Lynsey Kocenko started her career as a high school intern with the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, where over the past 14 years she has continued to rise in the organization. She is now the facility manager of the Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington, Del.
Kocenko has overseen several multi-million dollar capping and expansion projects that used innovative approaches to make the landfill cleaner and safer and increase its capacity. Recently, she was named as a Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient because of her commitment to continually learning, trying new strategies, and creating solutions.
“Every one of us in the industry has been given opportunities along the way, but Lynsey finds a way to turn those opportunities into success. It is no accident or just luck. She has worked hard to make an impact on the waste industry,” says 40 Under 40 award nominator John Welch, Solid Waste Manager, Dane County (Wisc.).
In this interview, Kocenko discusses finding her way in the industry and the award-winning $100 million construction project she managed to provide an additional 20 years of capacity at the Cherry Island Landfill.
Waste360: How long have you been with the agency?
Lynsey Kocenko: I started when I was 17. I actually started in the engineering department as the secretary. My goal was to be a corporate lawyer for Coors Light, that was my dream job, and then I got the job here as the intern. I was reading all the letters that I was writing and I thought, “Wow, this stuff is really interesting.” So, I switched my major to engineering and I never left the company. I’ve been here quite some time.
Waste360: What are some things that you found interesting about working there when you were just starting out?
Lynsey Kocenko: Being in the trash business definitely is a completely different field. I was not aware of what happened to my trash after I put it on the curb. Now, working for the company you get a real understanding. It’s not just that you put it on the curb and it disappears. I didn’t realize at that point and time how much planning and how much engineering, how much government control is all involved, and the public welfare and all of that. There were a lot of different items that came into play that I was unaware of which then became intriguing to me. You can come in to work and learn something new every day. That’s what I liked about it.
Waste360: What do you think has been a deciding moment that helped to propel you to the next level and really sink your teeth in to this career?
Lynsey Kocenko: After I was intern, I worked in the engineering portion of our company. I had the opportunity to be the project manager for a $100 million project that was installing a massive Mechanically Stabilized Earth (MSE) berm at the landfill that I’m at now. It was one of the five finalists to win the ASCE [American Society of Civil Engineers] national award, which is like the Emmys for engineering. This was the first time that a landfill project had ever been nominated. It was a very big deal.
I had the joy of being able to oversee all of that. It was a huge moment for everybody involved. It was neat to see that. The trash world gets underrated I think a lot of the time, so it was nice to see a good accolade that we could portray to everybody else.
The Cherry Island Landfill is located on a confluence of two rivers so you are limited by the footprint. We built this very large, 8,000-ft. long, 70-ft. high MSE wall. It allowed us to have a very steep side slope on the outside of the property, basically on the river’s edge. Now we can place waste against that wall to give us more capacity. We gained almost 20 years of capacity by installing this MSE wall. It was one of the largest berms built over soft subsoil in the United States.
It was a very big project. It took us a million years to get it permitted and by the time we got it permitted it was six years of construction. I spent a lot of time and a lot of my life working on this one particular project, but it was an amazing project. Honestly, I probably will never have another project that is that in-depth again. That was like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity.
Waste360: What do you wish people in your community knew about landfills or the services you’re providing for them?
Lynsey Kocenko: The sheer fact of the amount of effort that is involved. I think it would be good to have residents really understand the process from the planning stages and the amount of work that goes into figuring out how you’re going to handle it. [You have to] then follow through on the construction aspect of it, and then follow through on properly placing it, and making sure that you’re following your permit and that you’re doing everything that’s environmentally safe for the residents.
Waste360: Do you do educational outreach about your programs?
Lynsey Kocenko: We do. Right now it’s more geared towards elementary students.
Waste360: Why do you think it’s important to reach the young kids?
Lynsey Kocenko: They are the future. That’s the next generation that’s going to be caring for this planet.
Getting the kids excited about it now will then foster them to continue to do it through their later years.