Sarah Myers holds a tea bag by a string. “Even this,” she says, “doesn’t have to go in the trash.” She quickly explains that it can be composted, and how. “Oh, this would get eaten right up,” she says.
Over the years, she has become an expert on what doesn’t have to go in the trash.
She worked as a framing carpenter after her 1998 graduation from Carolina, and then joined the Peace Corps in Moldova as a community health educator. “I learned that behavioral change is when you make people aware of what they are doing, figure out where they are in that process, and then encourage them to try something new.”
The experiences dovetailed into a way for Myers to impact the campus she loves. As a carpenter, she’d found herself aghast at the amount of waste driven to the landfill each day. Her Peace Corps training in behavior helped her understand the pushback she would later receive from some construction professionals. “Habits are ingrained – especially if you’re a contractor who has been doing this one way for 30 years.”
Charged in 2002 with minimizing the amount of waste campus construction projects supply to landfills, she included the University’s sustainability requirements in drawings and specifications before a new project begins. During her eight years as the University’s Construction Waste Specialist, Myers used her expertise to divert tens of thousands of tons of materials from landfill disposal.
“Concrete, carpet, metal – it can all be recycled,” she says. At UNC Myers evaluated the types of materials generated by building projects prior to their demolition, educated contractors and designers about the potential to recycle or repurpose those materials and connected them with those specialized markets. The University requires each contractor to submit a waste management plan and monthly report on items salvaged, recycled and landfilled.
Myers says UNC does it best to reuse its project cast-offs – a fire alarm system at Odum Village was used in another University building, and slate roofs and brick pavers have been salvaged for future projects. What cannot find a new life on campus is donated elsewhere. “When we renovated Memorial Hall, a community theatre in Wilmington, NC, received 300 of the building’s old seats.”
It also prepared her for her next step: Builders of Hope, a local nonprofit that renovates houses slated for demolition using green building technology and sells them at cost to low-income families. In the fall of 2010, Myers left UNC for Builders of Hope, where she now supervises and mentors a framing crew, all of whom are in a job training program.
For Myers, this is more than a job. It’s her life. She travels to New Orleans each spring with the non-profit Historic Green. With this organization, she’s using her knowledge and skills to help rebuild the Hurricane Katrina ravaged parts of the Ninth Ward – sustainably.
“Out of this tragedy, the residents of the Lower Ninth became aware of their personal responsibility to lessen their environmental impact. I’m proud to support the efforts of these resilient and hard-working people.”