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Don't Waste the Chance to Cash In on Waste Management

Across North America and around the world, people are producing many different kinds of waste material that needs to be thrown away or reused. If you can find creative solutions to keep up with this expanding problem, you may have a future in waste management.

Waste management is much more than simply dealing with garbage. It's a field that employs tens of thousands of people and generates billions of dollars annually.

Many different careers are involved in waste management. Some career options in this field include environmental engineers and technologists, program administrators, lab technicians, hazmat (hazardous materials) specialists, emergency response cleanup specialists, decontamination specialists, researchers, waste management consultants and advisors, recycling coordinators, waste management strategic planners and designers.

Geology, biology, chemistry, conservation, architecture, economics, agriculture and many other areas of study have direct links to waste management.

What exactly is waste management? Some of the kinds of waste that need managing are residential, commercial and industrial solid waste (which includes what we call garbage), waste water, hazardous material, and the ever-growing piles of used electronics.

Jessica Hogendoorn is a marketing coordinator for a nonprofit agency that manages many recycling programs, including an electronic recycling program.

Electronics waste (e-waste) is a big problem. Old televisions, computer monitors, laptops, printers and fax machines are all part of her program. She says that the program has had a lot of success so far.

"Because of the high rate of turnover of computers and technology, it probably won't be slowing down," Hogendoorn points out.

This program is a good example of waste management in action, and we'll need more like it in years to come.

Grant Trump is president and CEO of an environment careers organization. He sees a lot of potential in waste management careers. "Young people just need to say 'what do I want to do?' because it's really an open book," he says.

The employment growth rate in this field is significantly higher than in other fields, Trump says. "It's a field where demand outstrips supply, with jobs for people with everything from high school diplomas to PhDs, with huge potential for advancement."

Over his 30-year career, Trump has seen educational options grow from a few courses here and there to entire programs being offered at many schools.

Many of the educational institutions Trump works with tell him that graduates with skills in environmental sciences get multiple job offers and that companies are actively recruiting at the college and university levels.

There is also funding available to help students follow their career path. Jaclyn O'Ryan is a junior environmental specialist with an environmental consulting firm. She participated in an internship program as an environmental studies student.

"The financial support [the internship program] provides to employers gave me the opportunity as a new graduate to find a job without any former work experience and without it being a risk to the employers."

"This is the ideal time to be out there looking for environmental jobs, and it's only going to increase," Trump says.

While many of the jobs in waste management require a science background, he also sees a growing need for lawyers, writers and educators in the waste management field.

Debra Reinhart is one such educator. As a professor specializing in solid and hazardous waste management at the University of Central Florida, she says that what her students find most interesting in the field is how waste management "is a complex system that has lots of challenges. Garbage is very visible, but nobody actually understands what the limits are of our options."

In addition to teaching at theuniversity, Reinhart has also started developing online resources aimed directly at high school students.

"It's important for young people because it will shape how they select products, what they do with them, and the impact their choices have on their environment. Sustainability is key."

For many students, the reasons for considering a career in waste management go beyond the great and growing job opportunities.

"Today, kids are born into environmental issues; they have no choice but to be aware," says Hogendoorn.

"The environment should be breakfast table conversation," Trump adds, "and in some cases it's students who will be educating their parents. We have to deal with our past sins, make a better place to live."

O'Ryan agrees: "I was looking for work relating to environmental science and conservation, and waste management and the 3Rs [reduce, reuse, recycle] seemed like a unique way to apply these two fields. This field enables me to help protect the environment by helping people reduce, reuse and recycle our resources.

"I feel working in a field relating to the environment makes you more aware and more connected to the natural world around you. I believe that a large part of the environmental problems we are facing today is a consequence of our disconnection with nature and the organisms that we share it with.

"A career relating to the environment, or specifically waste management, is a field of work that you could take pride in knowing that you're helping to make a difference."

That difference can also affect a population's health. Waste that isn't disposed of properly can be the source of many disease outbreaks.

In the developing world, many illnesses can be prevented by proper waste management. Nonprofit humanitarian organizations as well as private corporations have many opportunities to help others develop better waste management strategies and save lives around the world.

And waste management is never boring, O'Ryan says. "I have a variety of responsibilities. On any given day I could be conducting a waste audit, writing a waste audit and waste reduction work plan report, helping to develop new marketing or promotional events, or presenting a training presentation. The waste audit is the most unique aspect of this job, since it involves the inspection of the waste and recycling facility."

Whether you'd like to work in a lab, an office in the city, outdoors in remote locations of North America, or in another country in the developing world, waste management is a fast-growing, profitable and creative field with almost unlimited possibilities.

There are things you can do as a student to get involved and see if this field interests you. Evaluate your family's waste management practices. Look for chances to participate in your school's recycling program or do a school waste audit.

Some municipalities run recycling contests between schools to help raise awareness of the issue. Find out about and participate in activities related to other initiatives like Keep America Beautiful, Earth Day, National Waste Reduction Week, America Recycles day, or International Clean-Up Weekend.

Waste management is a field dedicated to taking care of our environment and our future. If you are creative, committed, and have a flair for problem-solving, then this dynamic career path might be for you.


The Environmental Protection Agency's High School Environmental Center
Gives information on lots of waste management topics and links to careers, scholarships and community service projects

Earth's 911
Enter your postal code and this site will give you information on resources and programs in your area

National Recycling Coalition
Everything you need to know about recycling, including a recycle calculator to measure your impact on the environment

Waste Management, Inc.
One of North America's leading companies in waste management

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