Talking Trash, Effectively

Talking Trash, Effectively

My time at New York City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is up, or at least my time as the Graduate Organics Outreach Intern is. My summer at DSNY went above and beyond my expectations of what a summer internship could give me: not only was I able to move back to my hometown and work for the city as a part of a team working toward goals I feel passionately about, but I was also getting paid! A true dream come true.


Goodbye BCEP, hello…BCEP?!

Coming from a rigorous early college program, rushing through three years as an undergraduate, and then going straight to Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy (BCEP), I was exhausted with academia. I got to DSNY ready to take a step back from reading, writing, and data–only to learn that I’d need to exercise all those skills I developed at BCEP out in the working world. It was surprising, yet validating to learn how relevant my coursework was to my internship. Below are descriptions of my two favorite skills that I used and improved from my first year at BCEP.

A group of some DSNY interns after a long day of bagging compost and touring the Staten Island compost facility. Photo credit to Lindsay Mayer

1. Putting the Spotlight on Organics–Start with the facts

My first tasks at DSNY were reading the Waste Characterization Study conducted in 2017, and the Community Composting Report from 2014. My supervisors also asked me to browse DSNY’s website to familiarize myself with the agency’s other programs and its history.

These first few days felt familiar to me, as I thought back to the first readings assigned by Jen during the Spring Spotlight. For background, Jen had us start by reading several scientific articles. These papers outlined what was known, and what was unknown, about the relationship between PFOS and human health. The readings were essential for our future conversations with various stakeholders, just as the reading assignments at DSNY gave me a strong foundation of knowledge and confidence to build on as I started my tasks.

2. Know Your Audience–Be flexible in your methods of communication

As you may have read in my last blog post, I had several responsibilities this summer including conducting site visits, and inputting and analyzing data for the City’s organics program. In addition to these tasks, I participated in weekly meetings regarding the various roles within the outreach team for organics collection. Members of the team included myself, another graduate student intern, several outreach associates from Big ReUse (a nonprofit that partners with DSNY), and my supervisors from DSNY.

I was able practice another BCEP skill here: communicating a unique purpose to a specific audience. Everyone on the outreach team conducts site visits to buildings, institutions, and community gardens throughout the five boroughs. These meetings were an opportunity to educate one another on the specific kind of outreach we were doing, and discuss the different methods of delivering our talking points.

One of my coworkers was specifically responsible for enrolling community gardens.  Her site visits were delegated to the rest of the team when she went on vacation, so we used our weekly meeting to prepare. Although the purpose of a site visit to a community garden is mostly the same as one to residential buildings, there were some nuances to the purpose and audience. I show these general differences in the table below.

Community Garden Residential
Purpose To educate members of the garden on organics collection. To help enroll an interested site in the program. To gauge interest/enroll site as a Food Scrap Drop Off Site. To educate building management, staff and residents on organics collection. To enroll an interested site in the program.
Audience Often a group of gardeners or volunteers with varying levels of interest in and information about the program. At least one interested building staff member, but also potentially several dozen residents of varying levels of interest in and information about the program.

We also discussed the variation in each type of site visit beyond purpose and audience: involved parties might have different questions or concerns with the program, and some site visits draw larger audiences than others. Another huge difference is that gardens are eligible to become public Food Scrap Drop Off Sites, but apartment buildings are not.

These conversations allowed each of us to recognize how our approaches might change as our purpose and audiences did. My residential site visits were often conversational, but when I conducted one at a community garden I was more structured in my approach to ensure I covered the additional information.


Me, asking a question to a group of DSNY mechanics and supervisors at a field trip to DSNY’s Central Repair Shop. Photo credit to Lindsay Mayer

Transferring the Skills, Again

Now as I transition back into academia to write my capstone, I am excited to apply my research and communication skills to a new task. My internship illustrated the connectedness of academia and the working world in a way that caught me off guard. This time, I am ready and eager to take my lessons learned and craft a well-researched, effectively-communicated thesis to conclude my time at BCEP.

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