In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we bring you a dynamic session from WasteExpo Together Online: “Rising Leaders Talk Trash.”
The discussion includes innovators and up-and-coming leaders from the Waste360 40 Under 40 winners, who provided their perspectives about where the industry is heading. The speakers were: Alexandria Coari, Capital & Innovation Director, ReFED; Josh Mann, Public Sector Solutions Manager, Waste Management; and Turner Wyatt, Co-Founder & CEO, Upcycled Food Association.
Here’s a sneak peek into the speakers’ insights:
Moderator Zach Martin, president of Big Truck Rental, first asked the panelists about their backgrounds and how they became involved in the waste industry.
Coari reflected on her journey to different countries and a recruiter who said she would have to choose between “making money” and “making an impact.” She quickly rejected the notion as a misconception and described her role in combating food waste at ReFED, “It’s a fantastic example of how you can make money, and I’m not talking about on a personal level—but food waste is just good for business; it helps save money for consumers and it just has a great impact both on a social level and environmental level.”
Wyatt corroborated this point, citing how Upcycled Food Association takes leftover bread and produces beer to sell to restaurants to raise money for the nonprofit. “Anyone who works in food rescue will tell you there’s just a lot of things you can’t use or that you’ll have a total overabundance of,” he explained. “But just because you can’t redistribute it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.”
So how will the industry change in the next five to ten years with the efforts these rising stars are making, Martin asked. One of the biggest and “most exciting changes” Coari has seen is the recognition that food waste is a major contributor to climate change. “I think that has major implications to the commitments that food businesses are making, the actions that investors are taking, the policies that are being developed by our government and officials,” she said.
Mann discussed how food waste has impacted the public sector and Waste Management. He noted that, “California is typically the leader in waste and recycling efforts and the state is championing getting organics out of landfills and into much more productive uses. Certainly, if there is an opportunity to recover the food before it goes to waste, that is job number one.” One of Mann’s roles entails working with communities to strengthen ties to food banks, shelters and soup kitchen programs. “It’s definitely a complex situation in the fact that the market is slowly responding. We have a lot more material than we have capacity for right now, but we’re finally starting to see the shift. I think you’re going to see some really amazing things come out of California in the next couple years with regards to curbing food waste,” he noted.
Martin then asked the panelists about technology and its impact on the industry.
“I think early on, technology was really supplemental to the industry,” Mann responded. Now, “it’s really the backbone of how most companies operate.” Coari explained how ReFED is using technology to be a “one-stop data center” where problems surrounding food waste are identified and solved. “More businesses are tracking and measuring their food waste, but there are some innovators in the space that are helping businesses do that,” she said.
The conversation then shifted to the pandemic’s impact on the industry. “I love thinking about it as a way of accelerating technology and accelerating our solutions,” Wyatt said. “It’s about bringing us into the future.” Mann discussed how Waste Management adjusted its safety measures due to the fact that “COVID has really brought in this whole new layer, this invisible threat.” And, “COVID has been a huge learning opportunity for everybody just to go back and think about their processes.” The key to excelling or succeeding through the pandemic, Coari added, is to be “nimble” in the current environment. “It’s really important to understand your expertise, your skill set and where you can add the most value,” she said.
So where do opportunities lie for the waste industry? “In order to scale food waste solutions, it is going to take billions of dollars of financing across public, private and philanthropic capital resources,” Coari observed. “We really need to be thinking about how we keep this space sexy, really demonstrate that there is value and returns to be had – not just economic, but social and environmental. I think besides that I think there is opportunity for competitive collaboration in this space.”