Texas Disposal Systems’ Gregory Transforms Ideas Into Real World Plans

In this Q&A, James Adam Gregory, a 40 Under 40 Award recipient, reflects on life in the world of waste in the 1980s, when he was a kid. He discusses the thrill of turning ideas into real world plans. And he touches on growth and diversity.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

June 27, 2024

6 Min Read

James Adam Gregory was born into the waste and recycling business. The son of the founder of Texas Disposal Systems, he began picking up litter alongside the road as a child for the small family operation that began with one truck and today ranks as one of the largest independent solid waste and recycling companies in the country.

Gregory has grown alongside the organization.  By now the 39-year-old vice president of Texas Disposal has done almost every job across every division and across ancillary businesses—from driving trucks, to developing comprehensive business strategies, to designing new processing facilities.

In this Q&A, Gregory, a 40 Under 40 Award recipient, reflects on life in the world of waste in the 1980s, when he was a kid. He discusses the thrill of turning ideas into real world plans. And he touches on growth and diversity.

Waste360: What are all your core functions today?

Gregory: I focus on business development for all of our divisions and related companies, and I oversee our recycling, organics, and landfill facilities near Austin, Texas.  We do a number of things that are unique in our industry; in addition to typical collection, processing and disposal operations, we have a large tree farm, pre-cast concrete manufacturing utilizing recycled materials, and an exotic animal park and event facility, among other unique ventures. 

The amazing teams that run these operations report to me.  We are always looking for ways to add value to waste streams and make products out of materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill, and I get to lead the teams that push these efforts forward. For the past 15 years I’ve also focused a great deal on local policy impacting our industry. 

What I love most about my job is that I get to do so many different things with so many fantastic people.

Waste360: What projects have most excited you?

Gregory: I probably get most excited about process and facility design.  Just in the last couple years I’ve had the privilege, along with our dedicated team, to design a new single-stream materials recovery facility, an automated C&D recycling system, and a one-of-a-kind recycled glass processing and glass aggregate production system.  And I’m currently working on a renewable natural gas plant to purify methane from landfill gas.  It’s amazing to see your ideas turn into reality, and in a way that pushes environmental conservation and sustainability forward. 

Waste360: What do you remember of the world of waste and recycling in the 1980s, when you started picking up litter as a young boy?

Gregory: I did start picking up litter when I was six years old.  I guess the industry was different just like the rest of the world was different 30-plus years ago.  Nobody thought twice about a little boy walking for miles along what was then a country road filling up trash bags with litter.  I don’t think you’d see that today. 

We were also a little company with only one or two dozen trucks, and maybe 30 to 40 employees back then.  But there was a very real family atmosphere. Everyone looked out for me, and I learned the importance of keeping things clean and taking care of what you have. 

Waste360: What are the most significant changes since your early start, and what’s the same?

Gregory: The most significant changes have been the incredible growth of our businesses and the variety of operations we have now. But we still work very hard to maintain a family dynamic, and we still look out for each other. 

I still pick up litter around the site, just as when I was a young boy because it’s just as important to keep things clean and take care of what you have, and hopefully set a good example by serving others. 

Waste360: Tell us some of the story of how you got started and how you grew into this business

Gregory: I obviously wasn’t a full-time employee at age six, but over the years, during the summers and on many weekends, I would work in just about every aspect of our businesses.  I helped customers unload trailers full of trash, in the gatehouse at the landfill, and at transfer stations. I scraped dried trash juice off old dumpsters in the container maintenance shop, operated loaders and roll off trucks in some of our recycling operations, and many other jobs that my dad promised would build character.  Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed to have learned the business by doing the hard jobs from the ground up. And I know that, combined with the blessings of an education, nothing could have prepared me better to serve our company through my career. 

Waste360: Texas Disposal is a large company! What were advantages to being able to start when the company was much smaller and to grow with it?  

Gregory: The main advantage I had from starting in a smaller company was having the opportunity to learn from working from the ground up, and to see first-hand how much hard work, dedication, and creativity it takes to grow and expand a unique business model like ours.  And then there is the family aspect. I wouldn’t be able to be successful if I didn’t have the example my father set to look up to.

Waste360: What has it been like being the founder’s son?

Gregory: It’s been amazing.  My father Bobby Gregory founded TDS in 1977, and he has built one of the largest independent solid waste and recycling companies in the nation.  He is still very much in charge of every aspect of the companies.  He’s been a well-known leader in this industry for several decades and was inducted into the Hall of Fame nearly 15 years ago.  He is the hardest working, and most honest and principled man I’ve ever known.  Some might think that those are big shoes to fill, but I don’t see it that way.  As long as I’m true to my faith and treat others how I would want to be treated, I can be my own man and chart my own path in business.  It’s an honor and a privilege to serve alongside him.  

Waste360: Do you envision your son someday following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps?

Gregory: While I haven’t sent our seven-year-old son, James, out to pick up litter on the highway, he gets to spend a lot of time around the operations, and he says he wants to be in the business.  While I would be proud to have him join us, I want him to know that he can do anything in the world he puts his mind to and works hard at. 

Waste360: What keeps you in this industry, and do you see this as a lifetime career?

Gregory: I can’t see myself doing anything else.  There will always be new challenges, and there will always be the need for stewardship of our businesses.  I am blessed with the opportunity to make it my life’s work, and I intend to do it for the rest of my life.

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Thought Leadership

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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