Curiosity, Pragmatism, Drive: It’s All About the Trifecta for Loveland Solid Waste Superintendent

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Nearly 20 years ago, Tyler Bandemer began his career as a health inspector. Now, he’s the Solid Waste Management Superintendent for the City of Loveland, CO.

Bandemer’s natural curiosity, tenacity and desire to lead have guided him throughout his career, from Laramie, WY, to Loveland. And while he hopped into health inspection after graduating from the University of Wyoming, he actually spent a semester or two riding on the back of a dumpster truck. 

“A lot of my guys think that I’m just a ‘college boy’ that just happened to get this job,” Bandemer says. “I was likely riding on a trash truck in college before any of them ever even considered being on a trash truck.”

As a health inspector years ago, his inquisitiveness led him to talk with the public works director in Laramie and ask questions about the city’s landfill and solid waste programs. 

“Why are we putting some of this stuff in the landfill? Why haven’t we thought about a recycling program? Why aren’t we composting?” Bandemer says. 

While being a good steward is important, Bandemer says he’s pragmatic in his approach to solid waste. “If there’s outlets and resources to handle items properly, and if there’s ways of diverting compostable materials from a landfill,” Bandemer says, “we don’t need to landfill this stuff. Why would we?”

Seeing a landfill is “eye-opening,” Bandemer says. Because trucks pick up our solid waste, many people don’t consider everything that is taken to the landfill, how many trucks make trips out there every day, or how many tons of waste are added. But when you see a landfill in person, Bandemer says, “you look at this vast, like, wasteland — like (a) literal wasteland,” and you think, “oh, my gosh — look at all this stuff that we’re just burying!” 

For many, Bandemer says this stems from landfills being out of sight and out of mind. “It’s not that they’re bad people or … they’re not conscientious about environmental issues,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t even know what they don’t know.”

But once he had those realizations and made those connections, Bandemer jumped in with both feet.

Well, “I was thrown into it,” he teases. 

Called to lead

When the solid waste manager in Laramie left the position, the public works director asked Bandemer if he had any interest in taking on the role. “I did have a degree, but (it) wasn’t in environmental engineering or anything related,” Bandemer says. It’s in interdisciplinary health sciences.

The director said, “‘I think you could do this,’” Bandemer says, but “I had no environmental engineering background, I had no landfill experience, no anything.” 

Perhaps it was because he was asking the right questions, or because he illustrated that he’d have the right skill set for the job, he says. Either way, “they took a chance on me, and I got in there and I started learning as much as I could about the landfill and collections and everything else.” 

He earned his Manager of Landfill Operation (MOLO) designation, and he analyzed what he could do for the city’s solid waste programs. At that time, it was two people per truck, manually loaded. In about his third year on the job, “I finally got our city council to incorporate an automated side-load (truck), and so we went down to one guy per truck instead of two,” he says.

The city ordered new trucks and carts for easier, fully automated collections, which worked to improve worker safety. Then, Bandemer says he began to institute a compost program for the city. The public works department put out special dumpsters throughout the city, “in as many neighborhoods as we could,” so residents had a free place to properly dispose of grass, leaves and other yard waste. 

“That was our first diversion material,” Bandemer says. Around 2008, the city contracted with a Colorado company, which “helped us start actually composting it at our landfill site,” using nitrogen-rich biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant rather than water.

“So now we’ve got our first diversion program in Laramie, we’re now doing automated side-load, which is awesome, and then the last thing I did before I left was single-stream recycling collection,” Bandemer says. “I literally rolled that out in the last week or two that I was in Laramie before I came to Loveland.”

Humbly, Bandemer says he never came up with any great ideas that hadn’t already been thought of back in Laramie: “I just implemented them.”

All in all, “my five years in Laramie, it was a remarkable resume builder,” Bandemer says, crediting the work to getting him “in the door” in 2011 at Loveland, which already had a premier solid waste program.

From Laramie to Loveland

When he moved on , he says, he “inherited an already great program.” At that time, Loveland had already established one of the very first and nationally recognized pay-as-you-throw programs that work to cut down on solid waste, encourage recycling and divert recyclables and green waste from landfills in one fell swoop.

The pay-as-you-throw program has evolved into a cart system where automated side-loading trucks can collect trash without employees risking their safety by hopping on and off the truck at every stop. 

“It was pretty nice, because that five years in Laramie was like running with my hair on fire,” Bandemer says. “But we got so many cool programs in place, and to walk into a place where everything was already kind of done? I needed a little breather; I needed to just kind of walk in and just almost manage an already established program versus changing everything.”

Throughout his life, Bandemer says he was called to lead. He had grown up in a blue-collar family, and wanted to take a different route.

“This wasn’t, like, an ego thing,” he says. “I just — I always wanted to be in a position where I could make some decisions and be at the table where decisions were being made.” 

When he realized he could take on that role back in Laramie as a Solid Waste Manager, he says, “my brain just started going about everything that I could do.”

His work ethic, passion for problem solving, readiness and resilience are among the many qualities Bandemer brings to the industry as a public works leader — qualities that the American Public Works Association celebrates this week, May 15-21, which is American Public Works Week.

Now, in Loveland, “I’m still in the same position here as I was in (back) in Wyoming, but I’ve got a larger crew” and more resources. He spends much of his days analyzing the city’s programs, brainstorming on how the city can add to its current systems and recycling center, and thinking about what sort of marketing and education can be created for the community to help combat contamination and address other issues. 

Then, of course, there’s the nuts and bolts of the operation to consider, including budgeting, revenue and future planning. 

Making more progress in Loveland with technology

Most recently in Loveland, the city moved to closed-lid cart collections, which, without overflowing trash, improved safety for drivers and curb appeal for neighborhoods.   

To keep residents in check and give drivers the authority they needed to do their jobs well, “we use Routeware extensively” to photograph missing or overflowing carts to cut back on free go-backs and more.  Bandemer said that without his professional and diligent team of supervisors, along with a field crew that prides itself on customer service and doing the job right, this task would have been impossible.  “None of our success is achievable without a great team, and I simply have the best. Our average tenure is over 7 years, and that is considering a team of 28 employees.” Bandemer also said that although they do experience some turnover, he does not feel it is at the same level as other companies he has seen in this industry.

In June 2021, Bandemer says the city began collecting mattresses and box springs for recycling through a materials processing company in Denver. “We took in 450 pieces in the first seven months of the program,” Bandemer says. Then, “we eclipsed that 450 in the first three months of 2022.”  

Not only has the program diverted nearly 1,000 mattresses and box springs from the landfill, but it has also saved equipment such as dozers and compactors which easily can be damaged by mattress springs.

“The program has been wildly successful,” Bandemer says. 

Throughout his tenure in the industry, Bandemer has seen numerous changes, namely related to technology and social media. 

“With apps like ReCollect, with the social media, … the Waste Wizard that’s in ReCollect, those have really helped us,” Bandemer says.  

In the future, Bandemer says he hopes to bring more technology to the fleet trucks, including outward-facing cameras, as well as figuring out reliable methods and disposal of Styrofoam recycling. 

“(I’ll) just continue to make sure we’re staying close to the cutting edge,” Bandemer says. Or, as he jokes, maybe just “a little bit behind it.”

Learn more. Are you a solid waste leader looking to up your organization’s game? Technology and tools from Routeware can help. Let’s talk!

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