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Jason Utgaard Gains Momentum with Career in Recycling

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Coming from a retail background, Jason Utgaard decided to carve his own path and made the move to sustainability services about 7 years ago.

“My family owned and operated a national chain of 75 sporting goods stores,” he says. “I held varying roles – from setting new stores, to helping manage the distribution center, to being a data analyst at our corporate office – it was an all-encompassing experience.”

Utgaard is the general manager of Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City, Utah. Momentum was founded in 2008 with the mission to move communities towards zero waste. The company provides comprehensive recycling collection services to more than 1,000 organizations and more than 10,000 residents along the Wasatch Front.

“Since the founding of Momentum Recycling, the company has handled hundreds of millions of pounds of recyclable materials, transporting them from thousands of client locations to responsible processing facilities,” says Utgaard.

As a 2021 Waste360 40 Under 40 winner, Utgaard sat down with the publication to discuss his role at Momentum Recycling, its initiatives, and his passion about sustainability.

Waste360: Describe your role as general manager of Momentum Recycling.

Jason Utgaard: I oversee Momentum Recycling’s commercial & residential recycling collection services. As a full-service zero-waste company, I manage our wide range of services related to food waste recycling, glass recycling, mixed recycling, hard-to-recycle collections as well as waste audit services. My role involves working with new & existing municipal partners, which pertains in large part to our monthly curbside glass recycling service for their residents as well as public drop-off locations for glass recycling.

Waste360: How are you helping communities move toward zero waste?

Jason Utgaard: I spearheaded the expansion of our opt-in curbside glass recycling service from just 1 city to now over 17 cities, many of whose residents previously did not have access to glass recycling. I also came up with the idea to paint murals on our public drop-off glass recycling dumpsters (picture below – I can share others as well) to help generate awareness of these locations as well as to connect how recycling helps preserve Utah’s natural beauty.

Another area where I am helping make a noticeable impact in moving communities toward zero waste is in addressing food waste. Momentum Recycling is now Utah’s leading hauler of food waste thanks in large part to years of public outreach to commercial entities to educate them on the impact food waste has on the climate and how that correlates to the state’s tourism dollars.

Waste360: Tell me about your company’s glass recycling initiatives.

Jason Utgaard: Momentum Recycling operates Utah’s only glass recycling facility. We take in glass from our collection services & public drop-off locations locally, as well as over 350-miles away from neighboring states who collect it through their various municipal programs. Once processed, we send the glass to various local companies who use it in their products, which all then goes to help support Utah’s economy.

 

On the residential side, we offer a monthly curbside glass recycling collection for residents to opt-in to. In Salt Lake City in particular, 16% of households now subscribe to the service, which we hope will soon reach the tipping point where the City will consider an opt-out program for all residents. We also collect glass from 60+ public drop-off locations along the Wasatch Front.

Commercially, numerous types of organizations subscribe to our glass recycling collection service, from bars & restaurants to apartment complexes. We service some incredibly difficult areas geographically given our mountains here, particularly at the ski resorts. No matter the customer, I am proud of our team for always finding a way for them to recycle their glass. These customers then become part of our “Support Blue Businesses” directory on our website, which helps residents support not just local companies, but local companies who are also making the extra effort to be sustainable.

Waste360: What are your goals?

Jason Utgaard: One of my biggest goals for the next year is to work with our local municipalities to look at establishing an ordinance requiring (1) liquor license holders to recycle their glass, and (2) grocery stores & full-service restaurants to recycle their food waste. I am fully aware that these ordinances on the surface seem entirely self-serving given our business; however, with nearly a decade of experience doing waste audits & reading various city’s waste characterization studies, these two streams compromise ~60% of the waste stream from these commercial entities. If we are going to achieve zero waste, these types of requirements must be put into place.

Another goal is to expand our residential food waste collection service. Even though many cities in our area offer a green waste service, it is mainly for yard waste – and many residents are unaware of what compostable foods are accepted. I know that we can divert significantly more food waste from the residential sector than we currently are, and the exciting part here is that residents really want a service that allows them to do so throughout the year.

More long-term goals include further developing an extensive network geographically to source more glass for our facility, as well as greatly expanding our existing outreach work to include a school curriculum we could provide to local schools that include such interactive presentations as live virtual tours of the various recycling facilities in our area.

Waste360: What advice would you give to others who work in sustainability?

Jason Utgaard: My one word of advice is that it is important that the work you do in sustainability be measurable. Avoid engaging with folks that only involve themselves with the hoopla: work with folks that roll their sleeves up and produce actual results. You should know your diversion or emissions reduction goal at the outset and benchmark your performance to that as you implement your proposed solution.

Waste360: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Jason Utgaard: I am most proud of my work on the municipal side working with numerous cities to help them modify their existing city code to allow them to adopt better recycling services. Much of the focus during those discussions is not so much on how to help just Momentum Recycling provide its services to residents, but how to rewrite the code to enable a pathway for future curbside recycling services that may later become viable that we cannot foresee at this time. In creating this framework, we hope to help other startups later on be successful in their zero waste endeavors.

Waste360: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Jason Utgaard: In 5 years, without a doubt I know I will still be working in sustainability. I also feel that, after working closely with so many councilmembers over the years, that I will get more involved in public service to some degree.

Waste360: What do you like to do during your personal time?

Jason Utgaard: Given our close proximity to the mountains, I enjoy mountain biking & hiking during the summertime as well as skiing & snowboarding in the wintertime. I also enjoy building furniture and home décor using reclaimed materials.

 

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