Welcome Harper, Rethink Waste Project Intern!

We’re excited to announce we have another new face at The Environmental Center. Please help us welcome our Harper to the Rethink Waste Project team! You might recognize Harper if you tuned into the Sustainability Awards Youth Panel. Over the next few months, Harper will support the Rethink Waste Project by researching and piloting a local commercial plastic film reduction and recycling program.

I sat down with Harper to get to know her a little better, so here are some highlights from our chat! 

Q&A with Harper Smith, Rethink Waste Project Intern

Hi Harper! Welcome to the team. To get started, we’d all love to know what inspired you to get involved with The Environmental Center’s Rethink Waste Project.

Thank you, I’m so happy to be here! Having recently graduated high school, I’ve made the decision to pursue a career in Sustainability. However, due to the current state of the world, I decided to take a gap year before heading to college. I wanted to continue my momentum and gain career experience, which is where The Environmental Center fit into place. Being passionate about business and design as well as environmental action, I love the message of societal and consumeristic habitual change promoted by The Environmental Center’s Rethink Waste Project and knew I had to get in on the action! 

What are you looking forward to this year?

This year, I am most looking forward to gaining real experience in my career. Like I mentioned previously, I very recently decided on what I will be studying, so I am just beginning my journey. I definitely have much to learn, and I’m eager to attack that whole-heartedly.

What’s something that surprised you about solid waste infrastructure or more specifically recycling as you started to learn more?

I have been incredibly surprised by exactly how lacking and inefficient our existing systems are. During high school I had the unpleasant experience of learning how much of what ends up in the recycling bin does not make its way to a Material Recovery Facility, but instead finds its way to the bottom of a landfill. Many citizens aren’t aware of this thanks to another aspect I’ve recently learned about, which is the influence of for-profit companies on the solid waste recycling system. Decades of pressure to do the right thing have led to ‘wishful recycling’, where many items that can’t be recycled are placed in the wrong bin and contaminate the whole cycle. 

What book(s) are you currently reading? Or a film(s) you’ve seen recently? Or a podcast(s)?

I’m definitely one to consume media, so I have input on all of these categories! Currently I’m reading The Jungle by Uptown Sinclair, Madame Curie by Eve Curie, and Dune by Frank Herbert. I’ve also recently watched the film adaptation of Dune, which inspired my reading of the book, and Wonder Woman: 1984 for the umpteenth time. I would unabashedly call myself a Wonder Woman fan girl. As for podcasts, How to Save a Planet by Gimlet media is a current favorite. The podcast covers many different aspects concerning climate change and what you can change in your own life to make a positive impact. I also love good comedy. Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend is a great podcast as well.

And what is one of the most creative ways you have practiced rethinking waste?

One of the most creative ways I have practiced rethinking waste actually pertains to the upcoming holiday season. Many of my gifts will be second hand, purchased either from thrift stores or online resale platforms. Not only am I choosing not to purchase new materials and reducing my solid waste and saving energy, but I’m also challenging the conventional thought that second hand gifts are taboo. I have found that I have been able to find incredibly meaningful gifts, and all of the packaging supplies needed second hand.

We’re all very excited to have Harper here!

Interested in an internship with the Rethink Waste Project or another program at The Environmental Center? Fill out a volunteer interest form here.