Talking Safety, Cannabis and Public Sector Programs (Transcript)

April 7, 2020

19 Min Read

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:28] Liz: Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Joss Mann, Public Sector Solutions Manager at Waste Management. Hi, Josh and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:39] Josh Mann: Thanks for having me on, Liz. I'd say it's a surreal moment for me, I've listened to the past episodes and I never really thought I'll be in the same cohort as my fellow Waste Management folks, Like Susan Robinson, Tara Hemmer or people like Adam Minter. Kind of crazy, but here I am.

[00:01:03] Liz: Well, good for you, and it's well deserved for sure. [laughs] To get it started, I'd love to hear a little bit about your background and how you found yourself working in this great industry.

[00:01:16] Josh: Yes. I'd obviously been familiar with Waste Management prior to joining the company, but my entrance into the industry was certainly not planned or expected. My background was really in economic development, I worked basically on a local level assisting businesses with either starting new projects, expanding, or even just retaining what they had.

I did that for a couple of economic development groups and then I went to work for a public affairs firm that specialized in land-use planning, which gave me some really great insight into how the regulatory world works. Then, from there actually made the jump into the tax world, spent some time working for a state tax agency and never really thought much more about the waste and recycling industry other than rolling my carts out to the curb on collection day. Obviously, as a kid, I recycled my bottles and cans to buy some ice cream and that sort of thing.

I had a chance encounter actually with a good friend of mine very involved in the communities where I work and I had basically-- took a lunch with somebody that was looking for some advice on to help out with the project I was doing for our local YMCA. Basically, as soon as we sat down to lunch, she said, "Are you interested in making a career change?" And I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, I heard about this position at Waste Management and I thought you would be perfect."

I just looked at her and I said, "Are you sure? I have no background in the waste or recycling industry." She said, "Don't worry about that. You have a passion for doing good things in the community and you work hard. They can teach you about the industry, they can't replace those intrinsic parts to being good at your job." Ultimately, she saw something in me and the next day I received a call from someone at Waste Management. They just confirmed my interest, from there I interviewed and five years later here I am.

[00:03:59] Liz: That's amazing. Clearly, she saw something special and those intangibles can't really be overlooked, that's what makes people do the job that they do and that passion fuels you, for sure. That's awesome. We're thankful in the industry that you made it here. [laughs]

[00:04:17] Josh: It's a trend that I'm seeing more and more in our industry, especially here at Waste Management, is that it's about finding the most talented people, the most passionate people at what they do, and sometimes they can be found within the industry and sometimes they're coming in from outside the industry, but I'm noticing a change. Especially, here in my role where we're bringing in some just really amazing talented driven people.

[00:04:49] Liz: That's great. Congrats on being one of this year's esteemed 40 Under 40 winners. I have to say your nomination was impressive and you were referred to as a real game-changer, which is an amazing way for someone to describe a person. Can you dig a little bit into the work you're doing in Waste Management and tell us more about that?

[00:05:13] Josh: Certainly. My role here with Waste Management is specifically, I design and manage municipal collection programs for our franchise customers here in Southern California. It's the bread and butter for our business, but it's actually fairly unique when you get down to it. I have to take basically our experience as a company, our resources, our capabilities, and then I got to distill that down into the actual services that we provide to meet the needs of our customers and the goals of the communities that we serve.

I've come to refer to it as a switch army position here at Waste Management. I don't directly handle the customer service, I've never driven a collection vehicle, I visited an MRF, but I don't know down to the detail of how the material gets processed, but I need to have an innate sense of how that all comes together. It is truly a game-changer role in terms of, in the last couple of years I've had the opportunity to take communities that maybe didn't have recycling programs or didn't have great recycling programs, basically, create and launch those programs and really take those communities to the next level.

We've been able to partner with communities on projects that were important to them, whether it was cleaning up their community or establishing programs to help educate young people about sustainability, those are the opportunities that being here at Waste Management and in the role that I'm in, that I have the ability to take a first-hand role and seeing through.

