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A Legacy of Opportunity: Education and Innovation in Waste Management

Those who’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from inspiring teachers and mentors know the value of experience and education. They’re the ones who’ve walked the path before us, offering guidance, sharing wisdom, and helping navigate the challenges of our chosen fields. In every industry, they play a critical role in shaping the professionals of tomorrow. They create a chain of knowledge, passing from one generation to the next, ensuring personal growth, the continuity of progress, and the evolution of the industry.  

Joe Frola filled this consequential role for numerous key leaders in the waste industry. In his honor, the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is proud to announce the Ruterra Group Doctoral Scholarship, in memory of Joseph (Joe) P. Frola, P.E. 

When waste industry veteran, Joseph Rutigliano, assumed executive operations at two of the largest landfills in America, he knew there’d be a steep learning curve, a “baptism by fire,” so to speak. Joe Frola was the one who generously shared his encyclopedic knowledge and practical front-line landfill expertise with Joseph.

Joseph Rutigliano (left) and Joe Frola (right)

Joseph, chairman of the Rutigliano Family Foundation, is a third-generation industry leader with family ties to New York City’s waste industry that predate World War II. His father, George Rutigliano, founded Rutigliano Paper Stock in 1969 after marrying Frances Filiberto, whose family had been operating in the city since 1920. In 1973, with Rutigliano Paper Stock, George conceived, built, and implemented the first citywide wastepaper recycling program in New York. 

A year later, George envisioned, created, and pioneered an entirely new industry based on the exportation of domestic recyclable wastepaper to China. The idea was to combine high compression baler technology with break-bulk ocean freight at the Brooklyn waterfront, an area George knew well from working on the docks as an adolescent.  The merger of baling with ocean shipping created a domestic product, a burgeoning market, and an entirely new industry. Perhaps not as revolutionary as it was evolutionary, but that’s precisely in line with George’s method of operation: observe, cogitate, and improve.   

George’s visionary spirit was passed to Joseph and continues to run through his son’s veins. Since joining his father in 1988, Joseph has been involved in practically every facet of waste management. He’s not only continued his family’s industry tradition but has expanded their legacy by forging new paths with an innovative use of existing but previously underutilized infrastructure, using the same method of operation keenly learned from his late father. After a successful career in New York City recycling, Joseph transformed the logistical and infrastructural components of the waste industry on Long Island by transitioning New York’s hauling modes from trucking to rail. This was an evolutionary leap in efficiency, safety, and sustainability as millions of tons of waste have been transferred from roads to rails.

In 2014, as Joseph’s professional journey continued and expanded in scope, fortunately, perhaps inevitably, he crossed paths with Joe Frola. The Ohio State graduate was an engineer at Sunny Farms Landfill and quickly became an invaluable advisor and special friend to Joseph.

“I knew I faced a steep learning curve as a new owner and executive operator at Tunnel Hill Reclamation and Sunny Farms Landfills- two of the largest landfills in America.  While I had wastepaper, collection, and rail under my belt, I had much to learn about landfills and so little time.  Nevertheless, I met the challenge by immediately flying to Ohio to meet the expert and ask for guidance.  If you humble yourself to a competent, learned, kind and intelligent person, he will teach you. So, I said, ‘Joe, I don’t know a damn thing about landfills. Please teach me.’  Luckily for me, Joe’s reputation as a competent, learned, kind and intelligent person was as earned as it was accurate.” – Joseph Rutigliano

Joseph was deeply impressed with Joe’s attentive management style, patience, and intellectually humble spirit, stating: “His intelligence and compassion made him a true gentleman.”  As Joseph describes it, Joe bridged the gap between academia and operations, a vital role which Joe was uniquely suited to fill. Joseph, Joe, and Joe’s brother John worked together for years before Joe’s unexpected passing in 2022.

“Our parents were both teachers and taught us the importance of education early on. We learned something new every day, and my brother never stopped that. He was a voracious reader who wanted to know everything about anything. If you or he didn’t know an answer, he was going to find out. He just loved learning.” – John Frola

Another beneficiary of Joe’s expertise, and a mutual friend of Joseph’s, is Paul Mitchener. In addition to Paul’s storied career in the waste industry, he’s been involved with EREF since its inception. As one of EREF’s longest-serving board members, Paul has introduced many experts and executives to the Foundation’s work and mission, including Joseph. Having lunch a few blocks south of Central Park in 2023, Paul and Joseph reminisced about their experiences with Joe and their shared fondness for the man.  They went on to discuss the history and future of the waste industry, and a new educational opportunity was created: The Ruterra Group Doctoral Scholarship.

The Rutiglianos are not new to philanthropy or charitable work. The family supports many causes, and chief among them is education. Joseph has always seen education and information as the brightest path forward. A couple of years earlier, he had reached out to Dr. Morton Barlaz, a member and former chair of EREF’s Research Council, looking for information on thermal reduction emissions versus methane production in landfills, another one of Joseph’s passions. Drawing the connections between Dr. Barlaz, Paul, and EREF, Joseph remembers having an epiphany. “Wow, there is a dedicated group out there that is actually devoted to advancing the science behind all this.”  Always seeking more information, and never one to jump into anything half-hearted, he quickly began learning about EREF and how he could contribute and help fulfill its mission.

“When I learned about the opportunity to establish a Doctoral scholarship for the right candidate who is bright-eyed, intelligent, and passionate about our industry, I knew there was no better man to honor than Joe Frola.”

The Rutigliano Family Foundation was founded in honor of George Rutigliano and the Ruterra Group Doctoral Scholarship is awarded in the name of Joe Frola. Joseph sees the scholarship as a fitting tribute to the wonderful legacies of both men who were taken too soon.

EREF’s dedication to research and education with no bias or agenda attracted Joseph, who saw a new and direct way to contribute to a future where waste management is part of a sustainable world. His decision to fund the Ruterra Group Doctoral Scholarship at EREF stems from a deep-seated hope to inspire and support the next generation of leaders in waste management. He envisions the scholarship not just as a financial aid but as a beacon to guide the best and brightest minds – the future Joe Frolas – towards impactful careers in the industry. He hopes the scholarship will encourage innovative research that bridges the gap between practical industry needs and academic exploration, leading to advancements that make waste management more efficient, sustainable, and better integrated into the circular economy.

“I want to do everything I can to sponsor education and intelligence, and I want people to join me. I’m still creating new opportunities like my father, and it all starts with education.  EREF’s irrefutable data is creating truth for this industry.  I will always remain in search of generous, intelligent, and mindful advisors like Joe Frola.  Education is the path to a brighter future and EREF is a springboard for evolution and advancement in our industry.  I am proud to support it.”

About EREF

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For complete information on EREF-funded research, its scholarship program, and how to donate to this great cause, visit erefdn.org.

Media Contact:

Stephen Aber
Communications Manager
Email: saber@erefdn.org