Ferguson Aims to strengthen global role of waste management profession.

Leading the way forward into the next Millennium as President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) is Britain's John Ferguson, who can draw upon a distinguished career within the waste management profession, including the presidency of IWM and ten years as Director and Chief Executive of the former LWRA, to develop a global strategy for the profession and the association. LAWE Editor Alexander Catto explores the new ISWA President's aims for his two year term.

John Ferguson takes office as ISWA President at a time when waste management issues are moving up the political agenda in global terms but also when turbulent economic conditions in some regions could put a brake on progress.

ISWA President John Ferguson

Looking ahead over his two-year term he identifies particular problems to resolve and, on a determinedly positive note, sees considerable opportunities to develop the role of the waste professional and to enhance the standing of the ISWA.

The new President sees the need to take a broader vision of waste management, along the lines of the wider scope contained in the PPC element of Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control.

ISWA, he says, also aims to gain the ear of politicians – whilst eschewing an overtly political role – by offering expert technical advice on global waste management issues, through its international membership.

The association has established relationships with the European Parliament, for instance, and the European Commission, which, John Ferguson says, likes to hear from practitioners such as ISWA.

The association can draw on hundreds of experts within its ranks, many of whom serve on a series of Working Groups, which examine major subject areas within the waste industry.

These include landfill and recycling and minimisation, plus the collection and transport group which is currently looking at on-vehicle weighing systems.

Legal affairs is another working group subject whilst ISWA also offers considerable expertise on health or clinical waste.

The association is playing a significant role in developing healthcare waste standards, working closely with the WHO. The two international bodies are working hard on a Manual which is likely to be published by the end of this year.

The increasing complexity of waste to energy operations is another area where ISWA can provide expertise.

The association has also a role specifically in presenting evidence in the establishment of standards for waste management, for example, in relation to emissions from incineration plants and cement works where waste is being burnt.

On setting international standards John Ferguson says: “It is a tough road, but one we should not be afraid to go down on a world-wide scale.”

Increasing membership

One of John Ferguson’s declared aims is to extend the membership of ISWA, through National Members (usually the national waste management body) and also to encourage more individual waste professionals to join.

ISWA gained two notable new nations – Australia and South Korea – in membership at last year’s General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, where Mr Ferguson was elected as President.

While the mainstay of the ISWA membership remains European nations and the United States, plus Japan and other developed countries, there is a growing representation of the developing world and some major states have joined the association’s ranks, including, in Latin America, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

China, currently not a member, is increasingly active in waste planning and waste projects. John Ferguson considers that this Asian giant might well participate in ISWA through one of its major provinces becoming a member.

In order to guide the future development of the profession and the association, the new President plans to hold an ISWA strategy meeting, the first for four years. This would be likely to take place in advance of next year’s Annual Congress and General Assembly set for Paris.

The global scope of ISWA is reflected in the other venues planned for its future annual events – Oviedo, Spain, this year; Stavanger, Norway in 2001; Istanbul, Turkey in 2002; Melbourne, Australia in 2003; Prague, Czech Republic in 2004 and possibly Argentina in 2005.

These events and many other commitments within individual member states and at ISWA meetings mean that the ISWA President has to be, or become, a seasoned globetrotter.

John Ferguson attends Scientific and Technical committee venues, spread geographically and usually linked to a seminar, where possible, and holds regular meetings with the ISWA secretariat and executive. Although the secretariat is based in Copenhagen he is able, with the generous support of the IWM in the UK, to conduct much of the day to day business of the association from the IWM offices in Northampton.

The President also attends executive meetings arranged to coincide with association events and eases the burden by involving the Vice President and Immediate Past President in representing ISWA across the world.

Telecommunications also play a growing part in running this global organisation with e-mail in particular proving a boon. Mr Ferguson leads by example from his own personal e-mail site and keeps in daily contact with Copenhagen.

ISWA boasts its own web-site which again offers an electronic back up to the service of magazine and specialist publications with the association publishes.

Knowledge transfer is another key area where ISWA serves the world-wide waste management profession. This is achieved partly by workshops at the annual congress and the seminars associated with the working groups and by interchanges between national waste management bodies.

In a perhaps all-too-familiar role, for instance, John Ferguson found himself in Western Australia addressing a local meeting concerned at the prospect of a landfill site being located in nearby countryside.

Scope for training

Training is another of Mr Ferguson’s major interests, not unnaturally for a Vice Chairman of WAMITAB. He sees this becoming increasingly important on the international front, particularly in Europe where the Landfill Directive refers to technical competence, likely to be along the lines set out in the Incineration Directive.

John Ferguson intends to take an initiative to promote training internationally but is at pains to point out that conditions would vary from country to country.

Looking to the future of ISWA the President is enthusiastic about encouraging younger members to assume greater responsibility within the association. On the wider front ISWA is seeking to establish its credentials as a participant rather than merely an observer at major environmental events such as the Kyoto summit.

Despite his long record of service within the waste industry, including his ten years in charge of the London Waste Regulation Authority, and three years with the Environment Agency, John Ferguson is no establishment figure. He takes a somewhat iconoclastic view, for example, of the basic tenets of the received wisdom within the waste management community – the “waste hierarchy”.

He regards the hierarchy as far too restrictive and argues that opinion is moving towards a more flexible approach to waste management where solutions to problems need to be seen as part of a broad spectrum.

From a global perspective he says that each site or situation should be examined in the light of what the right answer might be at the right time.

“You have to be totally open minded on the waste hierarchy,” says John Ferguson, which would seem to sum up aptly his approach to serving as ISWA President.

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