In 2015, Waste Dive predicted the six biggest waste industry trends for 2016, marking CNG usage, increased automated collections and declining commodity prices as industry-changing developments. However we couldn't have quite predicted a wide range of impactful happenings — like the Waste Connections-Progressive Waste merger, Republic's growing focus on customer service or the lasting impression that industry professionals of all ages would have on the communities they serve and the world around them.
To commemorate a year of incredible advancements, innovations and growth, we present the 2016 Dive Awards for the waste industry. We began planning in January, solicited suggestions for nominees from readers in August, then consulted industry insiders to help us narrow down the nominees. Ultimately, the winners were chosen by the editors of Waste Dive. Here are our 10 winners for 2016:
Company of the year
Winner: NYC Department of Sanitation
In August 2015, NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner Kathryn Garcia took the stage at WASTECON to discuss the city's plans to reach zero waste by 2030. In her keynote speech, she said, "We think that together, these initiatives put New York City on the road toward zero waste, toward really having us think about it completely differently than we ever had before."
From implementing organics processing contracts to improving recycling requirements for businesses, DSNY has proven how it is thinking differently than before, and has spent each week of this year working to increase waste diversion. DSNY is also the inspiration behind a nonprofit called Foundation for New York's Strongest, which promotes zero waste initiatives to consumers through fashion shows and has plans for a museum.
Other nominees: Waste Pro, Waste Management, Salt Lake City Sanitation, Lakeshore Recycling Systems
Executive of the year
Winner: Ron Mittelstaedt, CEO of Waste Connections
In January, the waste industry was altered when Waste Connections and Progressive Waste struck a deal to merge operations and become the third-largest solid waste company in the industry. Following months of compromises, adjustments and obstacles, the deal was officially closed in June — all under the guidance of Ron Mittelstaedt.
Now as the CEO of Waste Connections, Inc., Mittelstaedt continues to offer guidance on proper ways to execute successful mergers and acquisitions. At the 2016 WasteExpo, Mittelstaedt led a session on how to maximize the value of a company to stay competitive in the market. Mittelstaedt exemplified strong leadership from planning to execution, and is expected to be a top industry leader going into 2017.
Other nominees: Jeanie Dubinski, President of Big Truck Rental; David Biderman, CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America; Nate Morris, CEO of Rubicon Global; Sharon Kneiss, former President and CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association
Most disruptive innovation of the year
Winner: ByFusion RePlast blocks
The circular economy is a concept that ByFusion has truly taken to heart through its business operations. ByFusion has developed a "100% modular technology platform" that turns plastic waste into customizable blocks, dubbed RePlast.
RePlast blocks — which require no adhesives, produce 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than concrete blocks and provide high thermal insulation — have the potential to replace traditional construction materials in a variety of building projects. By minimizing waste entering landfills and producing environmentally-friendly alternatives to such commonly used items, ByFusion is making an significant contribution in the closed-loop system.
Other nominees: The Seabin Project, The Ocean Cleanup prototype barrier, Saltwater Brewery edible six-pack rings, Ecovative mushroom packaging
Obsession of the year
Winner: Food waste
The attention paid to food waste reduction turned obsessive this year following the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency's September 2015 initiative to halve food waste across the nation by 2030. Every stakeholder across the supply chain — from farmers to retailers to consumers and TV personalities — has engaged in ways to reduce the amount of food reaching the waste stream. Rescued food feasts, focus on date labeling and initiatives to increase organics collections and processing have become common initiatives across the waste, retail and food industries. There is work that needs to be done to change consumer and retailer habits, however 2016 was a year that showed a promising future of less food waste in landfills, and these efforts are bound to roll over into 2017.
Other nominees: RFID chips, bag bans, alternative packaging, collections franchising
Safety initiative of the year
Winner: Solid Waste Association of North America's Safety Ambassador program
"Nothing we do is more important," Solid Waste Association of North America's CEO David Biderman often proclaims when asked about safety. This sentiment was epitomized in 2016 through SWANA's new Safety Ambassador program, an initiative that identifies one member at each of SWANA's 45 North American chapters as a "safety ambassador."
Each ambassador is considered a local resource for fellow chapter members to ask questions and engage more in promoting and establishing safety measures. By allowing non-executive members to take ownership of a program, it encourages professionals of various work levels to engage in initiatives that can improve work culture in all sectors.
