CDRA Member Spotlight: Faisal Mirza

Faisal Mirza, P.Eng., PMP, MBA, Senior Project Manager at Solid Waste Strategic Services for the City of Vancouver

Faisal Mirza

What materials do you recycle? Can you describe the volume and types of incoming materials you process?

Most of the city-originated C&D material is recycled by the private sector before it comes to any of our facilities. In 2018, Vancouver City Council approved Zero Waste 2040, a long-term strategic vision for Vancouver to become a zero waste community  by 2040, with an aspirational goal of zero waste disposed to landfill and incinerator. It includes future-looking policies and actions to reduce material including C&D going to landfill.

The City of Vancouver owns and operates a 320 hectare (791 acre) municipal solid waste landfill that received 44,138 metric tonnes (48,653 US tons) of C&D in 2020. A significant portion of this material continues to be used for beneficial use including preparation of roads, drainage, and gas collection layers in the landfill cells.

How did you get started in the business?

From 2002 to 2004, I was the project manager for the construction of the first ever LEED-Silver Certified solid waste transfer station in Surrey, Canada. This was an exciting opportunity to learn about the world of solid waste. I still connect with many of those people from that time, even today. After bouncing around in clean technology investment banking, natural gas distribution, and municipal finance, I landed back in solid waste in my current role and I couldn’t be happier.

What are the biggest challenges in your market and C&D recycling?

The biggest challenge I see is the lack of markets for the material in our region, whether it is salvaged or shredded for cement kilns. We can put in comprehensive policies incenting upcycling of materials but if there’s nobody to buy it for a price that is profitable to the seller, we’ve only created more paperwork, hurdles, and unintended consequences.

For the recycled wood, we only have two cement kilns in the area and many parties are lined up to provide them with alternative fuels from waste sources including C&D.

Where are the biggest opportunities?

I think the lack of markets is the opportunity and the topic of circular economy is coming up more and more and how beneficial it can be for the environment, the community, and reducing costs in the long run. Because of these two things, I think we’re at the beginning of a new economy.

How long have you been a member of the CDRA?

This is the City’s third year and we’re excited to be a part of the End Markets Committee.

What inspired you to join the CDRA?

When the City of Vancouver was exploring building a C&D Material Recovery Facility at its landfill in Delta, Canada a few years ago, some of us went to San Jose for a tour of the Zanker facility and that’s where we met Michael Gross, Director of Sustainability and our tour guide. He suggested we join the CDRA. The US is almost 10 times the population of Canada so the amount of learning that goes with handling that volume of waste was important to us.

What do you find most rewarding about working in this industry?

There is so much opportunity because the waste keeps coming and there’s a real appetite to find solutions.

What challenges have you faced over the years and how have you overcome them?

I’ve changed industries a few times, going from water resources, transportation, and clean technology finance to solid waste. Quite often, on paper, it’s hard to convey my immediate value proposition. I do think it’s made me well-rounded and my current role at the City allows me to use all of that knowledge to build connections across many groups within and outside of the City.

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

Everybody knows that I’m obsessed with guitars and music but one thing I don’t talk about is that I took stand-up and comedy improvisation lessons at Second City in Toronto, Canada. I did a few stand-up show competitions and I got heckled once and I didn’t handle it well. Let’s just leave it at that. 

How do you think the industry is changing and what trends do you see coming up on the horizon?

I see more circular economy principles cropping up where people ask questions such as “Do we really need this thing?”, “Do we need to build it this way, if at all?”, “What is going to happen to this when it reaches its end-of-life?”. I see more value in the waste that’s created but also in the ‘not’ creating it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this industry?

Understand the on-the-ground operations of the business but also keep learning about the long-term strategic circular economy goals. Do site visits, try to work on the site, but also keep reading academic papers, learning, and networking. The benefit of this is two-fold:

  • You’ll be able to implement more meaningful change that doesn’t just change one thing while causing possible chaos somewhere else.
  • You can be the bridge between all parties along the value chain. We need more people who understand all aspects of the business and can speak the right language.

Best piece of business advice you’ve gotten or learned over the years?

I’m a bit impatient. I’ve been told to accept that we all work within systems that cannot change overnight so give myself a break if it’s not moving at the pace I’d like.


Would you like to have your company in a spotlight like this? Contact CDRA Executive Director William Turley at [email protected] or 630-258-9047. 

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