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Green Jobs in Waste Management

Waste is one of the most abundant resources on the planet, and it’s generally buried in eco-harmful landfills. The green economy has to address this, which means a rich opportunity for eco-conscious job-seekers. If you want to push society toward sustainability through increased recycling and reuse, waste management may be your calling in a green career transition.

Managing waste streams requires a coordinated effort by a number of waste management teams. After your garbage and recycling are collected from your curb, they are taken to a processing center where the waste is sorted and transferred to the right location. Some of it may end up in landfill while some may be sorted, cleaned, and sold as scrap for reuse.

The EPA’s most visible waste program is the Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC), which aims to encourage all Americans to pay attention to how they are handling waste. The key priorities include

  • Recycling 35 percent of the municipal solid waste from businesses, industries, and residences. In the first phase, the targets are paper, garden waste, and packaging. Special programs are being put in place to help large waste producers recycle with ease.

  • Recycling all electronics through special disposal programs with retailers and manufacturers. Electronic items contain toxins that have serious health consequences. By harvesting these chemicals and components, we can reuse them rather than extracting more from the Earth.

  • Recycling industrial and construction waste can make a considerable impact due to the volume and nature of the waste produced by industrial plants and construction projects.

  • Reducing the use of chemicals that are toxic and have been deemed particularly harmful to human health and the environment.

Although programs are a critical piece of the puzzle, without effective marketing and education, waste reduction programs do not produce results. The key to success is reaching out to people to show them how to take new actions and establish new habits around waste. One of the tools the EPA is using in its marketing campaign is a report with success stories for each of their main goals.

Future trends in waste management

In addition to ramping up various programs to encourage individuals and businesses to reduce, reuse, and recycle, the waste management industry is making other moves. A number of collection companies are replacing their truck fleets with vehicles that run on alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gases emitted during the transfer of waste from one location to the next.

Municipalities are also implementing innovative solutions to reduce the waste that goes to landfill. In the summer of 2009, San Francisco passed a Universal Recycling and Composting Ordinance that requires everyone in the city to sort their waste into three categories: recyclables, compostables, and waste. Fines await those who don’t participate. To handle the organic compostable material, the city’s waste management service has created a processing center just for food scraps, green waste, and those pizza boxes you never know whether to recycle or not. According to SFRecycling, 75 percent of the city’s restaurants are participating in the commercial version of the composting program.

One innovative company, BigBelly Solar, is changing the way cities manage trash in public areas. Their trash cans are really trash collectors that use solar energy to compact the trash when it reaches the top of the can. When the can is full, BigBelly notifies the waste collectors to tell them it’s full. When Philadelphia recently replaced 700 public trash cans with 500 of these newfangled garbage cans, they ended up reducing their collection runs for public areas by 75 percent. Imagine what that can do for a city’s trash collection budget.

Industry is also getting into the waste reduction game by rethinking manufacturing processes to eliminate sources of waste, find ways to reuse waste in their own processes, or sell it to other companies that can use it. Interface, a worldwide carpet manufacturer, has spent the last 15 years finding ways to become more sustainable. According to its Web site, the company kept 100 million pounds of waste out of landfills and saved $372 million dollars that would have been spent on waste removal in the 12 years between 1995 and 2007. What’s the secret? Interface actually solicits worn-out carpet to disassemble it and reuse the backing and fibers in new carpet. In addition, it recycles trimmings right back into the production cycle.

Job opportunities in waste management

Here are some examples of potential jobs in waste management

  • Recycling: Recycling program specialist, waste minimization specialist, recycling supervisor, environmental specialist, environmental coordinator, municipal recycling coordinator, e-waste professional

  • Waste management facilities: Public works services supervisor, operations supervisor, sanitation supervisor, hazardous waste engineer, hazardous waste coordinator, landfill operator, waste collector

  • Communication, education, and marketing: Recycling education officer, communications manager, environmental educator, program services specialist

  • Industrial waste: Resource manager, resource coordinator, industrial waste outside sales, industrial waste account executive, specialty waste senior national account manager, industrial waste inspector

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