WSRA was proud to award seven Student Guest scholarships for our 2020 Annual Conference, held virtually in November. These scholarships were awarded to undergraduate and graduate students from across Washington and beyond. The WSRA Student Guest program provides an outstanding opportunity for future leaders in the industry to network with leading industry professionals, expand their knowledge of recycling and waste reduction, and prepare themselves for a career in a rewarding and innovative field.


As a part of the program requirements for each student, we ask that after the conclusion of the conference, they provide a write up of their experiences to share about what they learned. Here are the experiences from our 2020 Student Guests:

Carolyn Bowie   |   University of Washington, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance
“In the days since the WSRA conference, I’ve reflected on the range of perspectives that have left me feeling inspired in many ways. Kate Bailey’s keynote address set a tone that rang throughout the conference when she remarked that it’s not a question of when producers will participate in meaningful product stewardship, but when and how. Underlying amazing policy momentum in Washington state, I was impressed by the partnerships and collaboration across municipalities, haulers, and state agencies. Through panels on food waste, plastic packaging, and policies across Washington and Oregon, I listened to many examples of extended producer responsibility shaped through collaborative initiatives. Although I’ve only had limited exposure to WSRA through this conference and a couple WRED events, it’s clear that this community of recyclers is eager to collaborate and support one another in a shared mission. With a global upheaval of traditional recycling markets, consumers contaminating streams, constantly changing packaging standards, and a global pandemic underway, efforts to recycle face immense challenges. Despite these challenges, I witnessed an unshakeable drive to move forward. Because of these challenges, people passionate about sustainable materials management are seizing the disruption in recycling as a unique window of opportunity. I’m inspired by leaders like Heather Trim who have pushed for progressive policy and expertly explained the statewide recycling initiatives underway in Washington. After recently emerging from an academic policy analysis perspective at the Evans School at UW, I perceive this unprecedented, progressive push in the recycling industry as a collective effort to strategically take advantage of a unique policy window. It seems the initiatives we’re seeing now are in response to an essential societal need coupled with a cultural demand for change. The enthusiasm for possibilities ahead was contagious (even through a computer screen)! As a newcomer, I enjoyed the awesome enthusiasm, experience, and passion of the speakers and felt I could jump in with questions and my own excitement throughout the conference. Since the conference, I’ve connected with a few attendees and am grateful for such a welcoming invitation to network, despite only meeting virtually. I’m energized by my potential to continue in this industry at the intersection of human lives, the environment, challenges, and great opportunities!”

Rachel DeCordoba   |   University of Leeds
“I had such a great time attending the WSRA Annual Conference and am thankful to the board, sponsors, and entire team for allowing me the opportunity to attend. I learned just how rapidly the recycling world is changing, as my first session regarding state legislative updates highlighted. With the recent requirement of jurisdictions adding Contamination Reduction and Outreach Plans to their existing plans, staff from the Department of Ecology explained just how crucial the concept of harmonization between jurisdictions really is to successful program reception and ultimately reducing contamination. I also learned how the current pandemic is unfortunately affecting legislative action, such as a lack of funding for recycled content requirements for plastic beverage containers, or a potential supply shortage for paper and thick plastic for disposable plastic bag alternatives. But even amidst challenges, it’s exciting to hear just how much new legislation is taking effect this year, with more ideas brewing for future years. Having previously worked in community engagement, I found the session about recycling research especially fascinating. While data shows strong public support for recycling efforts, with the environment being a key motivator, it’s clear that contamination is still a massive issue. I learned that messaging of “recycle right” instead of “recycle more”, as well as “no lists” as opposed to “yes lists” can be effective tools in changing behavior and reducing contamination. Additionally, the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility, which was brought up in many discussions throughout the two days, really stuck with me. I now have a better understanding of the logistical, political, and economic challenges that must be considered when implementing any sort of EPR regulations – but the fact that it’s been so successful in various forms here and in other parts of the world gives me hope! I also enjoyed the virtual platform of the conference, which enabled me to review sessions I had attended and watch sessions that had been presented simultaneously. It allowed for easy communication between attendees to share ideas in forums and in virtual exhibitor booths. I particularly enjoyed seeing others’ photos of waste and recycling receptacles from all around the world in their travels! I’m currently looking for my next career opportunity, where I hope to use my community engagement and project management experience to coordinate or manage programs in an urban area, ideally with a focus on environmental justice and youth empowerment. This conference has equipped me with knowledge of the latest recycling-related actions and plans at the city, county, and state levels, as well as of recent contamination reduction research and community outreach strategies. Wherever my next position takes me, I know I’ll be able to reference this knowledge while working with a variety of stakeholders – and potentially build upon it in a related role. As I do so, I look forward to following what this year’s conference attendees achieve in the months and years to come.”

Jennifer Gabriel   |   University of Washington
“This was my first year attending the WSRA Annual Conference, and as a Student Guest too! It was such an incredible experience, and it was so valuable to see current topics in the field and such a broad range of interests. I was so impressed with the organization of the conference even though it was in a format that it is not usually in, as well as the contributions from both the speakers and the other guests. I learned a lot about the different facets of this field, and it was surprising to see topics range from policy to contamination reduction. As I’m still in school, I had never been introduced to some of the topics that were covered in the span of those two days, and I’m so glad that I was able to learn about them and see the conversation and genuine passion of the community at the conference. It was certainly a new experience for me, especially as I am still learning to network, but the amount of support and generosity of the WSRA community was wonderful. I was not expecting people to be so willing to chat and to let me pick their brains, but it was a pleasant surprise for sure. Now that the conference is over, I am still in communication with some of the attendees, and am hoping to still be able to reach out to those that I missed in the short time span that we had. I am still looking for any internship or learning opportunities while I finish up my senior year at the University of Washington. Once I graduate, it would be wonderful to stay connected with WSRA, and I am looking forward to possibly using my skills at one of the fantastic companies I heard from at the conference. Again, what a wonderful and unique experience!”

