Making the Conference Rounds

Sept. 1, 2002

I always look forward to attending the International Solid Waste Association’s (ISWA) annual World Congress, but never so much as this July’s event in Istanbul, Turkey. Those who have visited Istanbul will agree that it ranks among the most colorful, vibrant, and history-laden cities in all the world. Add to that the warmth and generosity of the Turks, the finely organized event hosted by the Turkish National Committee on Solid Waste under the auspices of Dr. Gunay Kocasoy, the venue provided by the city’s recently completed Exhibition Center, and the wealth of information contained in the many sessions, and you can see why I relished the opportunity to once again take part … albeit as a first-time presenter to a predominantly non—English speaking audience.

The theme of the Congress was “Appropriate Environmental and Solid Waste Management and Technologies for Developing Countries,” and while previous congresses have limited their agenda to solid waste management and technologies topics, this year’s program was far more ambitious. Though the principal focus remained on solid waste, many presentations dealt with related subjects, including water and air quality, energy, soil pollution and remediation, hazardous and disaster wastes, environmental management systems, and environmental education at different levels. While there were some who felt this too ambitious, I for one thought it provided an effective challenge to the delegates who came from every corner of the globe, asking them to look beyond their parochial interests and set their sights on broader global issues.

At the opening ceremony, outgoing President Christoph Scharff of Austria, under whose two-year stewardship ISWA achieved the biggest-ever increase in membership (more than 25%) over its 30-year history and welcomed five new nations (Greece, Israel, Thailand, Latvia, and Russia bringing the total to 34, with two more–Estonia and Lithuania–waiting in the wings) into the fold, turned over the symbols of office to Jean-Paul Leglise of France, whose agenda for his two-year term include continued efforts to achieve global representation, strengthening ISWA’s scientific and technical competency, and improving the organization’s financial basis through increased incomes from commercial activities.

In what was to me the most significant accomplishment of the Congress, N.C. Vasuki, Delaware Solid Waste Authority CEO and member of MSW Management‘s Editorial Advisory Board, was elected vice president, an office he will hold for two years before moving up to president for a like period of time. More than honoring the man who has devoted an incredible amount of time and energy in overseeing ISWA’s scientific and technical activities, I view Vasuki’s election as signaling a desire on the part of the organization to discard its “Eurocentric” mantle and press on in its quest in becoming a genuinely global body. Notable by their absence are African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian nations, as well as most of those in Central and South America, and until this situation in corrected, ISWA’s claim to global significance is a hollow one. Thus President Leglise and Vice President Vasuki have their work cut out for them, but our knowledge of the latter’s abilities lead us to believe ISWA’s goals are in reach.

SWANA’s WASTECON 2002, Long Beach, CA

You might think you’ve heard every reason you should be going to WASTECON, but I’m going to give you one more. But first let me set the stage.

As I’ve said in this column many times in the past, I’m a true fan of automated collection, believing it should be pursued anywhere its introduction is physically possible. As Lanny Hickman pointed out to me over lunch this past spring, a 20-year veteran in manual collection, by the time he retires (should he physically handle the stress and strain), will have accomplished the equivalent of raising the Titanic with his bare hands. Now that might be a stunning record–on a par with 400 lifetime homers perhaps–but here the playing field is littered with bad backs and disability claims … hardly an achievement we can brag about during the all-star break.

So why the seeming reluctance to switch from manual to automated or even semiautomated collection systems? Most often the reason is emotional or political rather than physical, and as I see it the antidote lies in simplifying the transition process, the key to which is developing a systems approach … a unified effort on the part of the equipment providers to remove confusion factors.

Which brings me back to another reason to come to WASTECON.

MSW Management in conjunction with a representative group of cart and vehicle manufacturers will be presenting a PT Cruiser to some lucky show attendee just for dropping by one of the booths and signing up. So if education, networking, seeing the latest equipment, and rubbing elbows with your peers aren’t enough, how’s a chance for a free PT Cruiser grab you?

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