Is the field of waste management becoming more challenging? Of course it is. A chilling example of the kinds of issues that waste managers have to deal with is that of the recent anthrax scare in the U.S. With anthrax introduced into the mail system, the chance of contamination spreading to discarded mail and materials was very real. What risks did this entail for waste haulers, collectors and material handlers at landfills and recycling facilities?
The issue was extraordinary and urgent. Decisions needed to be made quickly. Managers had to make hard decisions to balance the need to deliver service with the need to ensure the safety of staff. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) responded by doing quick research and compiling a guidance document for all members.
Historically, municipal waste management in Canada was a matter of hiring a few labourers, sending them out to collect whatever residents had put out and taking the waste down to the town dump. There wasn’t much regulation and not much thought was given to issues like hazardous chemicals, biological pathogens or environmental contaminants, either in regard to worker and public safety or environmental impact. There wasn’t much need for public education or interaction.
Times have changed. The collection, hauling and handling of municipal wastes is now highly regulated and multi-disciplinary. The equipment and technologies used are often complex and application specific. The public is intensely interested in both the service they receive and in the safety and environmental performance of operations. The need to educate and communicate is strong.
Both industry and regulators have recognized the need to establish minimum standards for landfills and other system components, and for the staff who manage and operate them. Regulators see it as a way to improve compliance and further their mandate of protecting the public and the environment. Owners and managers recognize the value of a knowledgeable workforce that’s well versed in their responsibilities and competent to carry them out. Thus, staff can do their jobs better and improve bottom lines, while ensuring regulatory compliance and avoiding liabilities.
Years ago, SWANA began offering voluntary certification courses for waste managers. The original program, “Manager of Landfill Operations” (MOLO), has been taken by thousands of waste system managers. Several U.S. states require waste managers to be certified and have adopted SWANA and this course as the instrument to achieve and maintain certified status.
SWANA members consistently rank training programs as one of the most important benefits of membership. The association now offers a range of courses covering landfill operations, collection, transfer systems, recycling, composting, hazardous waste management, construction and demolition waste management, and other subjects of interest to both managers and staff. Certification courses are available in seven different subject areas.
Other industry associations and educational institutions have also developed training opportunities so that today’s waste management professional can generally find excellent opportunities in any subject area required.
In Canada, until 2001, there were no formal certification requirements for waste managers. But in September 2001, Alberta became the first province to have such a requirement. Under the provisions of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Waste Control Regulation, every approved landfill and composting facility must now have a certified operator. The Alberta Department of Environment administers the program but the training required to meet the minimum requirements must be found through other institutions.
The Canadian Prairie Chapter of SWANA assisted the province in the development of the skill profile and certification examination. Subsequently, the chapter has developed a specialized training program for waste management facility operators to prepare them for the examination. That course has been taken by hundreds of landfill operators who have then gone on to become formally certified in Alberta.
While this is a first in Canada, other provinces are considering similar certification requirements. This is likely a trend and should be welcomed as a sign of maturity and professionalism.
H. Bud Latta, P.Eng., director of processing and disposal for the Waste Management Branch of the City of Edmonton, Alberta and the SWANA representative for the Canadian Prairie Chapter.