At age 23, Josh Bartlome was installing security gates for a living when an unlikely friendship based on a school rivalry landed him in the waste and recycling sector. Now, at age 36 and as CEO for Southern Idaho Solid Waste (SISW) based in Burley, Idaho, Bartlome leads his company by example.
“Josh is the type of leader who others want to emulate. He is someone who takes pride in his work every day. He is an industry leader, and those around him respect his work and look to him for advice and guidance,” says Michelle Bartlome, Josh’s wife. “Josh loves his job and is passionate about the industry. He sets high standards for himself and his work and leads by example. He empowers others to do the same. As a leader, Josh motivates his employees to succeed in life and at work.”
Bartlome is responsible for the seven-county SISW District, which includes Milner Butte Regional Landfill, 10 transfer stations and five roll-off sites that accept 1,000 tons of material daily. He has direct oversight of the district's budget of more than $9.3 million and is responsible for 70 employees, public outreach and personnel development.
From 2014-2017, Bartlome pioneered the first landfill gas-to-energy project at SISW using two Siemens 1,300-kilowatt generators. During that process, he structured a lease agreement to construct, acquire, operate and eventually own the project with no debt over 16 years.
In June 2018, the new landfill gas-to-energy facility held its grand opening. When it is up to full power, it will produce enough energy to power 2,000 homes using two locomotive engines.
We recently sat down with Bartlome, a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, to discuss his waste and recycling career and the future of the industry.
Waste360: How did your career in the waste and recycling industry begin?
Josh Bartlome: I attended Washington State University on a baseball scholarship, and my neighbor went to the University of Washington. We both flew our flags during football season and created a friendship over our rivalry. I was installing security gates in Sun Valley, Idaho, at the time with several side jobs after hours. My neighbor was the CEO for Southern Idaho Solid Waste. He had an environmental specialist position that opened up and convinced me that it was a great opportunity. Six weeks later, I was hired. My neighbor retired five years later, and at the age of 28, I was hired to take over where he had left off.
Waste360: Have you held any other jobs in this industry? If so, what were they?
Josh Bartlome: I was the environmental specialist five years prior to becoming the CEO. At a young age, my father passed on his beliefs that we should always leave an area better than we found it. He hated litter bugs. As a little boy, I remember a gentleman dumping a 55 gallon of oil on bare land as we were driving by. My dad turned the truck around and “kindly” told the man to stop dumping the waste illegally or he would “kindly” take care of the situation himself. That sticks with a kid. From that point in my life, I had a deep respect for the environment.
Waste360: What does a typical day look like for you as executive director and CEO of Southern Idaho Solid Waste?
Josh Bartlome: We have 15 sites, so every day is different, but no matter where I am, the day begins with one-on-one meetings with key players in the organization. I’m the furthest thing from a micromanager, but communication is key. Although I don’t look over a manager’s shoulder, I want to know how they assess situations and address issues. I step in if we need to switch directions, but I really try to let our managers run their facilities. I can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s important for me to understand what each manager sees on the horizon at each facility. This allows me to achieve the organization’s short-term goals while navigating the future landscape of the company.
The SISW Board of Directors is made up of seven county commissioners from seven different counties. It’s important to establish relationships based on trust and transparency. Understanding real-time issues faced on the front lines, finding short- and long-term solutions and establishing an outlook and understanding for the SISW Board of Directors and community members is what I do each day, and it is never the same. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Waste360: What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in this industry, and how did you overcome it?
Josh Bartlome: Getting buy-in from board and community members was difficult early in my career. For years, the solid waste industry has been associated with contamination, pollution and “trashy” people. We understood that perception is reality, and we made it a goal to change our community’s perception of solid waste. Our sites are very clean.
Many people visit us for the first time and say that they had no idea that we process waste at our facility. We developed four promotional videos explaining how a landfill is constructed, who we are as a company, how landfill gas is managed and the process of how your waste gets from your house to the landfill. These videos are used in schools, by city and county governments, civic groups and at community events.
We use www.sisw.org, Twitter and LinkedIn to spread the word of projects and activities that occur in and around the solid waste district, our news outlets and community members take it on from there. We are starting to see the community get excited about solid waste and recycling, and we take pride in that.
Waste360: What are you most passionate about when it comes to your career?
Josh Bartlome: I’m most passionate about the people. My motto to employees is: “We are because you do.” We are only as good as the people we hire. I believe in having the best workforce that our economic conditions allow. We are in one of the most successful food processing arenas in America, which means we are all fighting for the same employees. You need to be competitive and forward thinking to win and retain employees. I want employees to feel like they have a second family at SISW. We want our employees to be loyal lifetime employees. It doesn’t come easy. We have to prove that we have our employees' backs, and I’m passionate about creating that environment for our employees.
Waste360: What is your leadership style?
Josh Bartlome: Leading by example requires you to be accountable and transparent with your staff. I hire people with great values, morals and work ethic. Then, I turn them loose, let them develop and treat them with dignity and respect. This has paid dividends and allows our organization to prosper and grow.
Waste360: What is your proudest moment in your current role?
Josh Bartlome: Being selected as a recipient of Waste360’s 40 Under 40 award, becoming a CEO at 28 and working for a great company are all proud moments. The most rewarding moment was when I had an employee who I respect tell me that he loved working with me and saw us doing much bigger things in the future.
Waste360: What do you see for the future of waste and recycling?
Josh Bartlome: Hopefully, there will be a big push to reduce the amount of organic waste being sent to landfills. I’d like to see more of a closed loop system within our local economy. I would love to see partnerships take advantage of the local economies of scale, creating infrastructure for beneficial use projects that allow us to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, redesign and rethink waste disposal.
Waste360: If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
Josh Bartlome: If I had to do something else it would be entrepreneurial in spirit, and it would involve making a difference in my community. Employee-owned co-ops, giving back to the community and reducing the footprint on the environment all inspire me, so it might resemble something like that.
Waste360: Do you have any hobbies or personal interests?
Josh Bartlome: Family is number one, so their hobbies are my hobbies. My wife is big on community involvement, and my children are involved in athletics, so we are very busy. Outside of that, I stay active and enjoy peddling around town on my bike and exploring the unmatched beauty of southern Idaho. Finally, we love cheering for Washington State football. Go Cougs!