Over the years, many people have asked me what I liked most about my job at SWANA, and my answer has always been the same: working with the members. Members are the lifeblood of the association; the source of energy, inspiration and innovation. They are the men and women who see resources and energy where others see only wastes. They are the men and women who stand up and defend safe and environmentally sound disposal practices in the face of hostile and politically motivated opposition. They are the people who refuse to accept that wastes are inevitable and see the great economic benefits that come from reducing wastes at the source. They understand that solid waste management is an essential public service that modern society could not exist without, and they have dedicated their careers to providing that service.
More than 50 years ago, the seeds of SWANA were planted by a group of sanitation superintendents from several communities in Southern California. These early solid waste professionals were overwhelmed by serious worker-safety challenges and decided to work together to solve them. They discovered the value of reaching out and engaging others in the development of solutions; learned the importance of training drivers and crews on safe work practices; and discovered that they could accomplish so much more by working together than they could on their own. By being proactive and solving problems together, they were able to significantly improve the working environment for their people. Building on these lessons, the first chapter of the Governmental Refuse Collection and Disposal Association (GRCDA) was formed; today known as the SWANA Southern California Founding Chapter.
Just as SWANA’s founders discovered more than 50 years ago, SWANA members today know they can learn from each other and can accomplish so much more by working together. They understand that there is an undeniable strength when they embrace the diverse perspectives and knowledge of thousands of solid waste professionals and focus their talents on improving not only the working environment of people, but also the natural environment of the planet. Throughout SWANA’s history, these ideas have spread across North America. Today we are more than 8,200 members strong from both the public and private sectors, with 45 Chapters in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, and have become one of the largest and most well respected associations of solid waste professionals in the world.
This simple concept of learning from each other is at the heart of everything SWANA does. I see it in the outstanding education programs put on by the SWANA Technical Divisions. I see it in the cutting-edge training and certification courses developed by and put on by our voluntary professional faculty. I see it in the Applied Research Foundation, where members combine their resources to carry out research that benefits the entire field. I see it in the Chapters that provide so much value to SWANA members on a local and regional basis. I see it in our International Board of Directors, who come together from all across North America to work with each other in the governance of SWANA. Finally, I see it in the SWANA professional staff who give so much of themselves in serving the membership of the association.
Thank you to all of you who have provided me with the inspiration, guidance, support and friendship during my tenure as your CEO during the past 18 years, I have learned so much from you. It’s been an exhilarating trip, thanks for letting me ride along. I look forward to seeing many of you again, but from a slightly different perspective for me: as a SWANA member.