David J. Schoonmaker ’62

David Schoonmaker2017 Recipient


David Schoonmaker has an inspiring track record as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. His innovations in the field of medical waste management have revolutionised the industry, delivering exceptional improvements both environmentally and in terms of public health.


David is the eldest son of Dr. Joseph Schoonmaker MD. His father was a medical missionary in Assam, India, after serving as a Chaplain in WWII. David came to Woodstock in 1955 and graduated in 1962. He went on to earn a BSc degree in chemistry and a BA in business administration from the University of California in Berkley, an MBA at California State University in Los Angeles as well as post-graduate qualifications at Columbia University in New York.


During the first 18 years of his career after college, he worked for corporations including Diamond Shamrock, Georgia Pacific and McKesson. During this time he developed technologies for municipal water treatment, recycling of agricultural, industrial and hazardous waste streams, and products used to manufacture cement. All these technologies are still used commercially today.


In 1985 he created his own company to develop an alternative technology, the autoclave, for treating biohazard wastes generated by hospitals, dentists, veterinary and doctor’s offices in the US. This resulted in a dramatic shift from incineration to steam sterilisation, establishing industry standards and practices that dominate today. This new technology reduced air emissions and greenhouse gases by over 99%. More than 5,000 incinerators were closed or converted, leaving fewer than 20 today, and this technology is now used worldwide.


The substitution of incinerators with steam autoclaves and introducing a system for collection and shipment of medical waste to the autoclaving centres, removed a major source of pathogens and toxic pollution. The unsafe disposal of health-care waste, such as contaminated syringes and needles, poses public health risks. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2000, injections with contaminated syringes caused 21 million hepatitis B virus infections, 32% of all new infections. Incineration also emits dioxins, furans and other toxic air pollutants. Exposure to dioxins and furans may inhibit development of the nervous system and lead to the impairment of the immune system, the endocrine system and the body’s reproductive functions.


Autoclaving results in zero emissions and completely sterilises all pathogens. After heat treatment, the waste is no longer hazardous and can be disposed of like ordinary garbage, but David’s treatment centres developed it into a fuel source used by waste-to-energy generators.


As an evolving entrepreneur, he started several companies that served the health care industry along the East Coast of the US, from Maine to Florida, and into the Midwest. He provided waste management services for hospitals and utilising a dozen treatment facilities, developed recycling uses for recovered surgical instruments, the use of treated medical waste for electric power plants, and training software for health care providers. He chose not to patent his product and process improvements, but rather used them to benefit his customers, competitors and the wider public. This accounted for the rapid growth of these technologies and eventually the high value placed on his companies.


David designed training sessions for hospital employees, monitoring compliance and changes in the regulations.  He computerised the waste treatment process so that problems in cost, compliance and efficiency could be identified and addressed. In 2011, David’s companies were combined and sold, allowing him time to pursue other personal interests.


David has served on the board of Kodai-Woodstock International, the Friends of Woodstock School board, and for six years on the Woodstock School Board. His experience as a board member of private and public companies and business founder of several companies and charities, alongside his MBA in finance and BSc in chemistry, proved useful at Woodstock as they upgraded their financial reporting.


He helped create and fund the Joseph H. Schoonmaker Scholarship Fund and the FWS Legacy Fund, both of which have contributed to scholarships and projects at Woodstock School. David was also a co-chair of the Woodstock 150 campaign.


David lives in Colorado with his wife, Eva. Both are avid skiers at Vail, travel worldwide and participate in auto rallies and some racing. They are looking forward to the classic car races at Laguna Seca, California and the car show at Pebble Beach this coming fall 2017. With two sons and three grandchildren, family reunions are a special time for the whole family.


Receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award is a highlight of David’s life’s work, for which he is very grateful for and proud of the recognition given by Woodstock School.


Since 2003, Woodstock’s Distinguished Alumni Awards have publicly celebrated the school’s most meritorious alumni. The Awards recognise the Distinguished Alumni’s lifelong achievement in their fields, philanthropic activities or voluntary service, in ways which represent the values Woodstock School strives to engender in its students.