[00:07:08] Liz: That's great. I know you're doing some work with organics recycling, can you tell us how your organic recycling programs are going? I can't believe 2020 is already here and I know California is pushing for diverting 75% of organic waste and recyclables from the waste streams. How is that going?

[00:07:28] Josh: Yes. I think it's pretty fair to say that there's never been a more dynamic time to be in the industry, and probably no more challenging a place in the country to be in the industry than California. But I am very thankful that I get to do it on behalf of Waste Management, we're very, very engaged in the policy changes that have taken place in California, I really have seen the shift.

I think in a lot of ways, we've gone from a lot of education and good faith efforts to real tangible programs that are helping to divert out organic waste. I know that throughout our Southern California area, we've got a lot of different ways that we're approaching it based on the resources and capabilities we have available. We're also striking those partnerships that help basically pave the way for additional organics diversion to occur.

Then definitely working with our communities, the cities, counties and special districts that we serve to really build out the rest of those diversion programs on knowing that while today California is very focused on the waste stream generated by commercial businesses and multifamily properties that were not too far off from it extending to basically every generator in California. It's certainly, a tall task and it's not going to happen overnight, but we're seeing some great progress communities that have stepped up to the plate and embraced the change.

It's opened a lot of doors of communication with our customers. The fact that based on the regulatory changes and things they're reading in the news, they're certainly asking a lot more questions about their waste stream and their opportunities to see that more of it goes to places other than landfills. I have the great privilege of helping to deliver a lot of those solutions on a community-wide base.

[00:10:02] Liz: That's great. Speaking of educating residents, do you have any tips on doing that? Because I know that's a huge part of cleaning up the contamination.

[00:10:15] Josh: Yes. Here at Waste Management, contamination is one of our primary focuses for helping to ease the challenges we're seeing in the recycling industry. To that extent, several years ago folks like Susan Robinson really helped to break things down, that's how we ended up with our Recycle Right Campaign, really focusing on those items that I think we all know are recyclable and yet we're not capturing nearly as much of that stream as we should be.

Then, at the same time, finding those game-changer items that if we could get those out of the recycling stream would make the ability to process and obviously, get material moved on to their next life that much easier.

For my role, it's really a multi-pronged approach. Certainly, from the standpoint of educating customers through our digital resources and materials that we would distribute through our correspondence with our customers. Really down to actually one on one type of situations where you're doing workshops, you're doing site visits to customers and you're actually going to their waste container and doing an impromptu audit as you're taking stock of what the opportunities are.

Ultimately, I think that it's the combination of those steps that were consistently reminding residents and businesses of what is recyclable and how they can improve their recycling performance. But also that next step of going out and physically looking in containers, and giving direct recommendations based on their waste stream.

[00:12:25] Liz: That's super helpful and concrete, which is great. Then, Josh, how about cannabis? I read that you're working on solutions there as well, can you expand on any solutions you're seeing?

[00:12:39] Josh: Yes. Here in California, we had some changes in state law that obviously has expanded and legalized the cannabis industry. In my area, we've got a couple of jurisdictions that have basically started that process of licensing businesses that are in that industry and are basically, setting up to accommodate that waste stream.

Part of what we've been doing is really figuring out the steps forward, such that we're dividing out those materials that are really organic in nature, and don't pose any impacts to the regular waste stream, and coming up with a collection program that can be tailored to the needs of those individual customers. It's still a very boutique industry, and the fact that there aren't a lot of standards from business to business depending on where they're at in the development of cannabis materials, whether they're a grower, a processor or a retailer, that coming up with something that can be sized to their particular business.

Also, developing the programs for those materials that are potentially going to pose or do pose an impact to the environment. Making sure that we're carefully delineating those out and also, meeting the regulations that the state has set to ensure that those materials get properly disposed of. To that extent, it's been interesting, it's certainly new challenge in terms of an industry just because really is in its startup phase here in California.

We're learning as we go in terms of being able to really step up and respond to the changes and needs of that industry. What I can say though is that it does offer a new opportunity both for us as a business, as well as for a diversion stream. I know that working with our municipal partners, they're looking for those opportunities as well and so it really is a great partnership for us.

