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Agency Update - Fall 2018

What's in the Garbage? A Lot Less 'Good Stuff'

Waste Characterization Study

According to our new countywide Waste Characterization Study, progress has been made in decreasing the amount of "good stuff" in the garbage. One of the most promising improvements was in the residential sector, with a 41% overall decrease of recyclables and organics in the garbage since the study was last conducted in 2008. While this is good news, the findings also illuminate challenges facing the industry and county moving forward. 

Local Nonprofit Helps Stop Food Waste

Community Impact Lab

As part of our Community Outreach Grant program, four Alameda County nonprofits are engaging their communities to reduce wasted food through the Stop Food Waste Challenge, workshops, and more. One of those is San Leandro-based nonprofit Community Impact Lab, a diverse group of over 750 families that empowers its members to tackle disparities in their communities. 

Student Green Teams Take Action to Reduce Waste

Joaquin Miller Elementary School students and staff recently came together during an assembly to kick off a new movement to reduce wasted food at their school. With support from StopWaste and the school's Green Team, students and staff are taking action to ensure that edible food isn’t wasted through a new food share and donation program. Organizers also took the opportunity to educate students about the issue of food insecurity and the importance of nourishing themselves at school. 

Employee Spotlight

Justin Lehrer

Senior Management Analyst

Justin Lehrer joined StopWaste in 2004 working on waste prevention planning and home composting bin distribution. He now leads the packaging team and supports strategic planning. He previously worked for the County of San Mateo as the County Facilities Recycling Coordinator and for Booz-Allen & Hamilton as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He graduated from the University of Vermont and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Natural Resources and Business Administration.

What do you do at StopWaste?

I wear a couple of different hats here. One of my primary roles is to lead our packaging team; we are trying to drive more sustainable packaging choices for the businesses and residents of Alameda County. We especially try to increase reusable packaging, whether reusable bags, food packaging, or transport packaging like pallets. 

Another role that I play is in strategic planning for the agency. I like this because it's important to look up from our day-to-day work every now and then, see the forest for the trees and ensure that our programs are aligned with our mission, budget, and the needs of our member agencies, businesses, and residents of the county. Our two-year priority-setting process has helped us become more nimble and able to adapt to changing conditions and needs.

What is your favorite part of working at StopWaste?

I appreciate our unique structure and the flexibility we have to pursue innovative approaches and solutions. I like having the opportunity to influence and contribute to good environmental policy. But what I really love is that I get to work with such an amazing group of smart and thoughtful colleagues. I enjoy this work and I am grateful for that!

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry today?

Recent policy changes in China that have effectively closed the doors on most of our export of mixed recyclables are currently a big challenge, but also an opportunity to reemphasize the importance of recycling correctly, and to redouble our efforts at waste prevention, or reducing the amount of "stuff' that is produced and consumed. Plastic packaging is also having a moment especially as it relates to ocean pollution, and there is an opportunity to take advantage of increased public awareness to encourage significant changes in our consumption of plastics. 
What is your slogan that you live by?

"Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." I have also always liked the slogan, "Solid waste is the visible face of inefficiency." 

How has working at StopWaste impacted you?

I've learned more patience; meaningful change takes time. Whether you're working with businesses or residents, it takes time, creativity, and flexibility to change norms and habits. I've been here 14 years and I'm still learning and growing every day. 

What do you do when not working?

I mostly spend time with my family--my wife and two kids ages 6 and 8—enjoying the great diversity of things to do in the Bay Area. I also like to help my kids tinker and make art and inventions out of all the random bits and parts we accumulate that I can't bear to throw away.