ENVIRONMENT: Dumpster Diving for Dollars

Spring 2008 | Tahoe Quarterly |

Waste in Tahoe is about as welcome as Styrofoam in San Francisco. To help mitigate unnecessary refuse, Sierra Cost Management (SCM), a one-woman company based in Truckee, is drastically changing the way local businesses recycle and dispose of their trash.

Started and operated by Joanna Walters, SCM works with restaurants, ski resorts and hotels to help cut costs by recycling. To do this, businesses are evaluated on a seven-point plan, which starts by reviewing current operations and works through implementing a savings plan and following up with monthly reports.

Simplified: “I go and look at their trash,” says Walters. “I see what’s recyclable that’s in the garbage.”

Walters’s background is a self-described “interesting resume,” running the gamut from a deckhand on an Indian Ocean-based pearl farming boat to earning an MBA at UCLA, teaching business in Tanzania and working a white-collar job in San Francisco. While employed with an internet company in the city, Walters decided she wanted to do something new on her own.

So she trained with Environmental Waste Solutions, as countrywide waste-management consulting team, and in early 2003, moved to Truckee and started SCM.

Current clients include North Shore notables like Squeeze In, PlumpJack Cafe, Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, Alpine Meadows ski resort and, the most recent addition, Homewood ski resort. The best thing about this business: SCM doesn’t make a penny unless it saves the client money. “It’s risk-free for my clients,” Walters says. “They don’t pay me unless they see results.”

She cites PlumpJack Cafe, which was paying $2,000 a month for trash services. Walters evaluated the waste and came up with a plan. “After I started working with them, their bill went down to about $1,200,” she says. The next winter, Walters found free glass recycling, and PlumpJack’s garbage fees decreased again.

After evaluating the Truckee Dairy Queen, SCM found a way to recycle the store’s fryer grease for reuse by Reno’s Eldorado Hotel Casino. The added environmental and financial benefit: saving the straight diesel or natural gas the casino would have otherwise purchased for its boiler system.

Walters estimates most of her clients will save between 20 and 40 percent of original disposal bills. The saving are split in half as the SCM fee. Ultimately, it’s money for the business, a paycheck for Walters and less in the landfill.

SCM’s environmental statistics are impressive. In a one-year period, Walters analyzed that the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe recycled 192 tons of cardboard, paper, glass, aluminum, mixed plastics, fluorescents, computer equipment, landscaping waste and batteries, as well as 158 barrels of vegetable oil. A similar report for Alpine Meadows showed that the resort saved the equivalent of 176 trees in recycling, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 35 million tons of carbon.

Although it sounds like the perfect blend between environment and business, SCM has seen some resistance, especially in the beginning.

“Sometimes I hear, ‘It’s too hard,’ ‘We don’t have time’ or ‘We don’t have space,'” Walters says. “But I haven’t given up on anyone.” Fortunately for Walters, it has become easier in recent years to keep potential clients interested in recycling. “Now there’s a lot more awareness and interest in being green, she says.