Casella Waste’s Sean Lukas Likes Fixing Problems

In this Q&A interview, Sean Lukas, general manager at Casella Waste Systems, talks about the challenges he enjoys taking on in his role, and his pathway to his position as a general manager.

Willona Sloan, Freelance writer

May 28, 2024

6 Min Read

Sean Lukas is a general manager at Casella Waste Systems, where he manages the public/private partnership at Clinton County Solid Waste and Recycling. He oversees Clinton County’s  landfill, recycling facility, and the landfill-gas-to-energy project, amongst other services.

In this Q&A interview, Lukas, who is a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, talks about the challenges he enjoys taking on in his role, and his pathway to his position as a general manager.

This interview has been edited for length.

Waste360: What are some of your major responsibilities?

Sean Lukas: I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just generally overseeing everything. Obviously,  the landfill takes a lot more time and day-to-day care from me. I’m helping plan projects and oftentimes acting as a project manager depending on the team’s needs, that being supporting landfill cell construction, landfill gas infrastructure installation, and [day-to-day business operations].

Waste360: What do you like about what you do?

Sean Lukas: I like dealing with people, I like fixing problems for people, and this job allows me to do that. I’m helping my staff, my employees, my customers, the local government, and officials that help manage our facilities. It's also something different every single day. I might be really focused on recycling in the morning and then it’s all about landfill gas in the afternoon, and permitting the next day, and community events the day after. It’s just so variable that I'm never bored and that’s what keeps me happy.

Waste360: What has been a new skill set that you had to acquire to succeed in your role as general manager?

Sean Lukas: I feel like I’ve been ramping up to this point, for a really long time, and kind of slowly learning everything. Before I worked for Casella, I was working in kitchens and managing people. I had a union staff at a hospital kitchen of 90 employees. I was learning those soft skills.

I had a degree in environmental science so I shifted gears. It was 2015, when I got into Casella here at the Clinton County Landfill. I kind of changed roles and was just applying my environmental knowledge and doing the permitting and compliance, and engineering work. I grew that skill set.
Then, I had an opportunity to become the operations manager in 2017. I had that environmental skill set and turned on the personnel skill set that I had previously acquired. That went really well for me; and then, switching to the general manager role in 2019, the biggest thing I had to learn was budgeting and finance.

That was the biggest thing. Learning how to understand how money flow works in a privately traded company and how to be able to justify things and speak that language so that you can get the tools you need to do the job, and get your people the things they need to do their jobs. That was a big learning curve for me. I have some really good support in my controller for that, as well.

Waste360: What training opportunities, mentors or networking with other professionals, have helped you on your path?

Sean Lukas: I actually have an associate degree in recording engineering. That’s what I did right out of high school. My path has taken me all over. I think in every role that I’ve had, I come into it knowing that I don’t know everything. I’m not necessarily the end-all-be-all expert, and whether it’s the operator running the equipment or the CEO of the company, I am going to approach those conversations in a very similar way. I want to know what that person knows and I want to get that knowledge so I can learn that and apply that.
I’m just a very curious person and I take everybody at face value. That’s how the job gets done, it’s through people. Just being open to that all the time has been, probably, one of the biggest ways that I feel that I’ve been able to succeed. It’s knowing that you need the whole team to do it, and everybody’s input is valuable.

Waste360: What advice would you give to a young professional who is starting their career in the waste industry?
Sean Lukas: My number one career advice, given the path that I took, is always keep your mind open.

I could have trenched in and said, “No, I’m only going to do environmental compliance and I’m not going to branch into these other aspects.” But, because I started in environmental and I got good operations experience, and then I started to understand the finances of the business, because I was open to doing that, now I can put all of that together and I have a really full skill set that allows me to tackle new projects moving forward.

We just permitted a food waste composting yard at this facility and just started operating it. We got it registered and permitted last year and we’ve been operating it this year. That took a lot. I had to have the drive to want to do it and to understand how we can put it together and then make these numbers make sense so that it was a viable project financially.

[Having] been open to doing operations, and being open to learning the financial side of the business, that is what led me to be able to bring it all together. I feel like I have more of an impact now because I have gained all those skills in the past.

Waste360: In doing my research I read that you like to play music. What role does music play in your life now and are there any professional skills that you would say come from your love of making music?

Sean Lukas: Music is something that’s big for me and my family. At home, we always have music on, we’re always playing music. It’s a good way, I find, to unwind. Maybe that’s one really important piece of it — you have to have something that helps you relax.  
I think to flip it the other way, I do feel that growing up with a music background and playing music throughout the years has given me more of a creative mindset. You can ask my employees, I’m not afraid to try the crazy idea, because you never know what’s going to work. I do think playing music got my mind thinking that way.

Waste360: Is there anything I did not ask you about that you would like to mention?

Sean Lukas: I’m super honored to get this recognition for the 40 Under 40 from Waste360. I want to add that I would not have the success if it wasn’t for such an excellent organization like Casella Waste and the partnership that I’ve been able to grow with Clinton County and every employee and team member that I’ve interacted with over the years.

So many people at this facility cared so much and I am honored to be recognized, but I could not be successful, and this facility would not be successful, without every single person that is out here doing the work every day. I just really wanted to add that and recognize those people.

Waste360: It’s not just you, it's your team.

Sean Lukas: Absolutely. And my crazy ideas don’t work if they don’t help me make them work.

About the Author(s)

Willona Sloan

Freelance writer, Waste360

Willona Sloan is a freelance writer for Waste360 covering the collection and transfer beat.

Stay in the Know - Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Join a network of more than 90,000 waste and recycling industry professionals. Get the latest news and insights straight to your inbox. Free.

You May Also Like