Created in 2012 and formerly known as National Garbage Man Day, Waste & Recycling Workers Week has become a force in the industry, focusing on recognizing the men and women who are on the front line every day. Steve Goode, Executive Director, talks about its history, initiatives and the importance of this great organization.

Talk about the history of Waste & Recycling Workers Week (WWRW). Who is the founder? How did it
develop into the organization that it is today?: John Arwood, Owner of Arwood Waste, believed that there was a stigma in this industry, and he wanted to find a way to raise awareness for the men and women in the industry and what they do every day, every week as front-line responders. He was proud to be in the profession and he wanted them to be proud of what they do as well. In 2012, he named his idea, National Garbage Man Day (scheduled for June 17th every year), and started getting the word out through regular e-mail blasts. National Garbage Man Day has now been renamed Waste & Recycling Workers Week to be more inclusive of all men and women in our industry.

John Arwood, Founder of Waste & Recycling Workers Week.
Photo courtesy of WWRW.

The first company that came on board was Advanced Disposal in Jacksonville, FL. He called them with the idea and went down to meet with them. On June 17th, he would go to their operation and bring them donuts. At the time he was competing with them, but he said it was not about competition, it was about celebrating all of people in the industry. After that, more companies got on board and did proclamations for the week of June 17th, and every year, there are even more—from cities to the big waste companies. They have jumped on board and are doing things to recognize their employees as well. In 2019, it transitioned from a single day to a whole week because the celebration got a lot bigger, so it needed to be more than one day. Plus, some in the industry reached out to John concerned that those who did not work on that particular day would miss out on the events going on for employees. As a result, it was expanded to make sure all schedules would be included. Many companies made the change as well, saying one day is not enough to recognize employees and they needed a week to do it. By doing this, it allowed them to do whatever celebration they wanted to hold on their own schedule. Never in John’s wildest imagination did he ever think it would grow to what it is today with so many companies on board.

Why is it important for people to know about WRWW?: The mission of Waste & Recycling Workers Week celebration during the week of June 17th annually is to recognize and celebrate the many men and women in the waste and recycling industry. We just received non-profit status in March, and as a non-profit organization, WRWW will use tax free donations to improve the lives of our workers and their families. We encourage you to join us in our efforts to show our appreciation to the workers in our industry every day and especially the week of June 17th.

What kind of celebrations are held during WRWW? Many of the celebrations are up to the individual companies because they all have different visions of how they want to recognize their people. There are resources on the site that have suggestions you can do for celebrations; however, the big companies usually come up with their own plan and some of it is specific to their actual locations. A location in Raleigh, NC might celebrate a little differently than a location in Atlanta, GA. It is more about recognition and thanking them for what they do. John has also suggested that communities get involved as well, such as recognizing your garbage person on pick-up days, going out that week and talking to the drivers, taking pictures with the drivers, etc. We also advocate changing the persona of the waste and recycling employee through various educational programs teaching elementary children about recycling and reusing different products. Educational tools can be downloaded from the WRWW site, and we encourage you to take advantage of these materials. We are pleased that everyone has come up with their own unique ways to celebrate it and that they are sharing those ideas with us. There have been more cities and municipalities recognizing it, and this past year, the governor of Georgia did a proclamation recognizing it and the governor of Michigan did a proclamation last June 17th. The proclamations are numerous and can be found by searching Waste & Recycling Workers Week proclamations. We encourage waste companies to request a local proclamation as often you can.

What kind of initiatives is WWRW currently working on? The first initiative we are promoting is trying to get a U.S. postal stamp made to honor Waste & Recycling Workers Week and our front-line responders. The U.S. Postal Service welcomes suggestions for stamp subjects that celebrate the American experience. In November 2021, a WWRW request and stamp was created and submitted to the U.S. Postal Service for consideration. We did recently receive a letter from them in December saying, “We are pleased to inform you that your proposal will be submitted for review for the Citizen’s Stamp Committee at our next meeting.” Several years ago, I had applied for the stamp when we were National Garbage Man Day, but we never went to committee. I think now with it being Waste and Recycling worker’s week, it is more inclusive of men and women in the industry across the country. I explained in the proposal that the waste and recycling industry is on the front-line response along with first responders, like firemen and police, and I gave a lot of examples. Think about it—next to the post office, there is no one that touches every resident, every community, every business, daily or weekly like the people in our industry.

