Who knew a summer internship in Kirkland could be such a life-changing experience?
I began my search for a summer internship back in December 2018, applying for more than 20 sustainability and recycling-based jobs. I wanted an internship that would expand my knowledge in the waste industry and open doors for future employment.
After receiving many offers, I accepted a position with the Waste Management Recycle Corps internship program in Kirkland. My employer? Waste Management (WM). My next step? A cross-country road trip from the Sunshine State to the Evergreen State: my new home for the summer.
With a background in the waste industry, I felt fully prepared to take on recycling education in the community. Even so, my first week of intensive, hands-on training taught me that no matter how much you think you know about recycling, there is always more to learn.
Once we had mastered all things recycling and the customer service aspects of our assignment, the WM recycling outreach experts sent us into the community to educate Kirkland residents on how to recycle often and recycle right.
Part of the assignment for the WM interns is to make waste reduction and recycling accessible and easy for everyone in the community. This is especially important in Kirkland — where residents speak a variety of languages including Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Hindi. Since I speak Spanish, I was able to communicate with many Hispanic families about making sure their recyclables are loose, clean and dry. (Fast fact: WM produces recycling guides in nine languages, all for the city of Kirkland! See for yourself: wmnorthwest.com/kirkland.)
An important focus of the internship was working community festivals in Kirkland such as Celebrate Kirkland 4th of July, Kids Concert Series, Juanita Market and Kirkland Summerfest. The event I really loved was Kirkland Think Green, a special recycling collection opportunity sponsored by the city of Kirkland and WM. People brought donations for Goodwill, paper to be shredded, electronics to be recycled and Styrofoam to keep it out of the landfill. This type of event is important because items like Styrofoam, shredded paper and toaster ovens are not accepted in your curbside recycling cart.
My experience learning from recycling experts and working in Kirkland at WM’s regional headquarters was incredibly valuable for my education. Now, as I move back to Florida to complete my degree, I plan to use the knowledge I gained this summer to advance recycling and composting initiatives at my university. Once I graduate, I fully intend to continue my work in the recycling industry – hopefully in a community like Kirkland, where the recycling culture is strong and ever growing.