Beginning his career in the waste and recycling industry by accident in 2013, Ryan Buhay’s first job at Loraas Recycle was to create a recycling education center out of a materials recovery facility (MRF) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Having no experience in the field, he tackled the task through many hours of hands-on research and developed one of the most comprehensive recycling education centers in North America.
“With a big mission to reduce waste, Ryan Buhay’s impact in the Canadian waste industry has been definite. In Saskatchewan and now British Columbia, Canada, Ryan’s work has moved thousands of families to reduce waste and recycle more,” says David Eaves, CEO at ReCollect Systems Inc.
Now an account executive at ReCollect Systems, a technology company that specializes in digital solutions for the waste management sector, Buhay works with the company’s sales team to help waste haulers engage with their customers through digital technology.
Waste360 sat down with the Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient to discuss his career and the future of recycling.
Waste360: Describe your role at ReCollect.
Ryan Buhay: At ReCollect, I work with our sales team to help municipalities and waste haulers engage their residents or customers through digital technology. We develop communications tools that help drive behavior change and participation in waste programs.
In January, I was promoted to account executive for the waste haulers sector. This was extremely exciting for me because I got my start working for a hauler. I definitely feel at home in this space. I love chatting with haulers about the industry and the customer engagement opportunities that embracing digital technology can open up.
Waste360: How can communications impact the industry?
Ryan Buhay: I remember something our CEO said when I first started with ReCollect that really stuck with me: “Every transaction is an opportunity to increase or decrease trust with someone.” In the broader context of waste program delivery, this is especially powerful. Whether it be government-to-citizen or business-to-customer, the way we shape and deliver information and how someone interacts with it, has enormous potential. Communications means connecting with people; within those interactions we have an opportunity to build trust.
This is really important at the present time because of the inherent effects of China’s National Sword policy. While many of us in the waste industry can make sense of how this affects North American recyclers, this might not be the case for the general public. There are definitely some knowledge gaps that need to be filled. There’s a massive opportunity to create meaningful dialogue in the wake of these changes and, as a result, build public confidence and trust in waste programs.
Waste360: How did you begin your career in the waste and recycling industry?
Ryan Buhay: It was kind of by accident, actually. After finishing my degree, I decided to test the job market instead of going to grad school. I gave my resume to a local recruiting agency that happened to have a waste hauler client named Loraas Recycle that was looking for someone to spearhead recycling education for their new contract. They wanted to do a school program, and I had a lot of experience with kids, so I got an interview. I literally knew nothing about the waste industry at the time. I ended up landing the job, and my first project was to create a recycling education center out of the MRF. I remember that first MRF tour so distinctly. It was fascinating. I’d never seen anything like it. After that, I was totally hooked on the industry.
Waste360: How did you create the recycling education center?
Ryan Buhay: When I started with Loraas Recycle, I spent a lot of time in the MRF trying to wrap my head around the process. I spoke with sorters every day and even spent time on the sorting line myself to get the full experience. It was pretty eye-opening. At the time, contamination was rampant. Sorting was extremely difficult, even dangerous at times, due to the objects showing up at the MRF via curbside bins. Single stream was entirely new to the province, and few people understood where their recycling went or how it was processed. But every time I gave someone a tour of the MRF, they left with a deeper understanding of the program.
So, with that, I embarked on a journey to create a virtual MRF experience in a safer atmosphere: the education center. I hired a team that helped me develop interactive video and touchscreen sorting games so visitors could experience the recycling process rather than view it from afar. It provided a convenient launching point to discuss the waste stream more broadly (organics, household hazardous waste, e-waste, etc.) and help foster a culture of waste diversion in the province.
Waste360: What do you consider your biggest achievement within the industry?
Ryan Buhay: Well, being named to Waste360’s 40 Under 40 awards list of course! It’s an exciting acknowledgement from the industry. But I’m truly proud of the education center I built at the Loraas Recycle MRF. I learned so much with that project, and I wouldn’t have a career in the waste industry without it. Working with kids and helping shape their attitude toward recycling and waste diversion was tremendously fulfilling and meaningful work. The program was the first of its kind in Saskatchewan, and the MRF became a hugely popular education destination—not just for kids but for people from all walks of life. I’ve since moved out of province to work for ReCollect, but I am thrilled that the program still runs today and its popularity continues to grow.
Waste360: What are some exciting opportunities that you see opening up within the industry?
Ryan Buhay: The technology sector is certainly exciting right now. Having worked out of a MRF for many years, I was always fascinated by how quickly new innovations in sorting technology were coming out. It’s such a challenging waste stream, and the solutions available today continue to be pretty remarkable. Innovative people with fresh ideas are always going to be needed here. There’s also a lot of other opportunities that tech can open up for waste professionals, like ReCollect for example, a tech company that specializes in digital communications for waste. I never thought my experience with a waste hauler would lead to a job in tech, but yet here I am.
Waste360: What advice do you have for someone who is looking to make a career for themselves in the waste and recycling industry?
Ryan Buhay: Don’t be afraid to get dirty. MRF tours and waste audits can be incredibly formative experiences regardless of your education or job focus. The waste stream can be cringeworthy at times, but experiencing these spaces is a badge of honor in the industry.
Also, don’t be afraid to stand out. This industry always needs fresh ideas and new perspectives. Sometimes that means going against the status quo. Do your research and make your case. Don’t be discouraged if people aren’t receptive to change at first. I learned many times that getting told “no” on an idea or project doesn’t necessarily mean “no” forever. Keep at it!