by Scott Cassel
On Wednesday, December 5, John Waffenschmidt died peacefully, and unexpectedly, in his sleep. As the PSI team struggles with the sudden loss of a close colleague and friend, many fond memories of John have surfaced.
John was passionate about everything – mountain climbing, lifecycle analysis, environmental justice, science, and energy-from-waste technology. He spontaneously sang and danced at our conference, and would correct anyone misusing the term “incineration.”
John brought a unique blend of talents and interests to his role as PSI’s point person at Covanta for a decade-long partnership between our organizations. The partnership is, in some ways, an unlikely one between an environmental organization and a waste management company. However, John found multiple ways we could work together, including the time he came to me with the business concept of destroying waste pharmaceuticals left in medicine cabinets, at no cost to government, in Covanta’s municipal waste-to-energy plants.
To determine if our government members would support this concept, PSI convened two technical webinars and a briefing paper. John presented for Covanta and even offered a slot to a competitor that operates hazardous waste facilities. After rigorous questioning from state air quality regulators and others, two PSI state members stuck to their policy of hazardous waste incineration for waste medicines, but many others approved the use of solid waste combustion. This project helped pave the way for Covanta’s Rx4Safety program, which has provided free destruction for residents and governments of over 5 million pounds of waste medications.
John and I worked closely on many other projects through the years, including joint presentations to state officials in support of EPR legislation and a mattress stewardship dialogue in Connecticut we facilitated and Covanta seed funded, which led to three state EPR laws for mattresses.
My last conversation with John was a follow-up call he made immediately after a phone conversation in which he sensed a tinge of concern in my voice. He wanted to make sure that what he had conveyed to me was understood. He wanted to smooth out a minor ripple in our communications. I assured him we were good, and that our relationship was solid. That call left me with a strong feeling of humanity. John sensed something was not quite right, and he acted on it. His follow up call took 30 seconds, but it is the lasting feeling I have of John – of honesty, friendship, and peace.