COMMUNITY PROFILE: Joanna Walters – Turning Trash Into Cash

The North Lake Tahoe Advocate |

An entrepreneurial Truckee woman is helping local businesses save money by reducing the cost of their solid waste disposal bills. “Waste is whatever a business throws in the dumpster,” says Joanna Walters of Sierra Cost Management. “I focus on paper, cardboard, glass bottle, cans, old office furniture, old office equipment, including computers, and food waste. A lot of businesses want to recycle, they just don’t know how or don’t have the time or expertise to investigate. That’s where I can help.”

Walters grew up in Darien, Connecticut, then moved to California. After graduating from the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, she worked for two years on a business development project in Tanzania, Africa. Returning to the California, she worked for several businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually deciding to relocate to the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee area. “I was looking around for something positive to do,” she says. “I found this business opportunity. I knew it was something I could do anywhere, but I thought it was something needed at Lake Tahoe.”

The business model Walters uses employs a proven seven point process to identify and recover errors and savings opportunities in the solid waste bills of businesses, both large and small. “When I begin working with a company, we decide on a baseline of what their monthly expenses are to dispose of solid waste,” she explains. “Each month, when they spend less than the baseline, we split the savings. The businesses don’t pay any more than they would otherwise. I only get paid if I produce a direct refund, credit or savings.”

When she was overseas, especially in Africa, walters observed that nothing was ever wasted. “When I came back home, it struck me how wasteful we are. We throw away tons of stuff that’s perfectly good. It’s important to recycle. It represents a commitment to stewardship and makes good business sense.”

Three of Walters’ largest clients are the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, and the Pioneer Commerce Center in Truckee. Dennis Erickson, the Hyatt’s Director of Engineering, is impressed by Walters’ dedication, reporting that Joanna “fully investigates and helps us capitalize on every opportunity for savings.”
At the Pioneer Commerce Center, Walters has helped businesses get rid of old printer cartridges and inks. “They’re recycled and donated to local schools or traded in for new (recycled) paper,” says Walters. “One recycling outlet is a program in Nevada that takes old computers and refurbishes them. If they can’t be refurbished, they’re dismantled and all the parts recycled. They have training programs for teens and seniors who want to become tech repairmen or just learn to use computers. They use refurbished computers for their classes.”

Walters has developed a working knowledge of the market for recyclables, often serving as a broker for recyclable commodities. Not surprisingly, it’s a variable market. “The market for cardboard went sky high for a while, it’s faded some now, but I imagine it will come back,” she says. My company is affiliated with a nation-wide firm – Environmental Waste Solutions – that tracks the market for recyclables. A lot of recycled materials from our country get shipped overseas, principally to China and other Asian countries.” Walters notes that another challenge for Tahoe-Truckee is the cost of transporting materials. “For a recycler, particularly given today’s transportation costs, it doesn’t make sense to come up here to pick up less than a truck load. I help put together enough material, sometimes from different clients, to make a truck load.”

Walters is available to consult with a business free of charge. “Some managers tell me they rely on the local refuse company to recycle,” she says. But they sort materials once they are collected in the general waste stream. “Materials separated before they go into the general stream are twice as likely to be recycled – they have more value. I help businesses take advantage of that value to improve their bottom line.” Walters can be reached at (866) 299-4371 or