Managing solid waste management systems is a lot like managing our own personal well-being: considering the future today is the best way to avoid chaos tomorrow. We know that many landfills are reaching capacity and recycling infrastructure is aging in towns across North America, yet, I am inspired by the communities that are proactively working to find solid waste management solutions to navigate these challenges and mitigate risk in the future. As we head into 2020, I’ve drawn inspiration from these communities in creating resolutions of my own.
Resolution 1: I will take responsibility for what I can control
Many communities in the past decade have taken a straightforward, scientific approach to better understand the problematic materials in their recycling streams. Municipalities that conduct waste characterization studies have detailed and statistical insight to better understand and improve the gaps in their public education and sorting efforts. Embracing this ethos of “what gets measured, gets done,” I have begun quantifying and tracking my nutritional intake to help improve my diet this year. And while keeping track of my cookie consumption and its associated caloric data has proven alarming, I am now driven to make better choices. Although addressing shortcomings (and shortbreads) may be difficult at the outset, examining current practices is vital to identifying opportunities for growth.
Resolution 2: It’s better to bend than break
A healthy solid waste management plan is not only nimble enough to handle pain points in the present, but also flexible enough to be adapted to meet its needs in the future. Many communities are now incorporating zero waste concepts into their sustainability goals. Some solid waste managers have begun implementing new programs to transform traditional long-term waste management planning into value-added resource recovery systems that build more resilient communities and economies. In the short term, there may be some pain points adjusting to these programs, but the potential for a brighter future makes the difficulty of change worth it in the long run.
Embracing the idea of short-term discomfort for long-term benefits, I have taken steps to alter my method of transportation for my short work commute. Instead of riding the bus to the office, I’ve instead taken up walking. This change is not only more environmentally friendly, it helps me ensure I’m getting exercise every day. Although this small change has required me to get up a little earlier, I’m looking forward to the health benefits and lessening my carbon footprint.
Resolution 3: I will surround myself with supportive people
It was during the fateful 2019 SWANApalooza conference that I discovered a passionate international community dedicated to improving the world around them. At the time, I was a graduate student studying sustainable communities with an interest in the waste management industry. I was most impressed by the industry’s cooperation, encouragement and eagerness to find solutions for one another’s problems. At the conference, I recognized mentors, new ideas and meaningful connections can come from the many diverse arms within the industry. The warm welcome of SWANApalooza’s organizers, keynote speakers, Young Professionals group, vendors and attendees inspired me to take action and further my involvement, which has led to greater professional engagement and more opportunities.
In 2020, I will remind myself that my support system needs to challenge my limits, not limit my challenges. Now, working as a solid waste management consultant, I am so grateful to be surrounded by a team of fellow consultants that push me to further develop my expertise in sustainability planning and accomplish my professional and personal resolutions. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Here’s to wishing you find the collaborators in your circle who can not only take your professional career to the next level in the coming year, but enable your personal growth as well.