Sandy Skolochenko – Class of 2004
Recycling and Materials Management, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

To put it simply: I work to improve recycling for the entire state of North Carolina. As unglamorous as it sounds to deal with people’s discards, I love what I do and think it’s an exciting time to work in the world of trash. I work with a team of 9 other passionate people who make up the state’s recycling program in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

Think about how many times per day every person throws something away. The work we do helps North Carolinians have more opportunities to recycle, compost, or avoid trash in the first place whether they’re at home, at work or out in public. Even the smallest daily changes lead to big impacts when they’re made by enough people. Recycling keeps materials in motion and puts them back into the economy. It creates jobs, supports local manufacturing, conserves resources, the list goes on.

My job covers the whole state so I have the opportunity to travel quite a bit to meet with local governments and tour recycling businesses. Our office is based in Raleigh and after working there for 3 years I was able to move back to Burke County where I work from home but still travel and check in at the Raleigh office every month or so. Our office work varies quite a bit which keeps it interesting. We offer grant programs to improve recycling, collect data and write reports, and connect businesses that generate recyclables with companies that manage them. This year we’re working on a statewide campaign to reduce food waste.

After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to study until halfway through sophomore year at UNC-Chapel Hill I took a class about city planning and decided I would major in environmental science so I could focus on sustainability. My mom jokingly asked me what I would do with that degree: Be a trash-lady? I told her no way: I was going to plan the cities of the future. I should never have doubted the intuition of a mother.

After five years working in Washington, DC, on all things sustainability, I found myself most excited about the recycling and composting work I was doing. When I was ready for a job change, I moved back to North Carolina and ran the recycling program for Chatham County for a few years and then moved to my current position working for the state.

Looking back on my time at East Burke, I had teachers that were great educators, mentors and examples. Mrs. Lisa Wall, Mrs. Susan Rudicill and Mrs. Katie St. Claire managed to bring fun assignments to my not-so-favorite subjects of English and physics. Mrs. Lucille Bond, Mrs. Ramona Barus, Mr. Jimmy Hipps and Coach Brian Jillings ran tight ships, teaching me to be accountable and prepared. Dr. Mac’s (Dr. Robert McAdams) class was the best preparation for college, but more importantly, he is an example of how to live life with kindness, compassion and authenticity.

I’m also grateful to many of my earlier teachers like Mrs. Marie Mitchell, Mrs. Setzer and Principal Ernest Stone from Valdese Elementary who pushed me to be creative and be myself, even if I was a little goofy and quirky.

While I couldn’t wait to leave this town when I packed up for college at 18, I’m so glad to have moved back 3 years ago and have enjoyed catching up with some of my teachers, running into them around town.

I can’t end this article without a PSA about recycling! Find out what belongs in your community’s recycling program and put only those things in the recycling bin. Putting trash or bagged recyclables in the bin hurts the entire system and makes it all cost more. Check this website to find out.

Published April 2022

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