Profiles in Paper: Sue Robinson


Born: August 13, 1960, in Hammond, Ind.

Education: Attended Stanford University from 1978 through 1981. Earned a BS in Applied Earth Sciences in 1982 from the University of Washington. Completed the Master of Environmental Studies program in 1984 at Evergreen State College.

Family status: Married 34 years to Sam (Rob) Robinson. He is happily retired, plays a lot of golf and tennis, is the primary caregiver for our two dogs, and holds down the fort while I travel. We have two sons, Andy and Trevor. Andy, a general surgeon who lives in Morristown, N.J., is married to Kara, with 11-month-old son Sammy. Trevor is a software developer who lives in Issaquah, Wash., with longtime girlfriend Avery.

Q: When and how did you enter the paper recycling industry?

A: I was working for a nonprofit environmental organization in Washington state in 1985 when Seattle was deciding whether to build an incinerator or to recycle. I volunteered to serve on a solid waste committee for the city, and I ended up working for the City of Seattle. In 1991, I took a job at Fibres International, a regional recycling company, where my involvement in recycling really expanded. Throughout the early 1990s I brokered all of the PET and HDPE collected by a variety of companies in the urban areas around Seattle and consolidated for processing at our MRF.

Q: What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it?

A: I found that I enjoyed the people, the business aspects of our industry, and the challenge of developing and implementing programs.

Q: What have been your most rewarding professional achievements? Developing Salt Lake City’s first recycling program, implementing complex new contracts in Seattle, and working on two teams at WM—developing our Technologies Team (now called our Venturing Team) and our Sustainability Team.

Q: Personal achievements?

A: Hiking across the Grand Canyon one day, then back across the next day—a round trip of 50 miles—and climbing to Mount Everest base camp.

Q: What are you passionate about?

A: My children and grandson. I’m so grateful that my children are such amazing adults who are good, interesting people and that we all enjoy being with each other. And my grandson? Can’t get enough of him—I just wish he lived closer! I’ve become one of those irritating grandparents who shows everyone photos of him at every possible opportunity.

Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

A: I love to paddleboard.

Q: If you could improve anything about yourself, what would it be?

A: I’d like to be more patient.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Read, and hike in the mountains.

Q: When and why did your company decide to join ReMA and the PSI Chapter?

A: That was before my time with WM, but as the largest residential recycler in North America, it makes sense for WM to be part of ReMA and PSI.

Q: Have you held any volunteer leadership positions within PSI? 

A: Yes, I serve as chair of PSI’s Government Affairs Committee.

Q: What motivated you to become a leader?

A: I’m passionate about the role of policy in our industry, and I enjoy tracking and engaging in policy efforts. At WM, much of my work is around advocacy and sustainability policy, which is relevant for ReMA and PSI. There are significant threats and opportunities for our business that require constant engagement in policy discussions at all levels.

Q: What benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?

A: I enjoy participating with this group of recyclers on topics that are critical to our industry and find it helpful to hear others talk about issues and solutions.

Q: What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall recycling industry today?

A: It’s an ongoing challenge adjusting our municipal relationships to the new market dynamics. That includes not only commodity pricing and contamination reduction, but also anticipating and reacting to the changing material stream.

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