What to do with an environmental/geography degree? Solid Waste Officer

Nana Adjei is a Solid Waste Officer with the City of Brockville. He finished his Bachelor's in Environmental Studies in 2015 and his Master's in Environmental Studies in 2018.

It doesn't get more "environmental" than trying to reduce solid waste. What is the job like?

When I was with the city of Toronto, everything was working towards the City’s Long Term Waste Management Strategy to achieve a 70% diversion rate by 2026.

Today I work with the City of Brockville on solid waste diversion projects with the city - trying to find alternatives to the landfill. Part of the job is research - keeping up to date on what the options are for solid waste diversion and what might work for the city. My day to day task involves: waste planning, budgeting, landfill management, research and report writing, overseeing contractors, addressing complaints, and management of the compost site.

Tell us your work journey after the degree: what went well? What was challenging?

In the beginning it was tough because I did not “fix” my resume well and I was lacking interview skills. I approached Professor Jose Etcheverry at the faculty for advice and he told me one thing: “Nana, remember you make up your own resume” and that will get you jobs you like. Once you have that figured out, you focus on that area of interest and become good at it by reading more on it. I won’t lie, I failed a couple of times and it made me a better person today.

How did you use what you learned? When did you feel like “I wish that they had taught me about this in university!”

At the job site we did a lot of impact assessment reports. I understood the theoretical aspect from York University but never did the practical aspect until I started working for the City. I wish that at my time there was a course on waste planning, blue box programs, details about how solid waste systems work in cities. A course like that would have put me more on the edge, but the Environmental Auditing course was great because I learnt about waste auditing and safety.

Thinking back to when you were in high school, what made you want to get into this? How does what you are doing match, and differ, from what you thought?

Coming from Ghana where the “3Rs” - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle were hard to implement due to financial constraints and competition for national resources got me into environment because we send everything to landfills. I currently apply what I studied at York in my new position with the City as a Supervisor Solid Waste Officer. I am glad I found my niche.

Any other advice for people thinking of an undergrad environmental degree?

The environment is a broad field, so my advice is take as many courses and broaden your knowledge till you find your niche and focus on that area and become good at it.