Intern Introspective: My Summer Talking Trash

Guest Blogger

This summer, I spent eight weeks with the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District in Cleveland, Ohio as a communications intern. Now I don’t know how enthused you may be with the idea of working on trash problems all day, but I loved every second of working there. It was my first office experience and I learned a lot about the office culture, the structure of county and city-level governments and programs and recycling as an industry.  And just how long it takes for me to need a break from sitting for too long!

About Me

I am a student at Arizona State University, studying sustainability and supply chain management. My main interests lie in life cycle assessment, which is exactly what it sounds like: Analyzing the life cycle of a product from sourcing the raw materials to where it ends up when it becomes unusable, as well as all the impacts along the way (such as transportation emissions, production runoff and how much water it uses in its lifetime). My end goal is to encourage manufacturers to take end-of-life into consideration and effectively persuade them to take responsibility for their products and their impact. The good news is that many companies already embrace the ideas of sustainability and some are incredibly keen to sustainable supply chains, but we still have a long way to go.

With this said, I did not come from a marketing background. However, with the guidance of the communications manager of the District, Cristie Snyder, I have learned endless valuable lessons on effective communication and was able to fill the role of communications intern smoothly.

Fun Fact: The Solid Waste District is an education and outreach agency funded by, you guessed it, trash! For every ton of trash hitting the landfill from your city, the Solid Waste District sees some money generated. I learned that the goal would be to put ourselves out of business by sending no waste to the landfill and instead, reducing, reusing, and recycling our materials.

What I Learned

Although I was hired to assist with marketing and communication of the District, I was fortunate to get a chance to shadow all the employees and experience what they do. I also attended meetings with the influencers in Cuyahoga County’s sustainability scene, mayors and police. By witnessing the District’s own struggles and those of leaders in the county, I came to understand the real world challenges of implementing sustainable initiatives. People have different values, and although waste reduction and the environment are things I think about the majority of my day, other people do not have it on their radar.

I learned that teaching people about recycling is like walking a fine line: You can’t push people to care, but you do have to encourage them. Once people understand why they should care and see others leading by example, they become more aware of the issues at hand and how they can make a difference in their community through an act as simple as recycling. It’s these basic ideas that helped point me in the right direction in my communications role with the District.

Fun Fact: Once household hazardous waste is collected, it is sent to an incinerator! All the more reason to reduce and choose natural or non-hazardous options when you can.

An Intern’s Observations

I have had an incredible internship with the District, both through learning about Cuyahoga County’s efforts in recycling and through the hands-on, behind-the-scenes experience within the District. I could write a book on my experiences here, with the job, with the people, with the knowledge… But if there is one message I want to make sure to get across, it is that waste reduction is not glamorous, and yet the women at the Solid Waste District work hard to put it on your radar — improving the quality of your life and the environment through their work. It is this dedication to change that I look up to and look forward to finding in my own career.

About the Author

Student intern Hillary Junglas excelled in her marketing and solid waste crash course at the District in the summer of 2017. She expects to graduate from ASU in the spring of 2019. After graduation, Hillary plans to pursue a career related to waste management, alternative energies and the inclusion of sustainable practices within business. We hope that she continues to recycle more, recycle better and that she always carries a reusable cup or mug.