Zero-waste project manager has the planet's best interests at heart

Zero-waste project manager has the planet's best interests at heart

F rom a young age, Emma Brodzik, ’17, felt a strong connection to nature. She understood the importance of repurposing materials to help the environment. Now she works in the Office of Solid Waste Management and Recycling at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Sustainability has always been interesting to me,” she said. “I used to ask my parents to drive me to recycling stations when we moved to Georgia, because our neighborhood didn't have a pickup.” 

Emma Brodzik (second from left) receives an SGA award.
Emma Brodzik (second from left) receives an SGA award.

At Georgia College, Brodzik was an economics major. She liked being active and was involved in the business fraternity (Delta Sigma Pi), Economics Club, Honors Program and the Sustainability Committee. But the organization that made the most impact on her was Student Government Association (SGA), where she served as director of Environmental Affairs.

“It was one of my first leadership positions, so that experience helped me develop those skills,” Brodzik said. “I was able to grow in it, and eventually mentor an under classman who I'm still friends with.”

During that time, she learned a lot about campus by networking and working with others. 

Emma Brodzik plants blueberry bushes at Georgia College.
Emma Brodzik plants blueberry bushes at Georgia College.

“We had discussions with leadership to figure things out with different restrictive resource constraints,” Brodzik said. “We made sustainability possible, even for people who may not have had an interest in it.”

She also served as a student assistant in the Office of Sustainability. SGA helped connect her to that position. Brodzik learned how that office works throughout campus, connecting with other departments to get things done. This collaboration led to her help pilot a recycling program on campus that has continued to grow and flourish.

Brodzik learned many different concepts about sustainability and leadership at Georgia College that she applies in her role today. 

She met regularly with campus leadership and participated in planting trees or collecting boxes and recycling cardboard during move-in day. Brodzik has applied what she learned to her career, working as a zero-waste project manager at Georgia Tech.

“I still try to be very hands on with different programs in my profession,” she said. “I oversee our solid waste contract with our vendor haulers. Georgia Tech also has a recycling crew.  We collect different materials, whether they're traditional or hard-to-recycle items, like paper and plastic or Styrofoam® and scrap metal from different fabrication labs.”

Her work touches on all departments including housing, dining, offices, labs and more. Brodzik finds the best ways for individuals to recycle materials they have and works closely with their Office of Campus Sustainability on policies and materials that the campus buys or distributes, like packaging through the dining halls.

“I'm still involved in move-in recycling, as I was as an undergrad,” she said. 

Brodzik facilitates a source-separated program, where the university markets recyclables to Southeast manufacturers who have a demand for recycled items for their production processes. Glass goes to a glass recycler and paper and cardboard go to a paper processor. She oversees more than 150 dumpster sites and 20 to 30 contractor roll-offs. 

“At their core, these items are trees, petroleum-based plastics and other elements that have been taken from the Earth. We have to ask ourselves, ‘How we can have a good quality of life, while not depleting the Earth of these resources?’”
– Emma Brodzik

Her biggest accomplishment is expanding the AWARE (Actively Working to Achieve Resource Efficiency) program—an individual desk-side recycling program where office occupants must empty their waste, recycling from their desk and communal areas. Brodzik expanded AWARE from 20 buildings to all buildings across campus during the COVID pandemic to alleviate pressure on the custodial team. 

Emma Brodzik at work.
Emma Brodzik at work.

“This helps increase the collection of recycling and the sortation of materials, so we can capture more recycling instead of everything being collected in the trash,” she said. 

This process allowed Georgia Tech to reallocate labor time and reduce materials purchased. It also increased its recycling collection. Even as the pandemic wanes, it’s a policy that will remain on campus.

“Waste and recycling are very visual and tangible,” Brodzik said. “You can see the impact, tonnage of material you've collected and the manufacturers’ recycling facilities that the items go to. That’s always been most interesting to me versus something that's more ambiguous like carbon offsets.” 

Emma Brodzik encourages others to recycle at a Georgia Tech game.
Emma Brodzik encourages others to recycle at a Georgia Tech game.

Brodzik was selected for several scholarships through the Georgia College Foundation and the Georgia Recycling Coalition. This made her feel supported for the leadership effort, time and dedication she put into her projects. Now, she pays this forward, so others can feel the same way by offering a scholarship to Georgia College students involved in sustainability.

“Sustainability can be kind of daunting, and there's a lot of ominous news about what's going to happen in the future,” Brodzik said. “Having some support and feeling recognized in that work is very beneficial for students.”

“I hope they feel encouraged and supported in their efforts,” she said, “and also feel their work in sustainability is important enough to continue practicing after graduating.”

Brodzik continues to have a deep attachment to nature and conservation. It’s impactful to her to figure out how materials can be repurposed multiple times or in the best way.

“At their core, these items are trees, petroleum-based plastics and other elements that have been taken from the Earth,” Brodzik said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘How we can have a good quality of life, while not depleting the Earth of these resources?’”