Morgridge Center Alumna Develops Organics Recycling Program with Public Service Background

Juna Ly has always been passionate about public health and sustainability.

Her passions eventually turned into her areas of study when she came to UW-Madison. But, as a first generation student, she didn’t know how to get experience in the fields or what a career in public health and sustainability could look like.

That’s when Badger Volunteers became her “foot-in-the-door” to career exploration.

Juna Ly

“I really loved the opportunity to explore and volunteer. That’s just kind of who I am,” Ly says. “I like to just learn and gain new experiences, and that’s what Badger Volunteers gave me the opportunity to do.”

Ly volunteered for a variety of sustainability and environmental organizations during her undergrad through Badger Volunteers, working on everything from water quality projects with the Clean Lakes Alliance to prolonging the life of refrigerators to reduce landfill waste and increase energy efficiency with the city of Fitchburg.

Following her experience in Badger Volunteers, Ly worked as an special events intern for the Morgridge Center until she graduated with a degree in environmental science and a certificate in public health from UW-Madison in 2017.

Since graduating, her journey in sustainability and public service work hasn’t stopped – with its roots stretching back to her time as a volunteer and intern at the Morgridge Center.

“There’s so many ways that public service can show up in life,” she says. “It’s been a foundational element in my career.”

Ly at the 2017 All-Campus Day of Service, when she and fellow intern Gillian McBride (second to left) organized a sustainability-themed booth.

Ly’s first job out of college kept her connected with community engagement at the Science Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota through several different roles. After working at the museum for nearly three years, she was part of an organization-wide layoff due to COVID.

But Ly’s work in public service continues today in the public sector for the Ramsey/Washington County Recycling and Energy Center. As the food scraps recycling coordinator, Ly leads the development of a new residential food scraps pick-up program set to launch in early 2023.

Twenty percent of trash thrown away can be recovered and used to to be turned into compost or create energy. Some local governments like the one Ly works for are hoping to put that waste to better use.

“A lot of us throw away our waste without thinking where it goes next,” she explains.

Climate Justice

Ly says the goal of the food scraps recycling program is to provide an accessible and equitable way for all residents to recycle their food scraps regardless of housing type, city or trash hauler. The free program will allow residents to collect food scraps using special compostable “food scrap bags” that will be co-collected with trash.

Ly conducts community engagement to collect public feedback to ensure mutually beneficial partnerships with the community the program aims to serve – drawing on her experience at the Morgridge Center where she created events for the campus community.

“An exciting part of my job is that I’m doing something that I’m passionate about: coordinating a program but also engaging residents in ways that they can actually take action to reduce their food waste,” Ly says.

Ly says she was lucky to find two homes during her time at UW-Madison – one at the Center for Educational Opportunity as a first-generation college student and another at the Morgridge Center for the opportunities it provided her to discover different career paths.

No matter where students hope to end up in their careers, Ly’s advice to other students is to explore their passions and future professions by connecting with the community.

Ly at a sustainability booth for the All Campus Day of Service in 2017.

Even after graduating, she says volunteering can help students find where they are meant to be in the professional world. The Morgridge Center, she says, is a great place to start that journey at UW-Madison.

“Whatever sector, regardless of what it is, there is some sort of impact to the public,” Ly says. “It’s important to understand the systemic inequality that you might be perpetuating in your work, and so it’s really important to have a foundation rooted in community.”