According to our new countywide Waste Characterization Study, progress has been made in decreasing the amount of "good stuff" in the garbage. One of the most promising improvements was in the residential sector, with a 41% overall decrease of recyclables and organics in the garbage since the study was last conducted in 2008. While this is good news, the findings also illuminate challenges facing the industry and county moving forward.
In this issue
Agency Update - Fall 2018
Senior Management Analyst
Justin Lehrer joined StopWaste in 2004 working on waste prevention planning and home composting bin distribution. He now leads the packaging team and supports strategic planning. He previously worked for the County of San Mateo as the County Facilities Recycling Coordinator and for Booz-Allen & Hamilton as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He graduated from the University of Vermont and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Natural Resources and Business Administration.
What do you do at StopWaste?
I wear a couple of different hats here. One of my primary roles is to lead our packaging team; we are trying to drive more sustainable packaging choices for the businesses and residents of Alameda County. We especially try to increase reusable packaging, whether reusable bags, food packaging, or transport packaging like pallets.
Another role that I play is in strategic planning for the agency. I like this because it's important to look up from our day-to-day work every now and then, see the forest for the trees and ensure that our programs are aligned with our mission, budget, and the needs of our member agencies, businesses, and residents of the county. Our two-year priority-setting process has helped us become more nimble and able to adapt to changing conditions and needs.
What is your favorite part of working at StopWaste?
I appreciate our unique structure and the flexibility we have to pursue innovative approaches and solutions. I like having the opportunity to influence and contribute to good environmental policy. But what I really love is that I get to work with such an amazing group of smart and thoughtful colleagues. I enjoy this work and I am grateful for that!
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today?
Recent policy changes in China that have effectively closed the doors on most of our export of mixed recyclables are currently a big challenge, but also an opportunity to reemphasize the importance of recycling correctly, and to redouble our efforts at waste prevention, or reducing the amount of "stuff' that is produced and consumed. Plastic packaging is also having a moment especially as it relates to ocean pollution, and there is an opportunity to take advantage of increased public awareness to encourage significant changes in our consumption of plastics.
What is your slogan that you live by?
"Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." I have also always liked the slogan, "Solid waste is the visible face of inefficiency."
How has working at StopWaste impacted you?
I've learned more patience; meaningful change takes time. Whether you're working with businesses or residents, it takes time, creativity, and flexibility to change norms and habits. I've been here 14 years and I'm still learning and growing every day.
What do you do when not working?
I mostly spend time with my family--my wife and two kids ages 6 and 8—enjoying the great diversity of things to do in the Bay Area. I also like to help my kids tinker and make art and inventions out of all the random bits and parts we accumulate that I can't bear to throw away.