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Castro Valley Sanitary District’s Lue Exudes Passion for Zero Waste Future

Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient Naomi Lue discusses her work, inspirations and passion for zero waste.

Dynamic, creative and media-savvy industry veteran Naomi Lue has a passion for educating people about waste reduction and recycling.

Among her many achievements, Lue is a recent graduate of Leadership California's California Issues and Trends Program. Working as zero waste supervisor at Castro Valley Sanitary (CVSan) District, Lue has won numerous awards for CVSan's zero waste initiatives. In addition, she has produced a series of animated videos championing waste reduction and recycling.

"I've been impressed by Naomi's maturity and vision for the future," says Junna Ro, vice president and associate general counsel at CSAA Insurance Group in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Ro, who participated alongside Lue in the Leadership California program, says Lue "uses her unique perspective in environmental science and design to develop experiences, programs and communication pieces for her community that are clear and catchy. In addition to being one that others want to follow, over the past decade, she has mentored and nurtured colleagues, interns and students toward their professional and personal development."

"I believe Naomi has set a very high bar today for public zero waste programs that engage and educate her community, and she will continue to expand how the public considers their lifestyle habits and connection between self-worth, consumption, material possessions and stewardship," adds Ro. "I admire her for her willingness to be out in front, and I look forward to seeing how she will be amplified to reach a wider audience."

We recently spoke with Lue, a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, about her work, her inspirations and her passion for zero waste.

Waste360: Tell us about your experience with Leadership California and its California Issues and Trends Program. How did you come to be a part of the program? What's the process?

Naomi Lue: I believe that learning never stops, so I looked up opportunities online for women's leadership and talent development. After I learned about Leadership California, I applied for the class of 2018 and was accepted. They select 60 women each year to participate. I developed professional relationships with diverse, extraordinary women from both the private and public sectors.

Waste360: Let's talk about Leadership California's quarterly education sessions. For you, what was the most useful topic covered? What was your key takeaway?

Naomi Lue: Throughout the year, our group met in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Each city had a specific topical theme. For example, in Sacramento, the focus was on California's dynamic government. Our group received presentations from more than a dozen California state senators on their key issues, and we toured the Senate and Assembly floors. We toured a Native American farm and olive oil mill and interacted with a panel of women tribal leaders. It was an honor to be invited onto tribal land—that was a first for me. The three women explained the structure of tribal leadership of the First Nations, dispelled myths and explained about being in the USA, a nation within a nation. One step local governments could make would be to confirm the land its public buildings are on and install a plaque recognizing the first peoples.

Waste360: As zero waste supervisor for the Castro Valley Sanitary District, what's your most important responsibility?

Naomi Lue: I love music and design in addition to the environment and science. So, using music as a metaphor, my most important responsibility is to have my finger on the pulse of what's now and what's to come.

Waste360: Let's talk about the "Say Hello to CVSan's Zero Waste Friends" video featuring the CVSan animation characters Zero, Again, Blue, Green and Little Miss Reduce. Which character, if any, do you most closely identify with? Why?

Naomi Lue: Yes! I just got word a couple days ago that we're a finalist for a CAPIO [California Association of Public Information Officials] award for our animation. We'll find out in a few weeks what award we won. I identify most closely with Zero. She has a mother nature vibe and wants to help others learn about the four R's—reduce, reuse, recycle and rot—so they can select their path to zero waste. As a mother, I often think about what kind of environment future generations will live in.

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Waste360: What's the most rewarding thing you've done in your time working for CVSan?

Naomi Lue: I grew up in Castro Valley, so it's been incredibly rewarding to serve my community. The most rewarding part of my career at CVSan has been seeing the creation of zero waste programs that neighbors, friends and community members participate in and remember in a positive way.

Waste360: What's the most fun thing you've done while working at CVSan?

Naomi Lue: When I think of fun, I think of our department's quarterly sharing and innovation meetings. We come together to share ideas from inside or outside our industry and come up with innovative ideas and solutions to challenging situations. One of my colleagues says it's like Christmas every quarter because we unwrap ideas and give them to one another. For a zero waster, that's the best kind of gift. We've watched inspiring Netflix documentaries and thrown out wild ideas that have resulted in incredible pilots and projects. It's a safe space where we're free of judgment and can incubate innovation.

Waste360: You've been active in the waste industry for 16 years. Do you envision yourself doing anything different, outside the industry, in the future?

Naomi Lue: As an American of Asian descent, I would love the opportunity to be an ambassador for healthy, creative and sustainable lifestyles and share that message with people here at home and throughout countries in Asia.

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