Jessica Aldridge came to the waste management field with a background in theater production. When she moved to Los Angeles with the intention of furthering her career in the entertainment industry, she took a part-time job at a hospital, where she volunteered for the hospital’s green team.
Aldridge met the coordinator of the Burbank Recycle Center, who helped her to refine the hospital’s green team plan. When a temporary position at the center opened up, she took it. Aldridge acted as the zero waste coordinator and helped to start a business alliance focused on greening practices.
Now, Aldridge is the sustainability manager at Athens Services. She was recently named a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient because of her innovative approaches to working with members of the community, businesses and municipalities to advance zero waste efforts in Los Angeles.
“In 2014, she initiated Los Angeles’ first-ever Food Scrap Recovery Pilot for large multi-family dwellings. Responding to the urgent need to divert clean organics from the landfill, she created an easy-to-use, solutions-oriented program that could be implemented not only city wide, but by dwellings throughout SoCal. The pilot resulted in a food scrap diversion rate of 93 percent,” says Eric Romero, director, sales and marketing for Athens Services.
Aldridge talks with Waste360 about making a difference, changing the way people view waste and her quest for zero waste in Los Angeles.
Waste360: What are your main areas of oversight and responsibility at Athens Services?
Jessica Aldridge: As the sustainability manager, I oversee pilot programs and implementing programs that we know we are eventually going to need to roll out on a larger level such as organic collection programs, specifically for schools and multifamily residences.
We were the first hauler in the City of Los Angeles to implement, of our own accord, a full-scale multifamily residential food scrap collection program. I assist account managers with large clients that have a sustainability plan and look at what the clients’ goals are so I can assist the account manager in understanding how best to move that material.
I also do a lot of the education outreach programs for our company. I do newsletters and help with creating and editing marketing materials. And then, I do a lot of the writing of our proposals.
Waste360: What are some strategies Athens Services has deployed with your clients to help achieve zero waste in Los Angeles?
Jessica Aldridge: The biggest thing for waste in Los Angeles, and the whole country, is organics and being able to look at the system and say, ‘How are we going to be able to get this material out of here?’
Zero waste is not just about reducing the amount of waste you create, it’s also about no burn or bury; it’s about no run-off into the water; no air pollution; and conscious consumerism. It’s not just about diversion overall or reaching 90 percent or better. It’s a holistic model. It’s creating closed loop solutions.
Athens Services has been implementing zero waste programs that include the organics collection and processing at multifamily residences. That requires figuring out how you work in social systems and how your education has to change throughout those social systems to figure out what works best for [different people].
Waste360: What has worked with multifamily residential buildings to get people on board?
Jessica Aldridge: It’s got to be a symbiotic relationship between management, maintenance and the residents because if you don’t have all of those people in line the program will not work. It requires sitting down with people and asking, ‘How does your system work?’
What we found works really well is that about month before the kick-off you acclimate residents. We partner with EcoSafe Zero Waste which provides bags and kitchen caddies, and we have found that the kitchen caddies are beyond important. No one is going to be collecting these organic scraps in their kitchen and not have something to put them in. They will use a bag; but we have to give it to them. So, the tools and infrastructure have to be there. They have to be able to have that in their hands.
Waste360: What opportunities for growth do you see in the zero waste arena?
Jessica Aldridge: Businesses are already becoming aware of their footprint. Now, they need someone to manage that for them. They need expertise in that area. You see major companies that are bringing on people not just in the sustainability world, but they are fracturing off into different branches because the sustainability person cannot oversee the entire sustainability program. So, you’re seeing zero waste experts at the corporate level.
Also at schools. Schools now are not just having a sustainability person; they have a sustainability department, and then they have a zero waste resource management expert.
I think you’re going to see it continue to grow and be more supported throughout the corporate system.
Waste360: What would you say was a deciding moment that pushed you to the next level of your career?
Jessica Aldridge: Two things. I love the zero waste community so much. When I came into this, I asked for help every step of the way. I’ve had so many mentors along the way to keep pushing me. They were influential in such a positive way.
I love to travel. I started photographing, blogging and recording my experiences while traveling the world. [My partner and I] started traveling to third world countries, where you see that the infrastructure is not there. All of this material is being given to them without the infrastructure being in place; all of this material that they have never had to deal with before. It’s a situation where waste is so prevalent and such a hard problem for the community. There’s a greater issue here and I want to be a part of the solution.