Becoming a Waste Manager

Or a waste management professional, if you prefer. A formal educational background might include biology, industrial engineering, civil engineering, or industrial hygiene. We are unaware of government licenses or certifications to be waste managers. Some enterprising hucksters might offer you a certification, but look closely: there is probably no firm backing. It's not like the legal profession where the industry regulates itself (the bar association). There is nothing analogous.

Certification in related fields can be useful in selling yourself as a professional. Further, they show some expertise if not directly in waste management, but in some area. Engineers can be registered as "professional engineers" by states. States can create their own criteria, but most use exams and standards put forth by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). That organization has programs for:

  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Environmental Engineering

Professionals with these certifications work as Waste Managers. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene likewise certifies people for industrial hygiene.

The Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers has as its first point: "Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and protect the environment in performance of their professional duties."

Duties of a medical waste manager

  • Maintain inventory of waste on site
  • Review generation rates of different streams of waste
  • Keep track of shipment of waste off site and of estimated emissions
  • Periodically assess waste producing operations to identify modifications to reduce or eliminate environmental impacts
  • Work with facility manager to promote good housekeeping practices and preventative maintenance
  • Keep tabs on new pollution-control technologies
  • Work with environmental agencies
  • Create and administer budgets for waste disposal
  • Select and hire waste disposal company
  • Maintain records of shipments off-site
  • Keep up with regulations and legislation and how they affect operations and disposal practices
  • Supervise the transportation of waste to ensure that it takes place efficiently without leaks or spills
  • Assist with the development of information and promotional materials. Deal with complaints and questions from public and press.
  • Set waste reduction goals. Work with facility manager to establish recycling program.

Situational Awareness

As a professional, you should keep in mind the many hazards waste can post:

  • Physical
  • Health
  • Environmental

You always should be seeking to reduce the direct and indirect risks posed by waste you manage.

Sources of information

There really aren’t any scientific journals you need to read.

Trade magazines. You might find some of their articles interesting, but it’s doubtful they will help you on the job. These magazines print industry news and maybe trends (to the extent that the journalists can figure them out) and legal changes (to the extent the journalists can identify the effects of laws and regulations.)

Publications from vendors. Vendors have always been and still are a source of information for the working engineer. Some are very good; many are mediocre. They are self-serving, of course, but with a critical eye you can sort out the good stuff. These publications may be printed or in an email or on the web.

Government regulatory agency websites provide a wealth of good information. The problem is that you don’t know when the websites are updated, so you don’t know when to check them or what has changed, unless you watch the website of interest closely. We have a list of resources.

Perry's Chemical Engineering Handbook
Solid Waste Engineering: A Global Perspective
Standard Handbook of Hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal

The waste world changes slowly, so once you get a handle on your waste management situation, the main challenge is execution. For most managers, the variation is mainly in the type of waste. The thing they talk about is incoming waste, not change in storage, treatment, or disposal.

Questions and Answers

Do I have to be good at math?

No. Addiction and subtraction most of what you need, Spreadsheets - either old fashioned analogue ones or computer ones (Excel, Tableau, Google Sheets) take you a long way toward track of waste generation and storage,

You could use statistical control and assessment methods that some factories and warehouses use. For a large operation that might be worth the effort. But for most facilities that produce medical waste - even large hospitals - can probably get away without this.

It’s embarrassing to say I work with medical waste.

It should not be. If you spin it right and hype it up right, you might make waste management seem like a calling or holy mission. You are protecting people and the environment from harm. You are responsibly managing a waste that was created of necessity - the necessity being the treatment of patients or research into health and medicine.

Isn’t medical waste management like mortuary work?

They have some overlap, but not really. Mortuaries and funeral homes produce medial waste as a consequence of their activities, but for them it is an unfortunate part of what they do. Their main job is to prepare bodies for viewings, funerals, burial, and cremation. Your job as a waste manager is to reduce the quantity of waste created and to store it safely and to treat it appropriately and to dispose of it in a responsible manner.

Developing Intuition and Seeming Like a Professional

If you are employed at a facility that generates waste on a regular basis, you should be able to answer (without looking it up) how much waste is generated (per month, per year) and how much by what category.

You also look more professional if you can field questions that non-pros have about collection, storage, and even hygiene. Quick: if you boil a pan of water on your stove and put used surgical equipment in the water, will it sterilize the equipment? Answer: officially no. As a practical matter heating the equipment will probably remove pathogens, but some spores can withstand boiling water which is why waste management practitioners heat equipment to higher temperatures. A 250° Fahrenheit (~120° Celsius) temperature for 30 minutes is the standard sterilization protocol.