Kat McCarthy ’05 was studying technical theatre at Ithaca College when she had a realization.

“It dawned on me that we were building three [theatre] sets a year, taking them apart, and putting them in a dumpster, and that was the end of them,” she says. She joined the Ithaca College Environmental Society (ICES) and started working for the College’s Resource and Environmental Management Program (REMP). “I began to see that making some basic changes in the way people view waste can have a very broad impact on the environment.”

After graduating from IC, McCarthy landed a part-time position at the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division to carry out a research project. As the position expanded, so did McCarthy’s workload. She found that a lot of the programs she had worked on with REMP were being implemented by her employer. She eventually became the waste reduction and recycling specialist for the division.

“Computer equipment, appliances, phones and TVs, scrap metal, yard waste, batteries, cardboard, glass, and paper are all things that people discard,” says McCarthy. “What we try to do is help them understand that these used items aren’t waste but resources. If we practice the 4Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuy—then we’ve redefined a material’s usefulness and given a new perspective to what we might otherwise consider to be waste. Anything you can do to keep a material useful and take it out of the waste stream makes sense financially, environmentally, and socially.”

The United Nations estimates that people worldwide produce more than 1 billion tons of waste a year. In response, the organization launched the Environment Programme, which focuses on ways to minimize waste, often by converting it into a resource.

McCarthy is one of several IC alumni who are working to find new uses for waste. Another alumnus, Christopher Bodkin ’11, is working with hospitals across the United States to reduce and reuse waste, and in Bangladesh, Shams-il Islam ’06 is making a business model of turning trash into fertilizer.


Read more about Kat McCarthy '05 and Tompkins County Solid Waste Management

Read more about Christopher Bodkin ’11 and his business that recycles hospital surgical tape

Read more about Shams-il Islam ’06 who is helping garbage grow the economy in Bangladesh


– Keith Davis