Reader Profile: Steven Christman

July 12, 2016

As executive director of the significantly rural Northeast Indiana Solid Waste District, Steven P. Christman, QEP, is a jack-of-all trades, and the master of them all as well. The four-county special use district is one of the state’s few regional districts. Serving a primarily agricultural population of 156,000 across 1,468 square miles, it generates 200,000 tons of solid waste annually with landfills outside the jurisdictional borders. The district has a comprehensive rural recycling drop-off program in 17 locations and four yard waste composting facilities. The district is establishing solid waste convenience centers to accept not only solid waste, but also hazardous household waste and recyclables, including electronics, which Christman notes are trending in rural America. Christman recalls a perceived shortage of landfill space in the late 1980s.

Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations.  6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!

“Indiana, like many other states, passed legislation creating solid waste districts to reduce municipal solid wastestreams to conserve landfill space,” he says. “The private sector’s response was to create more air space. Over the years in the Midwest, the private sector has regionalized to deal with the per-unit cost, the vinyl materials, and those types of things; Indiana districts and counties have not regionalized to respond to the changes. Like other states, we’re struggling with flat-lined recycling and low commodity prices.”

Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations. 6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!  

What He Does Day to Day
Christman’s productivity begins after he leaves his driveway in the morning. The only way to cover the rural district’s large territory quickly and efficiently is to make stops along the way, such as at a compost facility or drop-off center. At the office, Christman tends to reports, returns phone calls and e-mails, and works on several projects. He oversees six full-time and up to 15 part-time employees, and reports to a 16-member board of directors. He maintains recycling, materials processing, yard waste composting, waste minimization, and public education programs while meeting federal and state mandates. He handles bids and permits and implements the district’s solid waste management plan.

Christman oversees a $1.8 million annual budget. He teaches SWANA’s composting course and represents Indiana on SWANA’s International Board. He works with Ohio SWANA members, as well as Michigan solid waste professionals who have no state chapter. “We share a lot of common problems,” he says of the Midwest. The region is “all fired up” that WASTECON 2016 will be at America’s crossroads in Indianapolis.

What Led Him Into This Line of Work
Christman always wanted to pursue environmental science. He was influenced by his father, an avid outdoorsman who hunted and trapped. “He taught me a lot about how hunters were really some of the best caretakers of our natural resources,” notes Christman.

He earned a B.S. degree in environmental science from Purdue University. Christman worked on Pollution Control Systems’ emergency spill response team, and then worked as an operations manager for the Noble County Department of Environmental Affairs to help clean its landfill problems as well as establish recycling programs. He also worked as a field representative in solid and hazardous waste management for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management before his current post.

What He Likes Best About His Work
Christman enjoys “preaching environmental science,” including at state legislative hearings. When one understands environmental science also is a social science—a study in culture—catch phrases like “zero waste” and “sustainability” make more sense. He enjoys gathering data and spotting trends from spreadsheets he creates.

“Municipal solid waste management is “picking it up and putting it down. It’s a study in materials handling,” he says. “I’m an avid SWANA supporter because our mission statement is now resource management rather than waste management. That’s key in an age where we have the capability to design products for recovery, but can also mine landfills to collect and recover resources when it becomes economically viable.”

Challenge
Politics always will be the biggest challenge, notes Christman. “Environmental issues are now incredibly political,” he says. “I’m a Hoosier; I’m about as conservative as they come. It’s a challenge to deal with local and state political officials. They’re inundated with so much information; it is impossible for them to be well-read on many issues. It becomes a challenge to spread that word about that passion I represent called environmental science.”
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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