Housekeeper Naila Smajic’s Unique Approach to Recycling Education

Have you ever seen a contaminated recycling bin and felt a twinge in your heart? Perhaps given it a sad look, sighed, and moved on?

It is a common reaction, but one that Naila Smajic transcended. A staff member on the Housekeeping team on the South 40, Smajic encounters a lot of misrouted waste, yet her commitment to recycling and sustainability is especially visible– but not in the way you might think.

Rather than sending an angry email or turning a blind eye to the contamination, she found a more effective, and potentially more frightening, way to educate her peers. Smajic has gained notoriety in her division for pinning up mis-sorted waste around the workplace with a note explaining why they made it to the wall. The display serves as a kind warning to co-workers to be mindful of where they put their trash, lest their mistake is picked as an example for the rest of the staff.

Justin Linsenmeyer, Assistant Housekeeping Manager for Residential Life, feels grateful to have Naila on the team. “Naila leads by example and tremendously impacted the recycling initiative in our department. Her inventive way of visually educating our staff by posting items directly from our landfill can onto the wall offers a lighthearted approach to education which has carried over into Residential Colleges.”

In addition, Smajic helped to establish the Zero Waste Employee Events program– an effort to eliminate disposable products at all departmental events. She lobbied for a dishwasher to be installed in her department’s common space, allowing them to reduce waste even more by cutting out disposable and single-use dishware and replacing it with reusable, washable utensils. Linsenmeyer emphasizes that “she’s a leader that walks the walk and talks the talk and has helped champion our pledge to remain at Platinum Green Office status. Everyone benefits from Naila’s hard work and dedication and we’re very fortunate to have her on our team!”

In addition to reducing waste within her own department, Smajic also works to cut down on student waste. Ever notice the piles of utensils, furniture, clothes, and other household objects piled outside during move-out week? Well, she is a member on a team that works to find a home for these goods

“At move-out I saw a lot of books, paper, household items, and many other things that could be recycled being thrown into landfill containers. That really upset me. I want to help divert as much landfill as I can because we have to lookout for our children and think about what type of world we’re leaving them.” 

The housekeeping division continues to work on sustainability efforts by promoting and increasing composting on the South 40, recruiting new Bearly Drivers members within the department and with campus partners, and continuing to increase staff participation in their office bike-sharing program.

Nalia was also featured in a Student Life article back in 2012 about the history of refugees finding jobs at WashU.

This article was written by Natalie Snyder, Communication Associate at the Office of Sustainability.