Illustration: Adobe Stock | raven

In late April, WasteExpo celebrates its golden anniversary in Sin City. With sessions ranging from innovations in technology to food recovery, event organizers say the event will stand up to its theme of “Setting the Gold Standard for the Industry.”

“I think every industry conference, whether it’s ours or another, is a great opportunity for folks in the industry to come and meet their colleagues and hear what’s working and not working,” says Brandon Wright, communications director for the Washington-based National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). “There’s always something to take away from these conferences, and it’s a great way for people to meet new folks and get some new information.”

The NWRA organizes the event in partnership with London-based Informa PLC and information, event, commerce and education provider Waste360.

Gathering data

WasteExpo is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center April 24-26. Last year, the show took place in New Orleans.

Wright says the event alternates between New Orleans and Las Vegas because the convention centers in these two cities are well-suited to the equipment that vendors want to display in the exhibit hall.

“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of heavy equipment on the showroom floor, and there are only so many convention centers that can accommodate that much weight,” Wright says. “Las Vegas and New Orleans are two of those.”

Data gathering and interpretation and food waste took center stage in 2017, and they’ll do so again in April. “These topics are front of mind for our industry,” Wright says, “and WasteExpo attendees are hungry for more information and potential solutions to these particular issues.”

Sessions on the topic of food waste include the Keynote Session: Solutions to Food Loss, Waste and Recovery; Organics Diversion Legislation and Infrastructure Development; a panel discussion on how food businesses are taking the lead to reduce waste from suppliers to consumers; and an update on the Save The Food campaign, which was profiled in the last issue of Waste Today, available at www.WasteTodayMagazine.com/article/taking-a-bite.

Data-related sessions include those on route optimization savings, breaking down data sets and using data and technology to drive food waste reduction.

“Technology is becoming more and more integrated in the waste industry, and attendees want to know how to best utilize that technology and the data they’re collecting,” Wright says. “Whether it’s for operational efficiency, customer insight, fleet maintenance or safety, learning how to gather data and incorporate data in a way that fits their business needs is critical. So, we want to provide that educational component where they can learn about different technologies, hear from experts who have implemented them and get answers to what they’re looking for.”

Wright also is speaking in a session titled Communicating in a Crisis, which will examine best practices for handling incidents in the waste industry.

He cites the recent incident where a waste truck hit a train carrying members of Congress as an example. “The company was a small company, and I can imagine them getting calls from the Wall Street Journal [and] The New York Times, and, oftentimes, you need to know how to handle that. ‘No comment’ is not always the best comment.”

Wright says he and the other speakers scheduled for that session address how to handle a similar situation or “any event, like an incident at a landfill or if a driver is involved in an accident. We will remind folks that you can’t game plan for everything, but if there’s an infrastructure in place, there are strategies you can apply.”

Jim Fish, CEO of Houston-based Waste Management (WM), gives what is described by WasteExpo organizers as a “fireside chat” April 24, where he shares his perspective on where the industry stands, its challenges and where the industry might be headed.

“We are building the agenda around the issues that are most important to our members and the industry as a whole,” Wright says. “We’ve compiled data from surveys [and] speaker submissions and work closely with our education committee and internal experts to create the most relevant program possible.”

All in the family

In addition to the aforementioned sessions on food waste and data, the show will also tie in its anniversary into the programming.

Another WasteExpo Spotlight Session is titled A Family Affair: Transitioning to the Next Generation. It focuses on passing family businesses from generation to generation.

“Because it’s the 50th anniversary of WasteExpo, we thought it’d be a great opportunity to highlight some of the family-owned companies that have been in the business for decades and can speak to the changes they’ve witnessed over the last 50 years, and perhaps, what’s to come in the next 50,” Wright says.

The association is welcoming its members to the exhibit hall with a photo booth stocked with props and a raffle for two gold Apple watches at its booth.

Wright says, “We’re putting together a wonderful booth, and so we’re really excited for what we have planned.”

Peggy Macenas, the association’s Midwest regional director, is staffing the NWRA Women’s Council booth, which is bringing back Carts on Display, an art competition that requires entrants to paint 32/35-gallon or 64/65-gallon carts with artwork that promotes environmentalism or represents the event’s 50th anniversary theme, “Rockin’ It Since 1968.” SSI Schaefer Systems, Charlotte, North Carolina, provides the carts.

The Women’s Council also is awarding four $7,500 scholarships to NWRA member companies and their employees.

The NWRA Awards Breakfast continues its annual appearance at WasteExpo in 2018. Tuesday, April 24, attendees can watch as waste industry employees are honored in categories such as Driver of the Year and Operator of the Year.

“It’s the industry’s only event that shows the workers’ commitment to the industry,” Wright says of the NWRA Awards Breakfast.

More than 700 guests attended the breakfast last year, and he says the association wants to see more faces this year.

Wright says he expects higher attendance at the conference overall because of its 50th anniversary celebration. “I hope folks don’t miss it, it’s going to be a wonderful conference.”

The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hcrisan@gie.net. A version of this article previously appeared in the March issue of Recycling Today, a sister publication of Waste Today.