[00:14:59] Liz: I like that, you have to keep us posted as that moves along because I know it's a new frontier for everyone.

[00:15:04] Josh: Yes. Certainly, because of the approach of the state of California is taking, is that we have to be very detailed in our approach, while in a lot of ways the waste stream may pose no environmental challenges, that there are certainly a lot of regulatory ones.

From that extent, we want to make sure that we're keeping ourselves safe as a service provider, we're keeping our customers safe. Obviously, they're looking for our assistance and delivering that service, then taking care of our communities, it's something that has been, certainly, a challenge for us, one that I think ultimately, we're going to move forward on and we're going to be able to manage very successfully.

[00:15:58] Liz: Great, I'm sure you will. Speaking of new frontiers, it's obvious the waste industry is shifting, I'm sure you've seen that in the five years you've been in it, with regulations technology, even customer expectations changing regularly. How are you and your team coping and/or thriving? And what opportunities do you see, Josh?

[00:16:21] Josh: It is an exciting time to be in the industry. I know from the work that I do that there is a lot more conversations surrounding the idea of sustainability, getting really down to the details of the waste stream and looking for those opportunities. Those conversations have been really positive, they know that waste management is the industry leader in making that happen. They're really looking to us to be the subject matter experts in what they can do, that's been certainly exciting.

I know here at Waste Management that we're seeing a culture shift within the company, people first approached the president, the CEO, Jim Fish has taken is really starting to show itself on a day-to-day basis. I take a look at our Senior Leadership Team and our leadership at the market area levels and there's definitely an esprit de corps there. These are people that are not just good at their job, they're not just good here at Waste Management, they're good, period. These are the leaders that are going to be able to move the company forward. 

You talk about embracing technology. Every day it seems like we're adding to our skill set from a technology standpoint, I know that more and more of our customers are looking for those opportunities to be able to customize their service. They are embracing the digital options that they have through Waste Management, and it's been exciting to see that, in terms of the customers themselves, I think, are changing.

Especially here in California, there's a diversity of backgrounds, there's a diversity of industries; I think that in terms of how we approach that, even though a lot of our services, especially in the work that I do, are very standardized, in terms of making sure that they can be delivered and repeated basically into perpetuity. There's a level of customization that has been added in recent years that allows people to have the service that suits their needs.

I think that we're only going to continue to move in that direction where the work that we do is reflective of the customers or wanting us to go. To some extent, we have to anticipate those needs, we keep an eye on what's going on in the regulatory environment, we also keep an eye on what's going on in terms of advancements and technology. Certainly, always adding to our skill sets and capabilities such that we'll be able to meet the needs of our customers today, tomorrow and basically so long there's a waste stream to collect and process.

[00:19:49] Liz: Right. Josh, one of the things that stood out to us on your nomination for the 40 Under 40 Award was that you've been described as really seeing your career as a calling for environmental and social change. Do you see it that way?

[00:20:04] Josh: I really do. I think that one of the things that make me feel at home, here at Waste Management. I talked about the People-First Culture and I think in a lot of ways, the kinds of people that Waste Management is both looking for and developing are people that are drawn to the company because it has a social purpose.

Certainly, in the face of it, yes. We certainly provide some very necessary services to our customers. But I think a lot of that is driven through the fact that they see Waste Management as a company that it's very mission-driven. I know that for me, that's what kept me here, here in my role, in doing the work that I do is that I see Waste Management as a company that is embracing change.

We take a look at the issues we face at the local level, as well as worldwide. It's going to take companies like Waste Management stepping up to the plate, and finding that path forward is not only good for business but is good for our communities and is good for the environment.

I think that that's the approach that the company has taken and really made it known that that's what it stands for.  It makes me proud to work for Waste Management. I really see the work that I do as contributing to that change and make the communities that I get to work with and the environment just that much better.

[00:22:10] Liz: Absolutely, that's great. Then Josh, what advice do you have for people entering this industry?

