Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero is the Director of Engineering at FCC Environmental Services, where she oversees design, build, construction and equipment selection for existing and future projects. She was formerly the company’s Director of Recycling for the U.S., responsible for all business, operations, sales and technical aspects of FCC Environmental Services’ U.S. recycling business.
In this interview, Rodriguez-Pinero, a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, talks about overseeing award-winning MRF projects, as well as how she found her career in the recycling industry.
This interview has been edited for length.
Waste360: What is a recent project that you have worked on?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: I did the design, build and construction for the Dallas and Houston MRFs. We received the RFP, and I put together, with a team at FCC, the response for the RFP, and then I was in charge of the supervision of the design, building and construction, and the commissioning plan for both facilities.
Waste360: What are some of the issues and considerations that you took into account as you were building the MRFs or working with these communities?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: One of the considerations is that it is always important during the construction to build an educational center. We do believe at FCC that education is key to reducing contamination. We have built both facilities with big educational centers, gallery views and interactive programs. So, anyone can come who wants to learn about recycling, and tour the facility from a safe place, and see what we do. That was one of the main things.
The most important thing is to choose the right equipment, to make sure that you are not only designing for your needs today but also designing for the potential growth of volume and changes.
All of our plans are done to be constructed with a lot of flexibility, and I think that is very important because we have seen a lot of changes in materials recently. Now, we have the Amazon effect. So, we have to design our facilities to be able to manage that type of change in the material stream, like plastics. Plastics are everywhere right now. It is important to make sure that you have enough capacity and enough technology to deal with recycling changes.
Waste360: What are some ways that you worked with stakeholders to figure out what they needed?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: We did partnerships with both cities in the beginning to make sure that they had either enough data about their [facilities] or how their education programs were run. We sat down with them. Recently, [we discussed with the clients] the most dangerous things we have received in the facilities.
We have seen a lot of propane tanks because of barbecues or helium tanks, and those are considered hazardous materials. First, we’re not allowed to take them, and then they create potential fires. We listen a lot to our customers and their needs and how they want to expand the recycling program.
Another thing is, we included, back in Houston, glass. It was not part of the recycling program, and both the facilities in Houston and Dallas have been awarded with the gold certification by the Glass Recycling Coalition, because of the high quality of our glass. It was a big problem for the Houston mayor, and we addressed that.
Waste360: Both of the MRFs won Best Recycling Facility, can you talk about what were some of the attributes that were award-winning?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: The award was given by the National Waste Recycling Association. Dallas won in 2017, and Houston in 2020. We invest in the latest technology so that helps us make sure that we can recover more materials efficiently so we divert more from the landfill. The way that we operate our facilities is also based in safety. We include a lot of safety items. Our sorters are in cabins and it’s an environmentally controlled climate. They have air conditioning in the summer and they have heat during the winter. It’s a dust-less environment, and they are not exposed to that much noise.
We also have a lot of technology to prevent fires, which is one of the main worries of everyone who operates a MRF. In both facilities, there is technology such as a sprinkler system, thermal cameras, and we have fire rovers. We do invest a lot in not only technology to recover more, but also to make the facilities a safe place so they can run well with no problems.
Waste360: What attracted you to the recycling industry?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: Initially, as a chemical engineer, I began my career in wastewater treatment. FCC is a big company that has a lot of opportunities. My boss asked me if I wanted to participate in the City of Dallas contract and learn more about that side of the business, so I did, and I thought it was a great opportunity. I love this side of the business. I like to think that what we are doing is impacting a lot of people.
Waste360: What are some challenges that you are seeing in your current role?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: I think that what we deal with, or what our challenges are right now, is contamination and the change in materials. A challenge, in a good way, is that we need to make sure that we look for the right technology, and that’s what I do now. It could be AI technology, or near-infrared technology, or another type of vision recognition software.
Waste360: Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you would like to add?
Andrea Rodriguez-Pinero: I am super honored and really happy to have received this award. I enjoy being part of the 40 Under 40 list, and I appreciate the opportunity.