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Women Leaders in Waste: Selin Hoboy of Stericycle

Selin Hoboy’s 20-year career in healthcare waste shows how raising your voice can also help raise up an industry.

When working in a niche industry like healthcare waste sometimes it’s hard to find the correct job roles that will set up the path for a long, successful career, but for Selin Hoboy, VP of Government Affairs and Compliance for Stericycle, she paved her own way.

Hoboy attended Penn State University originally as a pre-veterinary student but made the decision to explore other options and found environmental resource management as a good fit – and she hasn’t looked back.

“I’m probably one of the rare people who continues to follow their degree their whole career,” she said.

While a student at Penn State, Hoboy had an internship with the environmental health and safety department where she worked with hazardous waste cleanup, medical waste and spill cleanup and managing that waste. 

“It started very early on for me,” she said. “Even after I left and graduated and started a consulting career, every function of consulting work I did related back to waste.”

In 2000, Hoboy started working for Stericycle as the Area Manager for Environmental Safety and Health (ESH). Stericycle, is a global services company providing medical waste management and other services to healthcare organizations and commercial businesses. Hoboy was promoted to vice president of the department a year later, but she found herself at a crossroad.

“I had the opportunity at a young age for the area vice president opportunity so I took it, but we didn’t have a corporate VP of environmental safety and health so I felt like I wasn’t going to have a career path so I applied for a marketing manager job,” said Hoboy. 

“About a week after I applied, I was pulled into the office by the HR VP and our COO and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I’m in big trouble now.’ And they sat me down and asked me, ‘Why would you go from an area vice president to a marketing manager? It seems crazy.’ And I said I would love to do something else, I think I have more to offer to this company and I really think the company needs a corporate VP of environmental safety and health, someone who can provide leadership and run programs. That’s where I’d like to go but there isn’t someone there, that isn’t even a role, so I thought I’d try something else that could have a positive impact on the company, show the brand, lift the brand of the company and I thought marketing would be neat and creative way to do it.”

“Two weeks later I got the call that I was rejected from the marketing manager job,” said Hoboy. “But they offered me the corporate VP ESH position! So, don’t be afraid to talk about business. Don’t be afraid to tell when you recognize there’s a need in the company or industry.”

In 2009 her role changed to VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs before accepting her current position as Corporate VP of Government Affairs and Compliance. Hoboy said she saw the need and created that position too.

“Sometimes you have to be creative and see the need and tell them how you can fill it,” said Hoboy.

When she accepted her self-created position, Stericycle charged Hoboy with figuring out and understanding what legislative affairs is, she said.

“This was at a time when a regulation was passed industry wide for the much broader industry but as a niche [part of the waste industry] it had a negative impact on us,” she said.

“We’re really looking at the overall regulatory and legislative environment and being able to identify how the company is impacted by those regulations or legislation that’s being introduced, or looking at ways that maybe we can change or modify regulations or legislation. Because part of the thing with medical waste especially, is it’s a niche business line so sometimes regulations that were more largely impactful for regulatory change, more widespread – didn’t really take our industry into consideration. It may have a much larger impact than the regulators had intended for, or legislation intended for,” said Hoboy.

“That’s a big part of what we try to do – get out there and educate people and explain what we do as an industry, so as we look at those regulatory or legislative changes it makes more sense and it helps us as a business and helps our customers in the healthcare market as well,” she said.

“I also tend to see myself as the liaison between different departments internally. We work very closely with all different aspects of the business – the commercial team, sales and marketing, whether its operations or legal – that’s really a big part of what we do, but then that’s also translated into working externally and being a liaison to regulators, to communities and also to our customer base as well,” said Hoboy.

But being a liaison can have its challenges.

“Anybody in the waste industry would probably tell you, we’re not the most popular neighbor to have so I think the public process is one of the toughest things you go through to trying to become a liaison to the public. Through public hearings and talking to the community and the regulators and legislators we help people understand what we do as an industry, why we exist and try to explain we are here as stewards of the environment. We’re here to help protect the environment from wastes that are being generated through other people, so it really takes some effort to do that and get through that process,” she said.

“But on the other hand, that public process really taught me a lot about being able to talk to different types of people and being able to work with different groups and maybe change their perception. Even in small pockets of places where we live, where we have our businesses,” said Hoboy. 

She admitted she first felt a little intimidated that people in government affairs had to be lawyers or grow up in a political environment but as she started to become more integrated in the work, Hoboy said she realized “it carried forward some of the things I was already doing in the public process, really ensuring that people understood what we did better and I was able to use that expertise and from understanding from an operations perspective to explain to people better what we were doing to be more successful in those legislative or lobbying efforts.”

