Amanda Duchesne didn’t think she’d make it as a scientist. But she found her “inner nerd” and now manages trash storage at a Simi Valley landfill.
“I’m a landfill supervisor here with Waste Management,” she says.
It’s Duchesne’s job to make the stuff we toss gets safely stored in its forever home.
“We kind of think of landfills as the dump — you just pile your trash in there,” she told CBS2’s Danielle Gersh. “But that’s not really the case.”
The sanitation trucks line up here to take their turn, rolling up a tall mountain — and then down into a valley where they dump all the stuff we’ve put out on our curb.
“It’s essentially the legacy that we as people are leaving on the planet,” she says.
You know when your trash gets smelly when it sits around too long? That happens when solids become liquid or gas. The scientific name is Leachate, but it’s better known as “trash juice.”
Eventually, that Leachate converts into methane, which can either be harmful or helpful.
“We have about 250 straws under high, high vacuum that are just sucking out the methane to make sure that its going to our gas recovery system,” Duchesne says.
Properly harvested, the methane that comes from our rotting trash can be sold to the power grid or converted “into natural gas [that] powers trucks out there, it powers homes.”
When a landfill reaches capacity, its up to Duchesne to weigh the possibilities.
“Do we want to make them solar power fields, wildlife preserves, golf courses, new hiking trails — just tons of potential.”
Duchesne got her degree in environmental geology. Of all the STEAM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — landfill management relies most on engineering because while these fields appear rock solid, “you’re trash from 50 years ago is underneath it.”
Amanda said she fell in love with the outdoors as a child.
“I just loved the mud and the dirt.”
She spent many teen summers working as a camp counselor. But things got tough when she got to college.
“I remember thinking I’m not going to cut it as a scientist,” she said.
Her advice to aspiring environmentalists is whatever your struggle, “Find that inner nerd and feed it. That’s the biggest advice I can give.”
Waste Management says with a college degree, you could find a job in its engineering or landfill management departments. And with a high school diploma, you can start in trash collection and work all the way up.