say to other young people to encourage them to consider a career in the solid waste industry?
Tobin McKnight: It’s a very important field. We continue to throw stuff away daily, and the industry, although it has grown a lot and changed a lot over the last 30 or 40 years, is still changing to meet the challenges that we need to solve. [There are issues to be addressed] like what do we do with recycling, how do we make it more sustainable and how do we address some of these global issues like plastic in the ocean?
There are still a lot of things that we need to figure out. And, you’re serving people. There is some reward to serving the greater good and taking care of a problem in society. I think those are things that are important for a person starting a career to consider.
Waste360: What do you wish people understood about waste?
Tobin McKnight: Everything has to go somewhere. I kind of joke about that sometimes. Landfills are not desirable, and there is a lot of focus on how can we divert waste and how can we create other opportunities? I’m all for that. My recycling bin is always overflowing, but being in the landfill business, I know it’s a necessary thing, so we try to do it as cost effectively and sustainably as possible.
Waste360: I think sometimes people just don’t think about where trash goes or what happens to it.
Tobin McKnight: The reality of it is that over the years, we have gotten very good facilities that are protecting the environment as much as possible, and people don’t necessarily realize it. They are very well-regulated and well-run facilities.
Waste360: What do you think good leadership looks like and what do you aspire to be as a leader? Or, what qualities do you admire in other leaders?
Tobin McKnight: Humility. People who work hard, who are honest, with integrity—that is what I look for in other leaders, and it’s what I aspire to myself. When there is an opportunity, and I feel that there is a void, I tend to step up and put forth all my effort into leading groups to be successful.