Another initiative we are focusing on is the mental health and well-being of workers in our industry. It is the goal of WWRW to offer support by assisting with co-pays and out of pocket expenses for counseling to those who seek it. Companies wanting to help in this area can provide a tax-free donation and earmark their donation to the various initiatives including mental health assistance. We work with a nationwide virtual mental health organization so assistance is confidential and very convenient. Counseling can be done virtually most any time and any place with highly trained counselors. What really pushed us forward was the beginning of COVID—one thing it did was to increase telemedicine and virtual doctor meetings, etc. We were already working with one of the top virtual counseling companies in the nation who currently works with Wounded Warriors and most recently the U.S. Olympics. John had created a number of websites for them in dealing with depression, PTSD, drugs, and many other personal health issues affecting men and women in our society today. Partnering with them made a lot of sense because the people in this industry could not just say, “Hey COVID is out there, so I’m not working today.” They still had to get in the trucks and go to houses and pick up waste. They did not know if you had COVID or washed your hands before you pushed your residential bin out. They were exposed and like anything else, people have a lot of anxiety about COVID, the economy, the future, and everything else going on. Our selected counseling group is a virtual counseling experience that fits with a person’s lifestyle and schedule. The good thing about doing virtual is you can do it from anywhere. Someone who might be experiencing life stresses will be able to go the WWRW website and click on the link and go directly to the counseling group to get the assistance that they need. I think this is going to be well accepted with the larger companies to give them a way to support their workers. As we receive tax free donations, we are going to use that money to pay any out-of-pocket expense for these employees that are seeking help, like co-pays, etc. I have several companies right now that are willing to donate. Plus, others will be able to go onto the site, donate, and earmark where they want it to go. We already have several categories on there, like recycling awareness, etc., where they can split their donation up or send it all to one initiative. I think this sets us apart. We are trying to give something back to the industry. We will also be setting up with Amazon Smiles soon. If you use Amazon, you can click on Amazon Smiles and send a percentage to your favorite charity, so the average person can help men and women in the industry, and it does not cost them anything.

Finally, John has a passion and believes space debris is one of our next frontiers. From the beginning of space travel, we have been launching objects out and back into orbit around the earth that all have limited lifespans. Everything from satellites used for communications, mapping, weather forecasting, and GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking on earth to the booster rockets used to launch spacecraft from the hold of earth’s gravity. There is an abundance of debris already orbiting the earth from both government and commercial sources. John has done a lot in that area trying to call attention to it and he has worked on designing a couple of systems, such as investing in rocket crafters. John continues to stay informed on this topic and continues discussions with people who can make a difference in this area.

How do you keep WRWW on everyone’s mind throughout the year leading up to the week of the 17th? Regular posts and e-mail blasts, etc. John is always doing something on a routine basis about recognizing people in the waste and recycling industry. He does not wait until close to the date. People are adopting it, and they are doing it themselves. We are going to be active; we are sourcing more companies as sponsors and hope many will seek us out and include Waste & Recycling Workers Week for their support in 2022. We are going to continue working on some additional programs, to better support the men and women in our industry.

Why is it so important that people celebrate the industry and its professionals? Having been in the industry for almost my whole career and knowing what a positive impact this industry has on the environment, we need to celebrate the great people that have made this industry what it is. Not everyone starts at the top. When I started in this industry, I was an operations manager routing trucks and hiring drivers, and I would get in a truck if a driver did not show up because you do what you have to do. I cannot imagine being in any other industry; this is just the best one out there. | WA

For more information, contact Steve Goode (919) 235-2281 or e-mail [email protected].