Cigarette butts top the culprit list of most littered items worldwide. But did you know that a couple dedicated professionals have pulled nearly 10 million of them from the waste stream — in this case, the Jones Falls River and Harris Creek — in Baltimore?

Such exhaustive and beneficial services are provided by Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel, two “sustainably powered trash interceptors” that use the water’s current — and, when necessary, the sun’s power — to pull bottles, cups, butts and more from the Inner Harbor. Some of the butts are even fashioned into a tobacco globe in a Baltimore park.

They were among the many interesting, informative and engaging projects, products and people we encountered during WASTECON 2017, a conference for the solid waste management industry organized by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).

Here are five top takeaways:

  • Talking trash is a common language. SWANA arranged this year’s show in conjunction with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress. We found common ground meeting with industry professionals, partners and clients from Belgium, Canada, Nigeria, the United Kingdom and seemingly everywhere in between. It’s no surprise that we all encounter many of the same issues and opportunities, regardless of location. It is definitely a global environmental challenge.

  • Unearthing operational efficiencies is always of interest. Owners and operators of solid waste facilities, landfills, collection systems, materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and other systems are constantly looking for ways to do more with less — and to do so consistently, transparently, fairly and safely. Sometimes that can mean looking for innovative solutions, such as the public-private partnership the city of Dallas undertook in welcoming a company to build its own $20 million MRF on 15 acres of public land, a program that reduces financial risk while boosting services for the city and several surrounding communities. We were proud to share our client’s story with others who may find it helpful, and discussing our experience in providing solid waste planning.

  • Need a challenge? Just look around. There’s no shortage of cutting-edge issues to explore: converting waste biogas into vehicle fuels; closing unsafe dumps in resource-challenged countries; managing mounting marine litter; and understanding the latest promulgated federal air regulations for landfills. It’s a good thing we have so many dedicated professionals in SWANA and elsewhere. There’s plenty of opportunity to innovate in the solid waste management industry.

  • Franchising: It’s for more than fast food. We’ve been working with solid waste teams in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Springfield, Missouri, to explore the possibilities, and we’re proud to see them making excellent progress. The topic is drawing quite a bit of interest — Los Angeles and New York also are looking at organizing their collections — and we welcome other communities to join the discussion as officials look for options in meeting goals for environmental, health and safety, consistency of rates and transparency of data needs.

  • Numbers matter. On the first day of the conference, SWANA hosted a joint meeting between ISWA’s Working Group on Governance and Legal Issues and SWANA’s Planning and Management Technical Division. The groups found many shared issues of interest, including SWANA’s efforts to develop a technical policy on measuring recycling, which is an effort being led by Scott Pasternak of Burns & McDonnell, who serves as the director for the Planning and Management Technical Division.

It was encouraging to catch up with longtime clients and colleagues — from Queen Creek, Arizona, to Charleston County, South Carolina — and to learn about new challenges and opportunities from officials in other communities, both in the U.S. and abroad. We all have much knowledge and experience to share during the months and years ahead. I look forward to continuing the conversation.


Find out more about how Dallas cut its financial risk through a public-private partnership on an MRF. 

Download the Project Profile

Robert Craggs is national technical services leader for the solid waste and resource recovery group at Burns & McDonnell. He serves as the representative for the Planning and Management Technical Division on the advisory board for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and is a board member for the Recycling Association of Minnesota.