A Conversation With Reo Menning

Menning becomes executive director at Metro Waste Authority.

In May, Reo Menning was appointed executive director of Metro Waste Authority, after serving as the organization’s public affairs director for six years. Metro Waste Authority is an independent government agency serving 16 communities, the majority of which are in Polk County. Established in 1969, it is Iowa’s largest solid waste agency, and is managed by the executive director and governed by a board of directors.

What do you bring to your new role?

I’m strong in organizational management and understanding how to get things done. I can see the end result, as well as what needs to be done between now and then to get there. I’m good at understanding what our communities and customers need, what programs and outreach are necessary, and planning for the future. I know that change is a constant and how to manage that change. I have a great team, and I work to inspire them and really leverage their talents to move the organization forward.

What’s your vision for the future of Metro Waste Authority?

Environmental protection, looking for new ways or things to recycle, and capacity building—those are our key focus areas.

We have always been a leader in environmental protection, and we’re going to continue to strive to be above the bar when it comes to that. We will continue to work with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to make sure that not only our landfill, but others across the state, are safe. That includes protecting the groundwater, air, and anything else impacted by our landfills.

We’re always looking at what goes into the landfill and seeing if there’s a way to separate out materials to keep as resources. We’re constantly looking for things that can be recycled or converted to electricity or other forms of energy. We also want to make sure any recycling that does occur nets a positive environmental impact.

We have a long history of being a very successful regional organization and providing those economies of scale to all of our communities. We continue to look for opportunities to provide regional services. In keeping with that, our major project right now is expanding our capacity by building a new transfer station in Grimes.

Can you tell us more about the transfer station?

The facility is set to open in late August or early September of next year, and is a $12 million capital investment. This gives us another centralized location to serve the growing areas of the region and helps bring costs down with respect to transportation.

Instead of having garbage trucks drive from Clive, for instance, out to the landfill in eastern Polk County to drop off a load, they’ll take the trash to the transfer station in Grimes. There, several garbage truck loads will be pushed into a semitrailer and transferred to the landfill. By having this new transfer station, we’re going to be able to help cut down on collections costs for area residents and businesses.

It also gives us the opportunity to possibly provide new services. For example, our hazardous waste drop-off located in Bondurant is for residents and small businesses that have small amounts of hazardous waste. We may be able to serve residents with hazardous waste needs in Grimes on a regular basis by having a drop-off there once a month. Or we could have a monthly community day there where residents can bring waste such as couches or playground sets, instead of transporting items to the landfill.

What services related to construction does Metro Waste Authority provide?

We have a designated construction demolition waste recycler, Phoenix Recycling, which is a private company located in Des Moines. Phoenix takes ‘mixed loads’ of waste and separates out what can be recycled and marketed. This saves the construction industry money because they’re not having to do the sorting themselves.

But the market for construction waste is one that’s in flux. There can be demand for a certain material one day, then none the next day. For instance, there’s always a good market for metals. But finding uses for drywall waste is very tough.

In addition, we’ve offered recycling for asphalt shingles for about the past five years. There previously wasn’t a market for these shingles. Now, with the help of technology that removes nails and other waste material, the Iowa Department of Transportation allows the shingles to be used in road surfaces. So we’re able to take those shingles and turn them into pavement.

Businesses or residents who bring shingles to the landfill that have been separated from other waste pay $10 a ton to have them recycled. Those who haven’t separated out the shingles will pay $36 a ton. If we have the staff available, we’ll clean them up. If not, the shingles will likely go into the landfill.

We also offer rubble recycling, where you can drop off broken-up concrete for free at our landfill, following certain parameters.

What help do you provide for companies wanting to learn more about recycling?

We use a lot of different prongs to try and encourage recycling. That includes sponsoring workshops for construction companies and educating architects on how to design for less waste. Much of what we do is provide the education and connections to guide people in making the best decisions for their business.

Tell us about your family.

I live in Clive with my three daughters: Ainsley, 11, and twins Felicity and Meredith, who are 8.

Are you involved with any charities or local groups?

I’m president of the Clive Library Board of Trustees and serve on the board of directors of Keep Iowa Beautiful.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy reading and also catching up with family and friends.