Enjoy this week’s NothingWasted! where we chat with Mike Fernandez, director of Solid Waste Management, Miami-Dade County and Waste360 40 Under 40 alumnus. It is the most populous county in Florida and the seventh-most populous county in the U.S. It is safe to say that Fernandez has deep insight into how to run an efficient solid waste management department.
We spoke with him about the waste industry’s evolution over the past 25 years, their sustainability initiatives, technology, and more!
Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:
Waste360: Can you tell me about your background and how you ended up in your current role?
Fernandez: I started back in the mid-‘90s as a temp. The agency called me and was like, “Do you want to work at this garbage company?” And I was like, “Garbage? Really?” They were like, “Try it out; see what you think.” So I went to work for BFI down in Miami and spent some time there, working my way into the operations side. Then I decided to move on to the public sector around 2005 and joined Miami-Dade Country in 2008—which is when I was first introduced to the post-collection side of things, and in a really big operation. I started by running the county’s transfer stations, with three stations and 150 employees. Overall it was about a million tons a year we were hauling. So this was a great opportunity to dive into the post-collection side. After that, I got promoted to Assistant Director of Disposal Operations—so I started managing our landfills, too. That was about 800,000 tons a year. And then they said, “Hey we want you to do the code enforcement in the county,” which was interesting. A few more promotions, and I became director of the department, which is basically a CEO/COO role, with 1,100 employees serving 2.8 million residents. It’s been a long road, but I have a lot more in my tank.
Waste360: One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that our industry has been deemed essential. Let’s talk about that a little — how the pandemic affected your work and region.
Fernandez: Our first priority was: how can we keep our staff safe? So, on the administrative side, it was: I want everybody out of the office, now. That’s about 10% of our workforce. Then the other priority was purchasing personal protective equipment. We built a stockroom full of supplies before they became hard to find. Then it was, “what’s the contingency plan?” Garbage needs to be picked up. …And it got a little hairy there, but we had uninterrupted service throughout the pandemic. And we saw a 25% increase in tonnages.
Waste360: Are you now seeing resurgence on the commercial side as things are opening up?
Fernandez: Yes, it’s coming back a bit, and residential has stabilized. But I don’t think residential is going to come down to pre-COVID times. I think you have seen a shift in the work culture, and companies are really taking advantage of the work-from-home situation.
Waste360: We’re excited that you’re speaking at WasteExpo. Can you tell folks what they can expect from your session?
Fernandez: We’re going to be talking about COVID and our experiences with it. Basically, talking about how to plan, make sound decisions during an emergency, and talk about what we’ve dealt with here in Miami-Dade County.