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Coming from inside the ranks of the state agency, Zoe Heller was appointed director of the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery. | Rarrarorro/Shutterstock

California’s sizable waste reduction and recycling agency has a new leader in Zoe Heller, who was recently appointed director of the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery. Industry leaders praised her integrity, thoughtfulness and collaboration skills.

Heller has served the agency since 2017, most recently as the deputy director of the circular economy division beginning in 2023. Prior to that, she worked in materials management, local assistance and policy development. 

Before coming to CalRecycle, she worked at the U.S. EPA for over a decade as manager of the Zero Waste Section, special assistant to regional administrator and an environmental protection specialist. 

She is taking over the role from Rachel Machi Wagoner, who announced in February she would leave the agency in March after three years as director. 

Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste, told E-Scrap News that  the group was “really excited to see Governor Newsom appoint Zoe to this position.” 

“Zoe has shown tremendous integrity, humility, empathy and passion during her time at CalRecycle, and she has earned the trust of both advocates and the regulated community,” Lapis said. “She is exactly what the Department needs right now.”

Neil Edgar, executive director of the California Compost Coalition, said that the organization was “thrilled to see that Zoe Heller has been appointed to lead CalRecycle at this critical time and look forward to continuing working with her to develop successful outcomes to so many of the important efforts underway at the department.” 

In a statement to E-Scrap News, Republic Services said Heller “is a thoughtful decision maker with a passion for sustainability and a wealth of experience with matters related to the circular economy.” 

“We believe her appointment to Director of CalRecycle will help position the organization to effectively address several key initiatives put forth by state leadership,” Republic added. “We look forward to a strong partnership as we work together to build a more sustainable California.”

The National Stewardship Action Council congratulated Heller on LinkedIn. Heidi Sanborn, founding director of NSAC, told E-Scrap News that she’s worked with Heller for a long time, including in a close capacity as part of Sanborn’s role as chair of the Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling.

“What I love about Zoe is that she’s thoughtful, no matter how busy she is,” Sanborn said. “She listens to everybody. She doesn’t pick favorites.” 

When Heller makes a decision, Sanborn said, “you’ll know why she landed where she did,” and you are always assured of a respectful conversation about the choice. Heller also displays a strong sense of integrity, which Sanborn said is needed for the role. 

Director of CalRecycle is a huge job, Sanborn said, and the position used to be filled by a board. Sanborn said while she personally thinks a board is the better model, “Zoe was exactly the right choice for this point in time.”  

“Zoe has been there. She knows exactly what is going on and where things she might want to change,” Sanborn said, adding that that experience will help prevent the staff whiplash that can occur when a new leader comes on board. 

“We’re all very excited,” Sanborn said. “I don’t know of a stakeholder who isn’t excited that Zoe is the director. She has my full support.” 

A state press release noted that this position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is around $205,000.

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on May 14.

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