Just three months after being named SWANA's executive director and chief executive officer, David Biderman is making his priorities very clear. When Biderman left the NWRA, he was regarded as a thought leader for safety in the industry.
Some early talking points at SWANA:
- Safety initiatives
- Awareness, communication
- Waste to energy
"One of my priorities at SWANA is going to be developing additional safety resources for the private and public sector that is specifically tailored to smaller employers, small governmental agencies, and small haulers and give them the tools to prevent these tragic accidents,'' Biderman said last month.
Monday, SWANA applied for a Susan Harwood training grant offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). SWANA proposes to use the grant to train collection workers and managers in ergonomic hazard awareness and prevention. Recipients, chosen from the ranks of non-profits, community, faith-based, associations and unions, should be announced in September. If SWANA’s application is approved, training events will be held at SWANA’s Training Centers and in other locations and via online sessions.
Grant management is not a new arena for Biderman, who secured and managed seven OSHA grants at NWRA. That experience is a plus, and Biderman is cautiously optimistic about the Harwood grant.
The second safety issue is around awareness. SWANA's Arizona chapter is sponsoring a webinar June 16: 10 Ways to Reduce Accidents and Injuries.
"Safety is one of the few places where we need to provide information and resources to large companies and small companies, public sector, private sector from Maine to California," Biderman said. "And it's all about making sure that the hard-working men and women who do the very tough job of managing all of the waste and recyclables that we put out every day get home to their families every day safe and sound."
NWRA continues to be a key player on this front, pushing legislation to ensure worker safety. "A key to this is to make sure the public is aware of the laws; and also, enforcement," said Sharon Kneiss, president and CEO of NWRA.
In addition to maintaining a high level of worker safety, Biderman also sees his role as helping to make sure the importance of the work they do is communicated to the industry, to legislators and to consumers. "You can't outsource garbage," as he says.
"We could live for a week without cell phones, it would be difficult for many people, but if a major metropolitan area did not have garbage collection for a week ... we need to make sure that people understand how critically important waste removal is as part of the infrastructure of this country and how important the jobs are that we are providing.''
Those jobs are largely blue collar and the waste industry is, in Biderman's words, "culturally conservative." And here he comes with his energy, newness, ideas and, pride in the waste industry being a significant contributor to renewable energy. Landfill and WTE facilities "generate energy even when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow," he likes to say.
More work to be done
Biderman comes across as proud to have been chosen to represent the 8,000-plus membership, one he is intent on growing through "teamwork, collaboration, and leveraging relationships with other organizations."
From the dwindling profitability in recycling to sustainability to waste-to-energy innovations, Biderman knows there is much work to be done. Given that safety is the most crucial issue, Biderman thought for awhile before identifying the second most crucial issue facing solid waste.
"The issue of responding to evolving customer demands is a significant challenge in an industry that is culturally conservative," he says. "Rapid change can be difficult and we are at a time where changes are occurring and it is an area where leaders in the industry need to communicate why these changes are happening and why they benefit everybody. For example, food waste organics diversion, which I think is the next frontier in the industry is an area that people are looking at and figuring out how it is going to work, and there are people who are excited about this challenge and there are people who are nervous about this challenge. It will be a challenge but over time I do expect that we will see success in that area."
In his short time on the job, Biderman identifies success as "a growing recognition by the industry that we need to be responsive to customers needs and interests in being sustainable that even though it might be sometimes easier to take all of the trash and dispose of it in a landfill or a WTE facility our customers and sometimes elected officials want an incresaed amount of diversion and recycling. Both the private and public sector are rising to that task and providing the tools necessary to get that done."