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The Transformation of the Waste and Recycling Industry

Episode 41: A conversation with Tara Hemmer, senior vice president of field operations for Waste Management.
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In the latest episode of our NothingWasted! Podcast, we chat with Tara Hemmer, senior vice president of field operations for Waste Management. Waste Management is the leading provider of comprehensive waste management in North America, providing services that range from collection and disposal to recycling and renewable energy generation.

We spoke with Hemmer about the financial benefits of environmentally minded decisions, the plastic challenge, the future of the industry and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: What are you currently working on from an organics-based perspective?

Tara Hemmer: Organics is something we look at on a local and regional basis. For instance, in Brooklyn, the city of New York was trying to figure out how to promote greater organic separation in their residential programs. We saw an opportunity to develop a technology that could take materials like organics through a process that takes the organic fraction and turns it into a bioslurry that we can truck a very short distance to existing anaerobic digesters and convert it to energy. This is a great example of solving a problem with existing infrastructure and using excess capacity in digesters throughout the country.

Waste360: Can you tell us about Waste Management’s next-gen facilities?

Tara Hemmer: We’ve piloted robotics at several of our MRFs [materials recovery facilities] and have really taken a ground-up approach to build the MRF of the Future in the Chicago area. It relies on a whole host of different technologies—advanced sorting equipment, ballistic separators, etc.—put together in a different way to ensure we can positively sort material out of the stream; that we can have robust markets for the stream; and as further development happens, we can tweak our sorting accordingly. We have several of these MRFs of the Future in the hopper.

Waste360: Over the past two decades, have you seen a shift in the industry as it relates to diversity?

Tara Hemmer: Certainly. I would say the industry that I’m in today and the company I’m in today is different than the one I joined in 1999. Our senior leadership team has three women and diversity in other ways as well. There’s also been a lot of evolution with women taking on operational roles. Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not. But it’s encouraging that our industry is becoming very attractive for millennials and Gen Z. They think about our industry as a purpose-driven industry where they can make a difference, and it’s synonymous with ultimate sustainability.

Listen to the full episode below and more episodes here. Read transcript here. (Then, get excited to hear her keynote at next month’s Global Waste Management Symposium!)

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