5 Rising Stars Who Found the Right Environment for Growth in the Recycling Industry

There has never been a better time to consider a career in environmental services. The recycling industry, in particular, is growing, and so is Athens Services.

There has never been a better time to consider a career in environmental services. The recycling industry, in particular, is growing, and so is Athens Services.

Athens is the leader in Southern California in the movement toward zero waste. We have many career opportunities for environmentally focused individuals who are ready to make a difference.

One growth path Athens offers to develop the next generation of environmental leaders is our unique Recycling Coordinator (RC) program. Athens RCs play a vital role in educating residents and businesses about the importance of recycling. From this beginning, there are multiple paths forward to choose from.

We’d like you to meet five employees who started as recycling coordinators and, in a short time, advanced to positions with more responsibility. These are their stories.

Brian Hunter

Operations Manager
Sun Valley MRF

Brian Hunter has always been interested in environmentalism and knew he wanted to work in a related industry. That interest eventually led him to Athens Services.

“Growing up in a neighborhood serviced by Athens, I have always been curious about what happens to my waste once it left my sight. I wanted to be part of something that would provide me with longevity and opportunity in the field.”

Brian earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Northern Arizona University. He joined Athens in 2016 as a recycling coordinator serving near mid-city Los Angeles. He has since been promoted to operations manager at the Sun Valley materials recovery facility (MRF).

“Gaining an understanding of the origins of waste allowed me to make better decisions in processing material at the MRF. It also has helped me communicate to my team the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ before material reaches the MRF.”

Brian said preparation helped him to be ready for advancement when the opportunity came.
“As an RC, I gained experience by being inquisitive about Athens and the various departments that make it a successful company. I credit Riel Johnson and Johnnie Stevenson for being influential in my gaining knowledge of post collections and operations management. Both have given me opportunities to make decisions, create plans, and be part of solutions.”

He gets satisfaction from knowing that every day he and his team have the chance to do something that matters to Athens and the environment.

Brian enjoys family bonding in the great outdoors, golfing, and attending sporting events in his spare time. His goal for the future is to continue to be a positive change for Athens and the environment.

His advice to others considering the waste industry in general or Athens in particular:
“For individuals looking for stability, growth, or an opportunity, this industry and Athens have it all. The key is to prepare yourself well before opportunities arise. Be ready for any challenges.”

Emily Winberry

Communications Specialist

Growing up in a resourceful household sparked Emily Winberry’s interest in environmentalism at a young age.

“Whenever something broke, we would fix it. If we bought something at the grocery store that could be reused, we would wash and reuse it. The idea of reusing resources and fixing what is broken – instead of buying something new- stuck with me.”

Emily continued to learn more about human impacts on the earth in high school and college. She has an Environmental Earth Science degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In 2020, she started as a Recycling Coordinator (RC) at Athens Services, serving West Los Angeles.

“I was excited to work for a company that is family- owned, values sustainability, and doesn’t own any landfills. I am grateful for the opportunity to do outreach and education to people about how to recycle and how to live sustainably.”

Emily was recently promoted to Communications Specialist. As a creative person, she uses her people and communications skills in her new role.

“This position requires me to be able to switch gears quickly when working on different projects at a time. My experience as an RC has helped me do that.”

She continues to help the environment by creating videos about proper recycling practices and disposing of different items. In her spare time, Emily often visits with friends and family. She enjoys the outdoors and likes biking, hiking, rock climbing, and roller skating.

“I also make jewelry from recycled plastic I find when doing beach clean ups.”

Her advice to others considering Athens:

“Put yourself out there, take risks. Get out of your comfort zone. I was very passionate about what I wanted to do, and that was how these doors opened up to me.”

Fabiola Martinez

Operations Lead
Sun Valley MRF

As a biochemistry major, Fabiola Martinez became interested in environmentalism after taking a sustainability class in her last year of college.

“I ended up taking a course, and this pushed my simple ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mindset to a whole other level. I ultimately minored in sustainability.”

She became interested in Athens Services after she wrote a thesis on Athens and its sustainability efforts.

