MARCH 2011

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Waste Away Services

Tom Wray • 419-865-3200

Tom Wray

Tom Wray owns and runs two very different businesses that work hand-in-hand – most of the time. Waste Away Services deals with hazardous waste removal including identification, labeling, packaging and arranging transportation. Professional Environmental Trainers Association (PETA) trains employees at businesses that deal with hazardous materials to comply with OSHA, DOT and EPA regulations.

Wray said that most of Waste Away customers also need some training done, and many of his PETA customers also have material to be removed. There are some customers, however, that only deal with one of the two entities.

Wray started the business in 1986, and he incorporated at the end of the year, but it wasn’t something he’d planned. “I never really intended to do it,” he said of starting his own business. He had previously worked for cleanup companies and after an issue with getting time off, he quit the job and went out on his own.

“I started the business in the basement of my home with a table, a lamp and a chair,” Wray said. His first major upgrade was “an Apple computer with a 20kb hard drive and an impact printer.”

Although many businesses had a rough time last year, Wray said he had a good year due in part to several projects he networked on with other companies, where he worked on things those companies didn’t handle.

What his company does handle is a lot of solid hazardous waste, most of which ends up at incineration plants – often by customer request. Some materials are treated to reduce or eliminate the hazards, and still others can be reused or recycled. In particular, he sometimes handles exotic metals like platinum, nickel and chromium. Mercury switches, batteries and computer components are also recycled.

When it comes to solvents and chemicals, Wray tries to find a home for them, but said, “If they’re contaminated, there aren’t any companies that are interested.”

Right now, the company has three employees including Wray, but he has several others who he networks with, and there are subcontractors he calls on when he needs them. In particular, he will hire subcontractors for some of his training work, so the participants don’t get tired of hearing the same trainer all the time.

Wray said that the training business is constantly changing because regulations are being updated more often. The DOT in particular makes frequent changes, which means that people need more training to stay current. Where companies used to hire trainers to come in every few years, more are opting for annual training.

To keep himself current on regulations, Wray is constantly monitoring DOT, EPA and OSHA websites looking for new information and upcoming regulations, and he attends seminars and classes of interest. As an OSHA-authorized trainer, he is required to take their classes to remain authorized.

But it’s not just government regulations he has to worry about. Shippers like FedEx also have their own regulations for shipping that go beyond the government’s requirements, and there are even more regulations for shipping materials overseas. “There’s an enormous amount of paperwork involved,” he said.

Wray said that the disposal business is also changing, with more companies interested in finding ways to reduce the amount of waste produced and to find ways to reuse and recycle materials rather than dispose of them. For final disposal, many customers are requesting that the materials be incinerated, and Wray said that he often recommends that option, as well.

Wray expects that the trend for reuse and recycling will continue to evolve, but that there needs to be more innovative ways to reuse some of the waste. The problem is that it’s risky for recyclers to try to recover materials that might not be worthwhile.

He noted that in the rubber industry, the big problem is getting fiber out of the rubber and “if there was an effective way to separate, there would be a way to recycle the material.”

While more things – like computers and light bulbs – are now being recycled, he said that cost is a factor. There will be more recycling done when it’s more cost-effective to recycle or reclaim materials than to dispose of them.

While Wray’s business used to be nationwide, he recently scaled back to operate mostly in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. He travels outside that area for customers with multiple locations, but he prefers to stay in a smaller geographic region.

Wray said he likes to travel and likes the variety of work he does, but he also enjoys the detailed work on large, complex disposal jobs. “I definitely go look at the projects,” he said. “I want to see it, to know what the circumstances are.”

Although he will sometimes hire people to help, he likes to keep an eye on everything to make sure every last bit of material is properly labeled and packaged. “There’s no amount of money you can pay me to go to jail,” he said.