The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) is involved in all of our lives, mostly in ways that we cannot see. As a “special purpose unit of government” created by the MN Legislature in 1971, WLSSD oversees the wastewater and solid waste services for a 530 square mile region encompassing parts of both St. Louis County and Carlton County. WLSSD was created to help address serious environmental pollution problems in the lower St. Louis River Basin, which is why they are situated in the friendly west end of Duluth. But who are the people doing the work inside of WLSSD?
Emma Pardini is originally from Iowa, but has been traveling north to visit Duluth and the Boundary Waters since a young age. After college, she landed on the North Shore to work as a naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, MN. Emma then took a position at Great Lakes Aquarium and fell in love with Duluth again as an adult. Emma shares how she admires the types of people drawn to this region, who she describes as independent problem-solvers. Emma also notes how special it feels to be in a place with so much green space without loss of culture or community, and how it never gets old driving down the hill and seeing Lake Superior.
“I love that I can walk out my back door in Lincoln Park with an ice cream cone and can still enjoy it by the time I reach a waterfall or a brewery” she says.
This passion for our community continues into her work as an Environmental Program Coordinator. Emma describes how she was drawn to WLSSD because it operates as a part of a tangible vision that helps the community and the environment around us. Within WLSSD’s Environmental Programs, there are five program areas: wastewater, hazardous waste, biosolids, organics, and solid waste reduction and recycling. WLSSD’s programming goal is to reduce the amount of waste from going into the landfills. Emma serves as the coordinator for education, outreach, and communications around solid waste reduction and recycling, and she is excited to work with the community on related projects.
“Do you have objects you don’t know how to recycle? Do you need someone to talk to your class about recycling? Do you want to learn about hosting a zero-waste event? Let’s talk!” Emma adds.
Emma shares how she likes to be in a role where she can problem solve and work in uncommon situations. Since WLSSD is both a water treatment plant and a solid waste authority, the behind-the-scenes work is very scientific. Although it might seem like magic, WLSSD staff have to adapt as what is being sent through the system changes and fluctuates.
Emma recognizes the difficulty in staying up-to-date with the most recent practices and technologies of recycling. She talks to many people who have tried so hard to recycle correctly, but who get confused with ever changing information. Emma explains that this information can be different depending on current product ingredients, the value of recycled materials, and new technologies available to recycle materials. She is always ready to talk with people about recycling and finds staying curious as her solution for navigating our changing world.
Emma approaches most things with curiosity and excitement, which makes her role at WLSSD a good fit. She enjoys exploring the line between culture and nature, discovering ways businesses can help create more sustainable communities, and admiring how everything in nature is connected in self-sustaining systems. The scientific aspect of WLSSD combines with creative puzzle solving to reduce waste in our community and maintain low costs for residents.