The Heart, Science & Business of Sustainability: A Fireside Chat with Tara Hemmer

In a one-on-one interview with Kristin Kinder, VP of Research & Waste Stream Sustainability, at Wastequip, Ms. Hemmer explained that WM is investing more than $1 billion through 2026 to upgrade and build new recycling facilities that will help them meet growing demand for recycled content. “This is so important as we look to enable a circular economy,” she offered.

Alan Hitchcox

May 20, 2024

4 Min Read

As a Senior Vice President and the Chief Sustainability Officer for Waste Management (WM), Tara Hemmer is responsible for growing sustainable service offerings, including recycling, renewable energy, and organics. In addition, she oversees all environmental, social impact, and governance initiatives. She was previously Senior Vice President, Field Operations for the southern part of North America, including oversight of collection, disposal, recycling, and landfills.

Ms. Hemmer joined the company in 1999 and progressed through various leadership roles across North America including Vice President of Disposal Operations, Area Vice President for the Greater Mid-Atlantic Area, and, most recently, Senior Vice President of Operations, Safety & Environmental Compliance. She also serves on the board of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation.

In a one-on-one interview with Kristin Kinder, VP of Research & Waste Stream Sustainability, at Wastequip, Ms. Hemmer explained that WM is investing more than $1 billion through 2026 to upgrade and build new recycling facilities that will help them meet growing demand for recycled content. “This is so important as we look to enable a circular economy,” she offered.

In elaborating, Ms. Hemmer added, “Our recently opened Germantown recycling facility will help make recycling a reality for more businesses and communities across Wisconsin. With state-of-the-art equipment that leverages artificial intelligence and optical sorting technology, this facility will increase the amount of material we can process and repurpose into new products. I’m so proud of the progress our team has made so far on this investment, and I got the chance to celebrate with them in person.”

Perhaps the biggest public impact Ms. Hemmer described was Major League Baseball’s (MLB) recent naming of WM as the Official Sustainability Partner of Major League Baseball. This is the first sustainability-focused partner in MLB history and is intended to elevate MLB’s continued sustainability related efforts in ballparks and throughout communities.

Waste Management will be the presenting sponsor of Major League Baseball’s official Earth Day and Green Week commemoration, which will include a variety of environmental-positive practices and messaging. Additionally, WM will offer sustainability advisory services to MLB Clubs, which includes end-to-end solutions intended to help participants achieve their sustainability goals in waste reduction and diversion, greenhouse gas emissions management, and more. WM also will support MLB Green Teams at MLB All-Star Week, the World Series, and other MLB special events, as well as provide support to the League office and its facilities.

 “WM has a more than 20-year history for its advisory services team, providing sustainability solutions for a variety of customers of all sizes and industries,” Ms. Hemmer explained. “Our expertise has helped us triple the number of customers in the sports space since 2021 — including leagues, events, teams, and venues — and we look forward to the incredible opportunity to build comprehensive and custom plans designed to improve sustainable operations for MLB and its clubs.”

Earlier this year, MLB also added three new sustainability award honors for member clubs. These include:
the Power Pitch Award, for the MLB ballpark demonstrating exemplary efforts in preserving power and energy usage from the previous year,
the H2O Home Run Award, given to the club that demonstrates exceptional dedication and achievement in reducing its water usage from the previous year, and
the Eco-Slugger Innovation Award, for the club achieving innovative efforts in implementing environmentally sustainable practices and initiatives either in their ballpark or in the community.

Much of the interview covered the increasing role of women in the waste industry. She explained that as in any profession, being a mother presents special challenges in sharing time and attention between family and work. But she explained that sustainability is important for everyone, so she is able to instill the virtues of sustainability with her children, much like she learned as a child. She quipped, “Growing up, my sister and I basically served as a recycling center.”

Ms. Hemmer also reviewed some valuable practices she has learned embraced in her career. She said she views challenges for reducing waste and emissions while increasing recycling as an investment, especially when it comes to educating the public, industry, and those in the environmental services industry.

She also explained that sustainability requires a team effort to be successful. Each member of the team understands and performs role and how it fits into the master plan. Not only does this team spirit help ensure success, but it also boosts morale because workers can advance to other jobs, rather than feel they are stuck in a dead end.

A key to future success will be the continued integration of systems and sensors, especially in combination with artificial intelligence. Some of these will entail new packaging designs to reduce the amount of material and to simplify separation of different materials. This will be in addition to more extensive and advanced use of optical sorting systems and training of personnel.

About the Author(s)

Alan Hitchcox

Alan Hitchcox is a contributing writer for Waste360. He spent almost 40 years as a technical editor and writer for five publications.

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