Sai Smita Garimella   |   City University of Seattle
“This was my first time attending WSRA’s conference, as a student guest. I was thrilled to receive a student scholarship to attend the prestigious 40th Annual WSRA conference, which was attended by very prominent names in the waste industry. And what an experience it has been. I had my own speculation about attending a virtual conference, but I must admit the way the conference was conducted, I was thrilled to be a part of it and gather utmost knowledge from each session. Each session was so interactive and full of knowledge. Every speaker was passionate about the work they were doing for the society. Having worked in the environmental field especially in waste and resource management, to me the importance of recycling is utmost. One thing that’s common in all the sessions was the importance of involvements of various stakeholders to undertake better recycling practices. Like in one of the sessions by Dan Weston, who spoke on Research that their team conducted – Recycle right campaign, the main objective was to raise awareness among residents. I truly believe this would cause a great impact in the recycling industry if recyclables are properly segregated from the source before sending for recycling.
As a management student I would like to use my educational skills to intern with one of the many agencies working towards a sustainable goal for the planet. Lastly, I would like to thank WSRA, for providing students with this great platform. I would also like to add about the recorded sessions being available to us as, it provides us with an opportunity to listen to speakers that I had missed listing to at the day of the conference.”

Jack Rumery   |   Michigan State University and Spokane County Environmental AmeriCorp Volunteer
“Wow! What a great experience I had over the last couple days at the WSRA conference. As someone who’s done a broad spectrum of work in the field of environmental sciences (primarily in the lane of ecological sciences), this was like opening up a whole new avenue of knowledge. Hearing from the numerous passionate and incredibly informed speakers and contributors to the conference was like seeing the topic of recycling with a whole new light. I would have probably considered myself at least mildly informed on the topic, but I have definitely come to realize that I have a lot to learn. As someone who is interested in the political and legislative side of things, one of the most fascinating sessions I attended was on the first day re-capping the last year in legislative action. It was incredible to hear the sheer number of different legislative pushes for more sustainable practices on an individual and corporate/manufacturing level. It was, admittedly, a little disheartening to hear ‘this bill didn’t pass…’ numerous times but in truth, I was more energized by coming to the knowledge that this state legislature is full of individuals who are “fighting the good fight” so to speak. It really gave me a new perspective and respect for the challenge of codifying these types of changes that seem to be “obvious” in many ways, as to the positive impact they have the potential to have. The second day, it was fascinating to learn more about bottle deposit laws, and the challenges therein. I come from a state that does have a bottle deposit law (Michigan), and I think I took it for granted in many ways, as far as what must have gone into the planning and implementation.
Additionally, the awards given to individuals for recycler-of-the-year, and inductions to the hall of fame, etc… were an awesome chance to hear about the path those individuals have taken in their own lives journeys. I often struggle with trying to “plan things out” for myself in advance in such a way that I end up losing sight of the opportunities immediately present in the situation I’m in. I want to know where I’m going next, and after that, then again. Hearing the multitude of different organizations, initiatives, fields, and paths taken by these accomplished individuals helped me ground myself in the reality that there are numerous paths I can take, and if I bring my passion along with me I can go anywhere. And, relatedly, one of my favorite quotes of the conference came on the first day. When someone said to use that passion like your own personal resource. That passion is the energy that will drive your engine in the direction you aim yourself.
Currently I’m serving with AmeriCorps in Spokane, and will continue to aid with educational programming and community outreach for the Environmental Services Department here until the completion of my service next summer. After which, I hope to start a graduate school program in the Fall. I am an educator, that’s what I love. More than anything, the chance to work with kids and help them awaken their own agency in the face of the environmental issues of our age is the calling I have been drawn to. This WSRA conference was a great chance to further broaden the base of knowledge I have as an environmental educator and to allow myself to be impassioned by the numerous individuals out there working towards the betterment of this world. For that I am grateful.”

Barbara Segal   |   Miami University of Ohio
“While I recently finished an MA in conservation biology, where I focused on the effects of solid waste, I had relatively little knowledge about the current trends in recycling to help mitigate these effects. The WSRA conference gave me the opportunity to learn more about current practices in the recycling field and the challenges that industry professionals are working to address. In my first sessions, I asked many questions about terminology that other attendees kindly answered. Some were terms for concepts I already knew, such as MRF (Materials Recycling Facility). Others were concepts that were new to me, such as EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility). I also came in with some familiarity with problems such as consumer mistakes with recycling, and the conference sessions helped me learn more about local and statewide efforts at public education through advertising, social media, or tags on individual residents’ collection containers. The presentations from Oregon Metro, REI, and Starbucks particularly intrigued me. I have never lived in a state with bottle collection. The thoughtful and effective BottleDrop system presented an effective model I hope to see in Washington state in the near future. I gained a better understanding of corporate challenges to more sustainable products from the REI and Starbucks representatives. The move to sustainable products, for both corporations, required reaching out to other organizations to deliver them products that came with less waste or were more easily recycled.
This experience inspired me to seek out ways to volunteer with waste reduction organizations while I am still in my current position. As a current full-time high school English teacher, I will remain with my classes until the end of the school year. Afterwards, I will be applying for employment in the sustainability field.”