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WasteExpo, the annual event for waste and recycling industry experts, is taking place in the Big Easy this year. From May 8 to 11, industry leaders will convene at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans to attend educational sessions, network and discover the latest tools and advice for creating a safer industry.

“We are a dynamic and ever-changing industry,” says Kevin Kraushaar, vice president of the Arlington, Virginia-based National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), which is collaborating on the event. “People need to attend the show to see that. We have some outstanding initiatives that our board has championed on safety, advocacy and operations.”

Conference organizers, which include New York City-based Penton’s Waste360, an information, event, commerce and education provider, are expecting 13,000 attendees and more than 600 exhibitors to gather at the convention center.

While the event usually takes place in Las Vegas, the NWRA and Penton take it to New Orleans every third year. This is simply because, NWRA Senior Director of Communications and Management Jessica Mayorga says, the two cities bring the biggest crowds.

WasteExpo had traveled to different cities every year, Mayorga says. But, when looking at attendance across these various locations, the organization noticed that Las Vegas and New Orleans yielded the highest attendance. To maintain high attendance, WasteExpo’s organizers decided to stick to these two locations.

Safety first

With the NWRA’s consistent focus on safety throughout 2016, organizing national “Safety Stand Downs” on subjects such as vehicle backing, avoiding injury and illness from heat exposure and keeping communities safe during the back-to-school season, it is no surprise that WasteExpo’s educational sessions further delve into safety.

The organization asked its service members—collection employees within the industry—what topics were critical in their day-to-day operations. Kraushaar says many responded that developing technologies were important.

“The hauling industry has experienced a tremendous increase in velocity of technology and how it can improve the way it deals with customers,” he says. “The time it takes to complete the route, safety measures, protecting the drivers and making sure that when things happen, there’s an accurate record of what occurred, are all improved with technology.”

Another education WasteExpo 2017 session the NWRA highlights is titled “Amplifying Your Message Through Traditional and Social Media,” which will tackle communicating with the media and using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to a company’s advantage.

“I think there are a lot of folks [in the industry] who don’t understand the breadth and depth of how far social media is going, and there’s lots of folks who want to know how to use social media to improve business,” Kraushaar says.

Speakers for this session include Philip Alia, corporate marketing communications manager for Ponte Vedra, Florida-based Advanced Disposal, and Marc Okrant, vice president of marketing for Rutland, Vermonth-based Casella Waste Systems.

The NWRA called for proposals to gather session topics and speakers for this year’s WasteExpo. The organization received more than 300 submissions from the call and whittled them down by contacting members to ask, “What are the issues that are keeping you awake at night?”

“The hauling industry has experienced a tremendous increase in velocity of technology and how it can improve the way it deals with customers.” – NWRA’s Kevin Kraushaar

“That has been a very effective platform for us to develop the education part of the program,” Kraushaar says of the call for submissions.

The NWRA Educational Committee selected the conference speakers based on this information.

A new component of WasteExpo’s educational sessions is the Spotlight Sessions. According to Kraushaar, these will act as sneak previews of the upcoming session for “noneducation participants,” he says. “They will be short, brief minirecaps of important issues for the day so people can get an overview of what they would expect from the entire session.”

Other session topics include route optimization, best practices for vehicle management, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food waste and loss prevention recovery initiatives, diversity and gender issues, fleet management and employee productivity and retention.

“Everything you’re learning, you’re implementing [in your own business],” Mayorga says of attendees. “The best practices are not proprietary—we need to share. When we help one incident in one company, we’re helping the whole industry. Everyone at this event will help each other, and that’s very powerful.”

Moving forward

The most important aspect of any conference, Kraushaar says, is ensuring ample educational opportunities, “So people can walk away and say, ‘Hey, I learned something today.’”

He continues, “That’s truly the mark of not only a great show but the mark of a great association, as well. It’s not how you serve your members today, it’s if you’ve showed them what they didn’t know before. Did you give them the spark to develop a new business or efficiency within their business?” he asks.

For WasteExpo 2017, Kraushaar says NWRA is focusing on its members and providing them with tools designed to help them compete.

“My philosophy is that we are an extension of the business [and] of how the companies operate,” he says of the NWRA. “We need to be thinking like the members so we give them what they need to succeed.”

For the NWRA’s booth at the upcoming show, the goal is to interact more with attendees and the organization’s members.

“We’re really excited about the innovation you’re going to see all around,” Mayorga says, “from the technological subjects we’re addressing in education to what we’re talking about in our own booth.”

The NWRA says it is telling a series of stories with visuals and speakers at the receptions and at its booth. What the organization wants to focus on is “generational.”

“We’re going to talk about what’s really moving in the industry in the perspective of how we’re preparing workers in the industry to move to the next generation,” Mayorga says. “We’re looking at innovations that are both local and national.”

Reaping the benefits

The NWRA also is launching its Committee on Operations, bringing together employees who aren’t out collecting waste and recyclables.

“It’s a member-driven initiative,” Kraushaar says. “We have great committees that work on landfills and safety, but we said we needed a place to bring those elements together. You assume you know what’s going on in the trucks, but what’s going on in the yards? Equipment development? How are landfills operated, and what are the effects of the shortage of qualified workers?” he asks.

An awards breakfast during the conference highlights employees in the industry who have gone above and beyond to contribute to their companies’ success. Awards include Driver of the Year and the newly launched Operator of the Year, which has received more than 3,000 applications, the NWRA says.

“The awards breakfast is an emotional experience when you see these drivers and operators get recognized for the great work they do,” Mayorga says. “They don’t often get to see stuff like this—major industry leaders applauding them for what they do.

“I couldn’t think of a more special aspect of the experience than the awards breakfast,” she adds.

More information on WasteExpo 2017 is available at www.wasteexpo.com.

The author is assistant editor of the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at hcrisan@gie.net