Beyond her role with Stericycle, Hoboy has worked with the Healthcare Waste Institute (HWI) for more than 10 years. HWI, formerly known as the Medical Waste Institute, is led by the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA). Its primary goal is to “provide transporters, disposal facilities and regulated healthcare waste vendors an association that allows members to network with other small and large companies across the country, have a powerful and organized voice for new regulations (both federal and state) and to stay on top of new industry trends,” according to its mission statement.

Hoboy said HWI has strong membership and leadership, that was a big part of the efforts they were trying to make to help the industry have a broader voice beyond being a subset of solid waste.

One example, Hoboy said, that shows the challenges in helping regulators understand the healthcare waste industry was when they had to work with the United Sates Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The EPA embarked on changing the regulations related to pharmaceutical waste generated in hospitals. It started kind of a movement to try to help the EPA understand medical waste because they weren’t really engaged with that. They don’t regulate medical waste. It’s not regulated at the federal level, so we really had a good positive effect in working with the EPA in coming up with regulation for pharmaceutical waste generated in healthcare,” she said. “So, it was a positive impact for hospital and healthcare community and also enabled the help of the waste industry to help with that problem as well.”

“It was very collaborative and a positive example – if you work with regulators and with the industry, you can have a really positive impact,” said Hoboy. “It also taught me patience because it took nine years. But at least we got it done.”

Not every project takes nine years, but it is a slow process, she said. “It’s part of my job to help the business understand that things can’t happen overnight. You can’t permit a facility overnight; you can’t change a regulation overnight. So, there is a process you have to go through, but I think raising that awareness to the business leaders is an important aspect of what we do,” she said.

The Ebola epidemic from 2014-2016 highlighted the importance of medical waste, said Hoboy, and from that point they started to gain more momentum and learned lessons from that event leading up to today’s current COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Some of those lessons we were able to use and some were not relevant at all. But I think in a way it enabled us as an industry, and myself personally, to really build good working relationships with CDC, OSHA, DOT, and even state regulatory agencies, to really establish that medical waste is an important aspect of what happens. And it’s important to ensure that it’s considered when regulations are changing. And it’s enabled us to move things more rapidly through the system,” said Hoboy.

They’ve also worked with the DEA on the Controlled Substances Regulation Act regarding the opioid crisis in the country. She said it opened up a lot of visibility to properly managing waste streams especially when related to pharmaceuticals and pharmaceuticals that were regulated under DEA controlled substances.

In the last 10 years, Hoboy said she has seen more momentum in changing regulations.

“I really believe part of that is having gotten visibility to the agencies through the work that we’ve been doing from a government affairs perspective and what the waste industry has been able to do as well,” she said.

Hoboy’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. In 2013 and 2018, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the NWRA. The award recognizes longstanding NWRA members “who have rendered service in pursuit of its mission and goals over a period of time, generally spanning a number of years. The award is presented to recognize the highest spirit of volunteerism and involvement, personal integrity, professionalism, and performance in an honorable and ethical manner.” 

“Both came as a little bit of a surprise. I was really honored to receive them twice. I believe it came from the efforts that I put forward to try and help ensure that the industry was vibrant and that we have visibility in the government agencies and that we really worked hard to get the industry to be more engaged,” said Hoboy. 

“It’s not enough to just have Stericycle and HWI, it has to be the industry as a whole. Getting new members engaged, getting new people into the industry and getting them engaged was a key part, I thought, in building the HWI brand and working with members to have meaningful meetings with regulatory agencies. The EPA came in, we met with DEA, OSHA – it helped show the value of the association for those members to have access to those agencies. So I think that’s what helped earn me a couple of those awards.”

Looking to the future, Hoboy’s mission remains the same – change the public’s perception about the waste industry for the better.

“We really need to be able to show the public, our government affairs, politicians and regulators themselves that the waste industry is a huge benefit to our society and our communities. And while we’re not popular, I think showing what the benefits of the industry are and explaining that we truly are here for the benefit of the environment, [would show people] we have a positive impact in dealing with those things whether medical waste or solid waste or recyclables,” said Hoboy. “Just trying to help that image in the industry would be the thing I’d hope to continue to improve upon.”

The industry is already heavily regulated to ensure the safety of the environment whether medical waste or hazardous or solid waste. Hoboy said she doesn’t think people understand that or really know much about medical waste so being able to provide more clarity for people, educate people and help them understand, “is a really positive thing that will both help the generators of waste but also I think it will help recruit talent into the waste industry better in the future as well.”

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