Danny Gallagher Makes Sustainability His Business

Waste360 Under 40 Award recipient Danny M. Gallagher takes us back to his days as a college intern and his latest promotion with Hillsborough County Solid Waste Department, where he proudly holds the title of project manager of Sustainability and Disposal Operations. Gallagher discusses the art of approaching difficult conversations with staff, critical thinking, and what else it takes to lead a team. He also tells why he thinks there will always be job opportunities for folks interested in areas ranging from food recovery to policy development to recycling and manufacturing, among materials management spaces.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

June 3, 2024

6 Min Read

How does a young entrepreneur move from “engineer-in-training” in petroleum remediation to coordinating a county’s recycling program and then managing that county’s sustainability programs?

Waste360 Under 40 Award recipient Danny M. Gallagher takes us back to his days as a college intern and his latest promotion with Hillsborough County Solid Waste Department, where he proudly holds the title of project manager of Sustainability and Disposal Operations.

Gallagher discusses the art of approaching difficult conversations with staff, critical thinking, and what else it takes to lead a team. He also tells why he thinks there will always be job opportunities for folks interested in areas ranging from food recovery to policy development to recycling and manufacturing, among materials management spaces.

Waste360: Tell us about your new role at Hillsborough and what you were doing before.

Gallagher: My current role entails education and outreach across the Department which includes doing interviews with the media, assisting on various projects from the landfill to the recycling program, tracking and assisting academic partnerships, grant writing, managing the county’s Donation & Waste Diversion program, policy review and implementation, data tracking, cost analysis, and more.

Previously, as the recycling coordinator, I managed the unincorporated county’s curbside recycling program of over 320,000 customers and over 60,000 tons collected annually. My duty was to increase recycling participation and reduce recycling contamination via various forms of education and outreach. I was promoted to recycling coordinator in February 2022 after working as the county’s recycling & waste reduction specialist from March 2020, which primarily focused on education and outreach. Before working for Hillsborough County, my first job after graduating college in May 2018 was working as an engineer-in-training to remediate petroleum in groundwater.

Waste360: What might a given day look like for you?

Gallagher: My duties as the new project manager can vary from day to day, which I appreciate. I’m mostly in the office working out of spreadsheets (I love data), analyzing trends and making inferences, and also collaborating internally and externally with key stakeholders.

One day, I could be collaborating with the US Composting Council-Florida Chapter to advance composting, and on the next day, collaborating with our regional recycling partnership, which includes the City of Tampa and Pinellas County, to enhance recycling behavior.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to venture out of the office to table, present, and interview on camera about our solid waste services and educate about proper disposal. I’m able to meet and work with so many amazing individuals, groups, businesses, and non-profits in Tampa Bay that want to achieve a more sustainable society.

Additional duties include maintaining the content on our department’s webpages, tracking website traffic and improving user experience, and I work very closely with our Communications department on social media, infographics, videos, and more. My goal is to always go back to, “what is our message?” or “what problem are we trying to solve?”. There’s been multiple times where an outreach idea (e.g., social media post or graphic) is presented, and I’m able to insert or rework to include our message but still keep the original intent of the product. My career provides me the opportunity to think critically, and problem solve, while also keeping in mind how to communicate our programs and solutions with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Waste360: How and why did you get into this work?

Gallagher: I initially got into the work due to my passion for the environment and sustainability. I can still remember to this day when my elementary school teach, Ms. Gaylor, educated our class on climate change and its impact. That lit a fire in me to do anything I could to prevent the worse-case scenario! My passion led me to studying Environmental Engineering at the University of Florida and receiving a minor in Sustainability Studies in May 2018. In one of my sustainability classes, I met my now wife who also has a passion for environmental stewardship. I interned at a solid waste engineering company during my last year in college, and then moved on to petroleum remediation work post-graduation. As important as cleaning up petroleum is, I wanted to do something bigger and that’s when the opportunity to work for Hillsborough County came and it’s been the greatest career move.

Waste360: What keeps you in this line of work? And what keeps you at Hillsborough County?

Gallagher: The work I do every day is very rewarding, and I enjoy doing it. Collaborating with academic institutions, other municipalities, statewide organizations, and more reminds me of all the great work being done and the passion in this field. I’m surrounded by individuals who want to fight climate change, preserve natural resources, feed people, cleanup litter, and more. Likewise, the staff I work with at Hillsborough County make it worth coming in every day. Staff are incredibly respectful, friendly, passionate, and are great team workers.

Waste360: What is your best advice for young professionals coming into waste and recycling work?

Gallagher: Once you’re in, you can’t get the stink off you! Just kidding; this field is more than just “garbage”; it’s sustainable materials management. Nature doesn’t know what “waste” is; that’s a human concept. If you reframe the way you look at this field, there is so much opportunity and diversity of work. New professionals can work in food recovery, policy development, donation programs, recycling and manufacturing, education, collection, contract management, fiscal teams, engineering, and so much more. People will always be throwing away waste so there is a lot of opportunity to manage it sustainably (and job security).

Waste360: What does it take to be a good manager?

Gallagher: Trust in your employees and give them the confidence to do good work while also being available without judgement to discuss and answer any questions. Specific positive feedback has been very impactful as well. Generic feedback, even positive, can come off as fake or give the impression a supervisor doesn’t know what their staff are doing. In addition, I’ve witnessed when an employee makes an error, sometimes all the focus is on this one mistake rather than the 99 percent of work that was correct, which can lower morale. So, I would say how you approach difficult conversations with your staff can make a huge difference in being a good manager.

Waste360: What do you find most important about what you and your department do?

Gallagher: I love being able to serve the community; our motivation is people and not profit. Of course, cost effectiveness is always discussed in our deliberations, but collaborating on ways to protect the environment and public health with proper resource management has always been very rewarding. There are only a handful of municipal departments where residents [and staff] have such constant interaction every single week. However, most residents might only think about solid waste if their trash wasn’t picked up or only think about their water utility if there is a boil water notice (or if water doesn’t come out the tap). We all do amazing work every single day to make sure waste is collected, transported, disposed, and treated properly. We make sure regulatory thresholds are met and that human health and the environment are protected. The public might not be aware of all this work, but it’s worth it every day.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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