Catalyst Fellow Nora Bundy: A focus on sustainable waste management
Nora Bundy, a second-year University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) master’s student specializing in Sustainable Systems, was one of the nine graduate students awarded the Catalyst Leadership Circle Fellowship in Summer 2023. Bundy is a dual-degree student with SEAS and the U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, which she applied to after honing her academic and professional interests at SEAS. She is particularly interested in building materials reuse and deconstruction, and through her experiences at SEAS and with the Catalyst Fellowship, she learned that many professionals with similar interests are also interested in urban and regional planning.
The Catalyst Fellowship is a statewide summer internship program for graduate students interested in sustainability and local governments. The program provides students with the opportunity to work with local mentors who represent the city or region and who can provide technical expertise. The cities that host Catalyst Fellows must outline a project that would help the city obtain sustainability and decarbonization goals. These projects vary, but each addresses a specific need in the community that Fellows work to address throughout the 10-week program.
“If you are particularly interested in the subject of a proposed project or local government structure and function, this program is the perfect opportunity because you will learn so much throughout the intense 10-week period,” says Bundy.
Not only does the Catalyst program provide academic and professional opportunities for graduate students, but the cities involved also benefit greatly from the execution of these projects.
Bundy applied for the fellowship last year after encouragement from Taubman alum Michelle Marin (MURP ’23). Marin worked for the City of Ferndale at the time, and the city’s defined needs and proposed project aligned perfectly with Bundy’s interests. The application process for the award takes into consideration students’ academic and professional backgrounds as well as their personal project preferences. Committed to sustainable waste management, Bundy showed preference for the Ferndale project. “It was the only project I wanted to do,” she says.
The project primarily focused on commercial sanitation and recycling. As a Catalyst Fellow, Bundy worked on the distribution of the cost of waste and recycling disposal within the city. Her work identified the need for a funding structure change in waste disposal. She identified that Michigan landfills charge by weight for disposal, but city rates do not reflect this price accountability. The Fellowship requires students to present a final report at the end of the 10-week period. Bundy’s report outlined what it would look like for the city to alter its waste management to a tiered system based on the amount of waste produced for different types of businesses.
After her time with the Ferndale project, Bundy reflected on what she learned from the program and how it impacted her goals as a SEAS student and future sustainability professional. Through her work as a Catalyst Fellow, Bundy saw in action the value of collectivization of local governments and how collaboration between municipalities can change the waste system.
“If you are in a position of a smaller city, sometimes you don’t have a lot of agency in waste disposal,” she notes. “Collectivization [of regional municipalities] increases agency and power and allows local governments much more say in waste management practices.”
Bundy hopes to apply this experience and her new understanding of commercial sanitation to further research about regional cooperation in the waste sector.