Vice President of Recycling at Waste Pro USA
Seldom does a college student land his or her first full-time job only yards away from campus, but that’s what happened to Will Howard after he received a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2011. When Howard was about to graduate, he saw that Sonoco Recycling was hiring for management positions at its material recovery facility (MRF) in Columbia near his university. He says he applied and quickly landed a spot in Sonoco’s management training program in June 2011.
“I didn’t even have to move,” he says. “I joined the company’s management training program and got my feet wet as an operations person in recycling.”
Since Howard started his career at Sonoco Recycling, he has held various MRF operations management positions. He transitioned to production manager at Waste Pro USA’s MRF in Ocala, Florida, in 2015 and was more recently promoted to vice president of recycling at the company in July 2019.
Howard says the culture at Waste Pro feels a great deal like family. “That might sound cliché,” he adds, “but [all employees] have a direct line to John Jennings, who is the CEO. I can pick up the phone to call him. Anybody in any position has a direct line to all the C-suite workers.”
“For me now, overseeing multiple plants, I try every time I walk into an operation to bring [safety] to the forefront.”
He shares his experiences working in the industry in the interview that follows.
Recycling Today (RT): What would you say are the biggest challenges of working in a MRF environment?
Will Howard (WH): The first thing that comes to mind is safety is a constant focus. The battle with complacency starts with you, and you have to drive that home to all of your employees. We have large sorting machines, front-loaders, forklifts, balers—all of these machines have their own sets of hazards and policies and procedures in order to prevent injuries.
Keeping vigilant on safety is a major challenge with everything we have to accomplish on a day-to-day basis. For me now, overseeing multiple plants, I try every time I walk into an operation to bring [safety] to the forefront.
RT: How good of a job do the communities you serve do at minimizing inbound contamination?
WH: We have some contracts in place that do a very, very good job. I can specifically talk to Marion County—Marion County has policed drop-off sites for their customers, and I think they do a fantastic job with educating the public. They know that if they produce the cleanest recycling, it’s going to be cost-effective for them in the long run.
We do have some areas that could use improvement. We have a large transient population in central Florida. Every year, for about four or five months, our population goes up by almost 50 percent, and [people] are coming from areas that may recycle differently. It’s very challenging to continue that education process when half of the year people are in town and the other half of the year, they’re told something different about recycling.
RT: What are some tips on finding and keeping good workers?
WH: From a hiring standpoint in the waste industry, at a first look, people say it’s dirty. But it’s really not. We keep very, very clean facilities, and we treat our employees well. I encourage people that this isn’t just a job, but it’s a career.