Other nominees: National Waste and Recycling Association's Safety Stand Down program, Republic Services' Focus 6 program, Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s injury reporting rule
Transformation of the year
Winner: Republic Services' new Customer Resource Centers
Proper customer service is a large piece of the puzzle that keeps operations at Republic Services running smoothly. In the beginning of 2016, Republic announced changes to its customer engagement model with plans to consolidate over 100 customer service locations into three Customer Resource Centers. Finally in mid-October, the plan was complete.
The new sites created hundreds of jobs for industry professionals and completely altered the way Republic deals with the 14 million customers it services in the most productive way possible.
"These facilities are about providing a great experience for our customers ... [The Chandler, AZ] facility will allow our customers to communicate with us how and when they prefer, creating a truly differentiated customer experience," said Joe Burkel, senior vice president for customer experience, in a recent press statement.
Other nominees: Waste Connections and Progressive Waste merger, NYC Department of Sanitation's efforts to move toward a zoning system
Education program of the year
Winner: Recycle By City
Educating consumers about the proper way to recycle is a challenge that all industry leaders face. With different rules across so many cities, it's almost impossible to keep track of which recyclables are accepted into which waste streams. That's why in 2014, Tracy Bugh created Recycle By City to eliminate consumer confusion in seven major metropolitan areas.
With the most recent addition of Chicago in December 2015, Recycle By City has acted this year as a go-to hub for consumers with quizzes, quick facts and a user-friendly design to keep visitors informed and engaged. RBC prides itself on staying "simple, informative and up-to-date."
Other nominees: Mattress Recycling Council Bye Bye Mattress program, EREF Education Program, Delaware Solid Waste Authority Education Building, Republic Services' Southern Nevada Recycling Center Learning Center
Technology of the year
Winner: Fire Rover's Portable Fire Suppression System
In the world of waste and recycling, facility fires seem to be a near-daily occurrence from coast-to-coast, and the traditional methods of fire suppression — such as smoke alarms, water sprinkler systems and automated water suppressants — are often failing to stop a fire. Recent data from Fire Rover estimates that more than 1,500 facility fires occurred in the past year, which is why the company says it developed a Portable Fire Suppression System to eliminate fires before they flare.
Fire Rover's suppression system can detect a fire early with the use of a thermal camera and video surveillance system. The technology, which took off in 2016, is proven to cool a reaction among metals, plastics and other waste the minute it is detected. Such a technology is bound to change the way the industry prepares for fires and increase safety measures while decreasing the risk of ruined, devalued materials across all types of facilities.
"We take pride that we provide real peace of mind to our clients ... When we are on watch, they are protected," Fire Rover President Brad Gladstone told Waste Dive.
Other nominees: Akooba VisiShred, Compology WasteOS, Republic Services’ ash byproduct recovery technology, Rehrig Pacific RVision
Winner: Arnold Harvey, Waste Management
Some may call him a garbage hauler. Others may call him a "tent angel." But no matter what he's called, Arnold Harvey has been a hero in the industry through more than 25 years of working for Waste Management.
In 2007 Harvey started God's Connection Transition (GCT), a family-operated nonprofit organization to provide tents, food, blankets, clothes and other supplies to the D.C.-area homeless. For nearly 10 years Harvey has been dedicating his off-time to helping those in need, and 2016 was no different. Aside from his active work with GCT, Arnold and his wife met community members on Nov. 19 at a Waste Management facility in Gaithersburg, MD to put together Thanksgiving food for nearly 200 families. Harvey continues to exemplify the compassion that garbage haulers across the nation have for the communities they serve.
Other nominees: David Bedford, Republic Services; Sam Turman, Waste Management; Efren Lopez, Republic Services
Young professional of the year
Winner: Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup
At 17, Dutch inventor Boyan Slat had an idea to rid the world's waters of plastic pollution. Now, as the 22-year-old CEO and founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Slat is turning his idea into a concept that is near-unimaginable — building a 62-mile barrier in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect waste.
2016 was a year of progress for The Ocean Cleanup. In June, the team deployed a 100-meter prototype barrier into the Pacific Ocean for a year of sensor-monitored tests, and in October they conducted their first aerial recon mission over the Patch — all under Slat's guidance. He's grown his concept into a technologically-advanced reality with a 37-person team, and will continue to impress professionals across the industry for years.
Other nominees: Dr. Stephanie Bolyard, EREF; Samantha Yager, American Public Works Association; Kevin Atkinson, Texas Pride Disposal; Amanda Prinzo, Industrial/Organic