“I ultimately fell in love with what the company stood for,” she said. “I reached out to see if they’d be willing to take a fresh grad who knew nothing about the industry, and they did!”

Fabiola joined Athens in 2019 as a recycling coordinator and serviced the West Los Angeles area. She has since been promoted to operations lead at the Sun Valley materials recovery facility (MRF). In her new role, she helps the environment as part of a team that processes recyclables and ensures they continue to be reused.

“By helping receive and process recyclables, we can divert them from landfills and help out our planet.”

In her time off, Fabiola likes to hike, golf, and enjoy the outdoors. Her goal for the future is to become a general manager or director within operations.

“I’d like to help encourage more women within the industry. We already have plenty of female leaders at Athens. Still, I’d like to one day be able to sit at a table with even more women who are just as passionate about the industry, the environment, and Athens.”

Her advice to others:

“The industry is never ending, always teaching you. Athens is always looking for those who want it. Take advantage of the fact that there are people within Athens and the industry that are both knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge.”

Bryan Suarez

Construction Development Manager

For Athens Services’ Bryan Suarez, creating opportunities from the ground up is scary yet the most satisfying part of his job. Bryan was recently promoted to Construction Business Development Manager. He works to help construction contractors divert their waste from landfills and recycle as much material as possible.

“Waste is important. It affects us. We all affect it.”

Bryan started at Athens as a recycling coordinator for three years, serving the LAX and West LA areas. He became interested in environmentalism while attending the University of California, Irvine.

“UCI was very big on earth science, oceanography, the way earth systems work together. I took sustainability classes and environmental classes.”

His major was environmental science, and he minored in global sustainability. He became interested in the waste industry when he saw a job posting at Athens.

“I thought, why not use my knowledge and my degrees to tackle real-world challenges that we are facing, like climate change. Assessing how we process our waste, how we grow our food, and all things that involve environmental sustainability.”

Engaging with customers, being malleable, and adapting quickly are just a few lessons Bryan learned while working as an RC. He says these skills prepared him for his current role, where he is responsible for new construction waste and recycling service accounts within his territory.

“I like knowing each day is going to be exactly what I make of it. When you are acquiring new business, there is a lot of prospecting going on.”

Bryan is a first-generation Mexican American. He enjoys boxing, performing as a DJ, and checking out new breweries with friends and family. His goals for the future are to be a reliable, quality business manager for Athens and uphold a high standard of excellence.

Liliana Cortes

Zero Waste Supervisor

Liliana Cortes finds educating people about how to recycle and compost exciting. She joined Athens as a recycling coordinator (RC) in 2018, serving the West LA area.

Liliana was promoted to lead RC and worked her way up to become a zero waste supervisor. She now leads, develops, and motivates other recycling coordinators to help customers comply with the City of LA recycling contract.

“It makes me feel so great to get businesses to donate food and to get businesses and residents to compost their food scraps.”

Liliana became interested in environmentalism after reading the book Garbology by Edward Humes.

“Edward dissects trash in a way I never thought of,” she said. “After reading the book, I got my parents to recycle or reduce the amount of bags they use.”

She decided to tour a landfill and a materials recovery facility (MRF). That’s when she became passionate about the waste and recycling industry.

“I liked that Athens was based in Southern California, and I was impressed by the recycLA zero waste goals.”

She faced unique challenges as an RC, from operations to outreach and education to customer service. Her advice to other RCs:

“Sometimes they get disappointed. It’s not always exactly how they envision saving the world; it’s a business environment. I would recommend managing your expectations; not everyone has the same ideas as you, but don’t be discouraged. Focus on the people who really want to recycle and compost.”

Her experience as an RC helps her in her new role as a zero waste supervisor in Athens’ Harbor area.

“The community was a little slow taking up recycling, but now Harbor is doing very well. It feels good to be able to help grow the organics program there.”

In her spare time, Liliana enjoys tending to her vegetable and flower gardens, as well as composting.
Her goals for the future are to continue to work at Athens and become a program director.

“I would love to stay here and do what I do on a larger scale.”

If you’re interested in learning more about careers at Athens, go to AthensServices.com/Careers.