[00:22:16] Josh: For those folks who may be thinking about getting into this industry or hadn't previously thought about it, but based on something they read or interest they have, that there are really great opportunities in waste and recycling. I look at the companies that are in our industry today and the opportunities are nearly endless, I think that they're looking for top talent and a variety of skill sets.

If you're one of those people, like myself, who value a company that is engaged in delivering environmental and social change, the companies like Waste Management may be a great place for you. I think that traditionally, the waste and recycling industry has been seen as a place for those folks that are maybe, without specific training or education in terms of their background. I would say that while there are opportunities to start out on the ground floor, that if you have a skill set about any other aspect of business, there are opportunities for you.

I take a look at our Senior Leadership Team, I know that Tara Hemmer was on a previous episode, I know you talked to Devina Rankin, these are people that they're just great at what they do and they have had the opportunity at Waste Management to develop in their roles, now they're leading the company. I think that if there is any great example of what's capable of being done in this industry, its people that are- if you're passionate, if you're ambitious, if you're authentic, I think that waste and recycling may be the industry for you.

[00:24:33] Liz: I love that, combining your talents and then the passion, I think that's great advice, Josh. Do you think there's anything else we should be paying attention to in the world of waste recycling and organics?

[00:24:46] Josh: From my standpoint, there is so much that's going on, specifically, important to me is reminding people about that need to operate safely. It's really been ingrained in our culture here at Waste Management, as it is at many other companies in the industry, is that we are entrusted with serving communities throughout the country, I think the most important thing that we can do is operate safely.

To that extent, I know that Waste Management goes out of its way to make sure that in whatever we do, we are operating safely, that we're doing things right the first time. It's something that definitely comes through in the work that I do, we're on the roads in cities and towns, here in Southern California and safety is really at the forefront of what we do. It's something I think we need to continue to be focused on. I know that recently some [unintelligible 00:26:13] came out, was a reminder that even for all the strides that we've made as an industry, that we've still got a ways to go.

[00:26:23] Liz: That's great, safety first. Definitely agree with that. Josh, I know you do so much work with municipalities and you're very close to the customers in your regions. What do you find is their biggest pain point? And how do you connect with them on a level where they know that you're going to meet their needs?

These public sector folks are so busy, the waste stream is just part of their job and recycling is just part of their job. How do you get through to them and connect with them?

[00:26:55] Josh: In the work that I do I have a great opportunity to interact with the customers that we serve on a daily basis. The conversations that I have, the feedback that I get that helps to shape the programs that we offer. In some cases, folks are not excited about the changes in the waste and recycling industry, a lot of that is driven by regulations. I think really what they're looking for is the reassurance that they're going to be able to get over those hurdles, whatever they may be, at their home or at their business.

I think that they're looking for the direct path forward to be able to do that. In my role, that's what I get to do, is distilled down those opportunities, those challenges and help develop programs that customers either are really excited about and want or are understanding that it's necessary for their community and their environment. I think the great part about what I get to do is that I get to have those conversations on a daily basis and get that feedback to ensure that ultimately we're delivering on all of those counts.

[00:28:28] Liz: Sure. What keeps you busy outside of work?

[00:28:32] Josh: Well, like a lot of people over the Christmas holiday, I received an Adam Minter new book, I'm reading all about where donated things go, it's always very insightful. In addition to that, I got married last year, my wife and I were both very career-driven which doesn't leave a lot of free time but for the time we do getaway, we try to do a little bit of traveling. Exciting to go and visit places in the last couple of years, we've got a couple of trips planned, including, hopefully, New Orleans here in May for WasteExpo.

[00:29:20] Liz: Awesome, that's great. You have to bring your wife to the 40 Under 40 reception.

[00:29:27] Josh: Yes. She was the first one to ask, "When are we going?" And, "Can I be there?"

[00:29:34] Liz: [laughs] That's great. Well, I look forward to meeting her, that's fantastic. Well, Josh, thanks so much for your time today, it's going to be great for everyone to hear how one of our wonderful 40 Under 40 looks at the industry, spends his time and how passionate you are. Congrats again on your award and keep up the great work. I really look forward to seeing you and at WasteExpo.



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