CDRA Member Spotlight: William Cooper

William Cooper, Director Of Business Development at Cooper Recycling in New York, New York

William Cooper

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

Cooper Recycling recovers all types of construction debris: aggregates, concrete, brick, wood, metals, cardboard and paper, sheetrock and drywall, plastics, glass… basically anything you can find in a dumpster in New York City. We process over 1,300 tons of mixed debris on a typical day through our facility in Brooklyn, NY.  

How did you get started in the business?

Our business is family-owned and operated, so technically I was born in it! Been at the transfer station since before I can remember. Photo evidence indicates I was on an excavator at around 3 years old. But I really started working in the business when I was in high school. I got started by shadowing Ray Kvedaras, the longtime General Manager here. He would send me up to the sorting line and put me to work and let me pick plastic out of the garbage pile after it was processed while everyone else was on break. 

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

Operationally speaking, safety is a top priority along with maintaining our system. Every day is different and there’s always a new challenge to just keeping the processing system in order. Regular, preventative maintenance is absolutely critical. At the same time, reviewing best practices and being critical of yourself is imperative to maintaining a safe environment.

In our market, a significant challenge is keeping the flow of materials moving every hour of every day. Given the land constraints we face in an urban environment we cannot store much of anything. Hence the material can never stop moving unless we stop taking in material (which we never want to do!).

Where are the biggest opportunities?

The biggest opportunities are right in front of our faces, i.e., the material we process. Everything we can recover and divert from landfills is an opportunity. Maximizing that goal is *the* opportunity we all are working toward. To that end, improving opportunities for fine materials, the minuscule dirt-like byproduct from processing mixed C&D debris is probably the biggest challenge we face, which means it’s also probably the biggest opportunity right now. 

How long have you been a member of the CDRA?

As I mentioned earlier, I suppose I’m a lifelong CDRA member? I’ve been a member for as long as I can recall. Whenever Cooper joined, I joined!

What inspired you to join the CDRA?

We’ve always been strong proponents of collaboration with like-minded firms and individuals. Being part of the CDRA in that sense is a no-brainer. It’s really eye-opening to discuss the challenges of our sector with so many peers from across the country, and we’ve found success in that, and collaborating to address many of the hurdles we face on a regular basis. Of course, it’s also important for our industry to speak with a unified voice and we really believe the CDRA does an excellent job at that.

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

There’s something extraordinarily special about the people in this industry. Doesn’t matter where you’re at in the management structure or hierarchy, in this business we are pretty much all hands-on in some respect. There’s a certain work ethic that I really appreciate, especially given the various elements we’ve all dealt with in the last two years. The people in this industry, particularly those who I work with on a daily basis, are incredibly hard-working and deserving of tremendous respect.

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

This whole business is full of challenges, right? We’re the people who are looking for treasure in someone else’s trash. Operating a safe and efficient system is challenging, feeding it with a regular flow of material is challenging, regulatory controls are challenging, finding markets for materials is challenging, as is coordinating the transportation logistics. These are challenges we face all the time. I think maintaining perspective, understanding your ultimate goal, and making sure you stay on track is the only way to persevere and address these challenges.

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

I’ve got some bizarre stories from traveling…Came face-to-face with a few hippopotamuses (technically called a “bloat”) once in the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, which still gives me nightmares.

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

I think in the materials recovery space we’re seeing a shift away from source-separation toward mixed waste processing. To that end, I think the artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies available to enhance that process is going to get increasingly better in the coming years. 

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

Call/email any contacts that you can and get started with an attitude that nothing is below your stature, everything is a learning opportunity.

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

A role model of mine taught me, “Yicdibisoya,” which I thought was some European phrase but really means: Y.C.D.B.S.O.Y.A. “You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your Ass.” Nothing beats face-to-face.


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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