My life in waste has not been wasted
Reflections on 25 years at the National Waste and Recycling Association.
Editor's Note: This piece was written by Steve Changaris, northeast region manager for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). The opinions represented in this piece are independent of Waste Dive's views.
It all started with a job interview.
Twenty-five years ago, I went to work for my first day at the New Jersey Chapter office of the National Solid Waste Management Association, the predecessor association to the NWRA. Boy, what a ride it has been since.
My first five years at NWRA focused primarily on New Jersey, but I also managed an affiliated group back then, called the National Contract Sweepers Institute. The work was challenging and I spent a lot of time with members fighting waste and recycling legislative and regulatory issues in Trenton and all over the Garden State.
At the time, I was a junior field program staff person in a national trade association with more than 115 employees. The job fit proved really good. My graduate work in political science was instrumental in my "getting the politics" about incredibly complex waste and recycling industry issues. My 10 years of earlier association experience with trade shows, meetings and publications, and my CAE certification helped me grow in my New Jersey chapter manager role a lot, too. Looking back, I now see how terrific the New Jersey chapter leaders were who counseled and mentored me. Their investment and trust in me is key to my longevity with the trade group — this I must acknowledge and give great thanks for.
Timing in life is always a big thing — whether a good thing or bad thing happens. For me, it just so happened that the field program director who hired me decided to move on as I was hitting my five-year stride in New Jersey. This created a vacancy in the association’s northeast regional manager slot. I won the promotion and moved north to Massachusetts to take on the responsibilities of ten states, instead of just one. The rest is all history, and all I can say is ... where has the time gone?
Over my 25 years with the association, a lot has happened. Things like industry change and consolidation; the restructuring of the association (twice) — we now operate with a staff of 20. Additionally, I've seen professional staff and association governance changes; various budgets — ranging from austerity to maintenance to growth; and the steady, on-going and evolving waste and recycling issue work. All are typical of the things that have happened. All this has been endlessly fascinating and rewarding to me, for which I am most humbly grateful.
Over my 25 years with the association, I have encountered some bumps, too. A couple of issues here and there, but nothing too much to handle or none so serious to cause me to leave or to be put out by management. Again, "why me?" — I just don’t really know. I think my survivability or success follows hard work and some good luck — and some "right place, right time" kinds of breaks.
I know the men and women of the waste and recycling industry are some of the hardest working folks in America. I think that is the connection. I have had the good fortune to have proven myself to these folks over the years and have earned their trust and respect. I believe it is those relationships that are sustaining me and are the underpinning of my 25-year run at NWRA.
So what next? Another 25 years at NWRA? I don’t think so. Like anyone in my position, I think it sure would be nice to think about retirement in five years or so. But, for now, I will take things one day at time. My big work challenge is to maintain a level of excellence and to keep my relationships with members in as good a stead as possible. It will be my joy to strive to meet these objectives every day I come to work at NWRA, in my continuing service to the great men and women of this industry.