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December 14, 2021
Rachel Ashworth came to Casella in her early 20's to sell roll off containers over the phone. Soon after, she joined the company’s Operations Manager Trainee program, then moved into her first management position: Operations manager of Scarborough Maine Hauling division.
She’s kept climbing since. Today as director of Industrial Solutions, Ashworth oversees services for Casella’s largest industrial manufacturing customers nationwide.
In this Q&A the Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient talks about her favorite mentor and what he taught her. She shares what it was like riding on the back of a collection truck during that manager training program. And she reflects on industrywide trends like safety initiatives and serving the industrial sector.
Waste360: Describe your start at Casella and take us along your path to your current position, explaining what you’ve learned.
Ashworth: I started out with Casella on the phones selling roll off containers and then went on the road with Bill Bennett (the contractor sales rep), learning on site roll off sales as well as demolition estimates. Bill is the best mentor I have ever had. He taught me everything you need to know in the waste business. The ins and outs of transportation, disposal, and relationship building. He also taught me the value of following through with the things you say you will do and always putting your team members first. I owe a lot to him for the success I have had with Casella.
Soon after this I was approached to join Casella’s Operations Manager Trainee program. In this program trainees learn and work the various roles that will one day report into them. Most commonly drivers and laborers but also heavy equipment operators, dispatchers, scale attendants, etc.
When I was completing my time in this program on the back of a collection truck I stuck out like a sore thumb. Many forget about the time I spend in roll off sales as it is the 5’2” girl on the back of a truck that seems to stick in people’s memory!! It is extremely physical. I was lifting anywhere from 5 to 14 tons per day (thankfully I was frequently paired up with another team member). It is my time spent training on the back of the truck, operating front end loaders and obtaining my CDL that I most remember when recollecting the start of my career in the waste industry, but I hate for it to overshadow the time I spent learning the roll off and demo side of the business with Bill.
I am very proud to be the only female to date who has completed the Operations Manager Trainee program for Casella and am very eager to get more women engaged in Operations.
Waste360: Did you have any idea you’d climb to Operations manager and in fact all the way to a director overseeing 60 employees -- or run a MRF? What’s it like to hold down these management jobs?
Ashworth: I absolutely love the work. All of it. The Operations manager role at a hauling division is one of the most challenging jobs there is in the waste industry. Hands down.
When an opportunity arose to run a newly constructed MRF in Maine for Casella I applied and was awarded the role. It was outside anything I had done prior, but I took a chance. I never have anticipated the next step until the opportunity arose. I have always simply tried to do my best, work hard, and reach for opportunities as they present themselves.
Waste360: Tell us about the Industrial Solutions line that you oversee. Why is this sector important to Casella’s business and to the waste management industry?
Ashworth: The Industrial Solutions line focuses on large manufacturing operations across the country with a goal of reducing waste through operational efficiencies gained, re-use in any way possible, and recycling through various methods to assist our customers in reaching their sustainability goals.
The industrial space is vital to everything. From the everyday products we use to the clothes we wear, food we eat –and as important is addressing emissions generated. Minimizing transportation, increasing recyclability of products and packaging, diverting food waste from landfills, and providing solutions for those “hard-to-recycle” industrial streams become more and more important every day.
Manufacturing is just one of the stops in the ever-growing demand for a circular economy. Casella’s Resource Solutions team is helping along every step in that process. Our team identifies continuous improvement options for our customers daily to ensure we are providing first-in-class service.
Waste360: Sixty employees is a lot to oversee. How do you stay connected and keep them happy?
Ashworth: I have direct contact with each of them for the most part. There are a few team members that I do not get to see or converse with regularly as our operations in the industrial space are at a national scale.
I try to make them feel comfortable by showing appreciation, humor, and through creating an environment where mistakes are not the enemy.
Waste360: How do you help your team members to get along with each other?
Ashworth: This is one of the toughest aspects of my position. Constant communication with each other is the only way around this. When team members are not seeing eye to eye and I am brought in, we will tackle it head on and talk it out until we are in a good place. This doesn’t mean everyone has to agree, but it does mean everyone needs to be respectful, open to feedback and pulling the rope in the same direction.
Waste360: Have you seen much change in solid waste management and, if so, what seems to be driving it? What’s the impact of this change?
Ashworth: All the time. Most recently with the pandemic, the waste industry has had to adapt like everyone else. It has opened our leaders’ minds up more to working remotely and has forced a quicker paced adoption of technology. Prior to COVID virtual meetings were extremely rare.
Also, there is more global attention around sustainability than ever before. There is a floating garbage patch in the ocean that is twice the size of Texas, and global warming warnings are on the news weekly now.
More and more of our customers are publicly announcing their sustainability goals for the next five to 10 years. This is where Casella comes in. We work side by side with them to ensure they stay on track and reach their goals. From collection, processing, recycling, energy recovery, disposal, a range of education, technical assistance, reporting and engagement programs.
Waste360: What do you think these changes will mean for the industry?
Ashworth: The industry needs to continue to adapt to ensure we are providing solutions for waste outside of traditional disposal options. The mindset of throwing things away needs to be replaced with reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Waste360: Let’s talk about safety. What do you most watch out for to keep folks on the front line safe?
Ashworth: Tenured team members becoming complacent and new team members not fully understanding safety procedures.
Waste360: How did you go five years without a safety incident at the MRF?
Ashworth: I was fortunate to have a tenured team at one of the MRFs I oversaw that went five years with no recordables. That success is much more a testament to them than it is to me. Safety should be at the forefront of every decision you make in operations. Slow down, think, and take every chance you get to train, coach, and train again.
Waste360: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
Ashworth: Anything that keeps me outside. I also love to travel.
Freelance writer, Waste360
Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine; hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.
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