The average college student discards 640 pounds of waste annually, with the bulk of the waste generated in May and June when students move out of campus at the end of a school year. Instead of taking their belongings — clothes, books, foods and even furniture — back with them, many students simply throw away these items. It’s much easier to throw things away rather than lug them around, but this practice exacts a heavy toll on the environment.
Fortunately, many universities and their students are making a concerted effort to help the environment by reducing the waste generated around this time of year, year in year out.
In this article, we highlight eight universities with strong sustainability ethos and their efforts to tackle the mountains of waste generated by students moving out of campus each year.
1. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech first adopted its annual Move-In/Move-Out program in 1998 at the behest of Cynthia Jackson, the associate director of the Office of Solid Waste Management and Recycling.
Jackson, who had just joined Georgia Tech and had experience with a similar program while she was employed at Auburn University, wanted to reduce the waste generated by nearly 10,000 students moving out each year.
“I saw a need to divert from the landfill reusable items that could help the life of others,” said Jackson.
Georgia Tech’s effort was recognized in 2009 when it was awarded first place in the Waste Reduction and Recycling category of the Keep Georgia Beautiful 2009 Awards Program.
The Office of Solid Waste Management & Recycling makes recycling easy during Move-In by making bins easy to spot and convenient to use. Recycling bins for cardboard are placed on 31 recycling sites across campus residential areas to maximize recycling during Move-In.
During spring Move-Out, it is also easy for students to donate unwanted items instead of throwing them away. Collection sites are set up in convenient locations for students to place items, including paper, nonperishable food, clothing and household goods.
Up until 2014, when Georgia Tech students got involved in the program, these items were sorted and donated to several local non-profit organizations, including Salvation Army and the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
In 2014, however, Jackson and her team partnered with Tech Treasures, a student-led initiative that brings Goodwill collection trucks to collect items that students don’t want to take back with them, including futons, mini fridges and clothes.
The program started with Goodwill sending 3 trucks in 2014, which increased to 6 trucks this year. The Goodwill trucks, which are manned by Goodwill representatives from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., are placed in certain locations on campus for 5 days. To encourage donations, however, Georgia Tech staff make it possible for students to leave their donated items next to the Goodwill trucks after hours, which are secured and then transferred to Goodwill trucks. Georgia Tech doesn’t have the details for 2017 Move-Out, which happened earlier this month, but reported that the program donated 14.4 tons of items to Goodwill in 2016.
Last year, the Move-Out program also teamed up with Klemis Kitchen, an initiative to help hungry Georgia Tech students. Instead of sending nonperishable goods to Atlanta Food Bank, Jackson and her team send these items to Klemis Kitchen, which are then distributed to food-insecure students at Georgia Tech. While Atlanta Food Bank serves a need, Jackson thinks it’s important to support Klemis Kitchen, as the food “goes from students to students.” The 2016’s Move-Out led to donations of 534 pounds of nonperishable food items to Klemis Kitchen.
2. University of California, Davis
At UC Davis, waste is treated as a resource so it’s not surprising that it was the first university to set a “zero waste” goal for a stadium when its new Aggie Stadium opened in 2007.
UC Davis aims for zero waste by 2020, so no trash (other than medical and hazardous waste from research and medical projects) would be sent to the landfill at all by then. It is estimated that the elimination of nonhazardous solid waste could save 6,779 tons from the landfill each year.
The university’s focus on campus waste reduction goes all the way back to 1975 with the opening of Aggie Reuse Store (formerly Bargain Barn), an on-campus thrift shop, to enable it to dispose of surplus property in a responsible way.
Another UC Davis sustainable program is Aggie Surplus, which repurposes surplus equipment, furniture and supplies and sells them to university departments as well as the public. Aggie Surplus currently sells about 8,000 items and recycles around 120 tons of electronic waste each year.
In addition, UC Davis also focuses on the waste generated by students moving in and out of campus.
In 2014, a Move-In drive resulted in students recycling 16,638 pounds of cardboard and 487 pounds of packing foam, representing 61 percent of total waste that would have gone to the landfill, and a Move-Out drive led to students donating 16,840 pounds of items, including 2,362 pounds of nonperishable food.
This year’s Move-Out Donation Drive will be held from June 12-15. Non-food items will be donated to Goodwill and the Aggie Reuse Store, while nonperishable food items will be donated to Food Bank of Yolo County.
3. Kalamazoo College
Kalamazoo College takes sustainability seriously; it is embedded in the college’s culture, and constitutes one of its four Honor Code. The code, entitled Accepting Environmental Responsibility, mandates:
To maintain and improve the condition of our physical environment, we commit ourselves to the respectful and prudent stewardship of our community’s material and natural resources.
In June of each year, KC’s Residential Life and Recycling collects items discarded by students moving out. These items are then brought to the Resource Exchange Program (REP), which holds clothing swaps throughout the year and summer furniture sale in July/August, or are recycled.
KC also accepts donations of bicycles, refurbishes them, and rents them for free through its Bike HUB.
4. Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green State University plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 through energy efficiency and renewables, recycling and re-use initiatives, and student involvement and programming.
In keeping with its second goal of waste reduction, BGSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability first launched its annual “When You Move Out, Don’t Throw It Out” (WYMO) initiative 16 years ago. WYMO is a campus-wide program to reuse and reduce waste. Students are encouraged to donate unwanted items, so long as they are still usable, instead of throwing them away when moving out of campus.
WYMO collects the items and donates them to charities, including Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and Salvation Army. In 2016, it collected 17,590.6 pounds of items, a slight increase from the 16,285.8 pounds in 2015.
The Office of Campus Sustainability also has a re-use initiative, which collects unused or unwanted items and offers them to the university’s students, faculty and staff for free through periodic ReStore Thrift Sales.
5. Brown University
Every year, students at Brown University leave behind over 13,000 pounds of unwanted items at the end of the school year. Most of it is donated and not just thrown away, thanks to Brown’s Clean Break initiative.
The program runs for a month, starting late April or May, and continues through graduation. During that period, the EcoReps student group and the Department of Facilities Management work together to make it easy for students to donate clothes, household items and nonperishable. During last year’s Move-Out, the program collected 13,365 pounds of clothes and almost 450 pounds of nonperishable food, which were then donated to Goodwill and local food banks respectively.
This year’s Clean Break began on April 28 with students being encouraged to donate unwanted clothes, shoes, books, art supplies, backpacks, lamps, mirrors, and other houseware items. Large bins were placed in key locations to facilitate donations. The program will in turn donate the items to Goodwill, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Providence Animal Rescue League, and the RI Food Bank.
The EcoReps student group also hosts four or more clothing swaps each year so students can get new clothes for free in exchange for their own clothes, thereby improving Brown’s carbon footprint.
6. Luther College
Luther College has implemented many sustainable ways to reduce waste on campus.
The Center for Sustainable Communities at Luther College works continuously with students, faculty, staff, and community members to find ways to reuse unwanted items. The Office Supplies Reuse Station, for example, collects supplies and makes it available for others to use. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, so students, faculty and staff can conveniently help themselves to binders, folders, notebooks, scissors, staplers, hole punchers, pens, pencils, paper clips, thumb tacks, and more.
Luther College also installed water bottle filling stations to encourage the use of reusable water bottles.
In addition, Luther College adopted a Move Out Mindfully program, which has helped reduce waste from students moving out.
Last year, the solid waste sent to landfill was reduced to 27 tons, compared to 42 tons in 2012. For this year’s Move-Out, Luther College aims to further reduce the waste sent to the landfill by 20 percent from last year. It can accomplish that goal by filling 12 trucks of items to donate to thrift stores and donating 2,000 pounds of nonperishable food to food pantries. Donation rooms are set up in every residence hall on campus to make it easy for students to donate their unwanted items.
7. University of Montana
University of Montana has set a goal for carbon neutrality by 2020.
UM’s Move-Out initiative is young but headed in the right direction. Started just 3 years ago, the university’s Campus Thrift program involves UM Sustainability, UM Recycling, the ASUM Renter Center and the Residence Life Office. The program relies on volunteers to collect donated items, sort them and then man the sale.
This year, students were able to drop off items at 6 collection sites from May 11 to May 13, which were then sold for a fraction of their price at the Campus Thrift sale on May 16. The sale proceeds, reportedly between $2,000 and $3,000 each year, will be used for campus sustainability projects.
In the past, sales proceeds were used partly to purchase water bottle refilling stations for the campus and to support UM’s recycling program.
“The annual Campus Thrift is a fantastic way to make sure that totally useable items don’t end up in a landfill,” Mary O’Malley, director of the ASUM Renter Center, said in a statement.
“The event also helps break the cycle of buying new every move. Students can donate items that worked in the dorms and pick up items that will help them set up a home off campus without breaking the bank.”
UM will donate all unsold items to local thrift stores.
8. Webster University
Webster University has taken significant steps to become a more sustainable campus since 2009 with the arrival of President Stroble. It now prides itself on “keeping 13,000 tons of recyclable material out of the landfills.”
The university is also making an effort to minimize waste from students moving out of campus. Each year, nearly 20,000 pounds of waste ends up at the landfill during the Move-Out season. But Webster University Sustainability and Residential Life is making an effort to green the process. To encourage recycling of reusable items and unwanted electronics this year, Goodwill donation boxes and blue electronic recycling bins were made available in five locations during the week of May 8-12. In addition, there were recycling and landfill containers throughout campus. The initiative relied on volunteers to manage the process.
Webster University Sustainability and Residential Life also hosted its second Swap Shop, which was held on May 16 this year, to find new homes for items generally discarded when students move out of campus. Students were urged to bring the items they wish to discard and exchange them for items that would be of use to them. The only caveat was that the items must be gently-used. Items made available at the Swap Shop included apparel and footwear, supplies (school, office, and art), and small furniture. The items were provided free to the public.
“Not only has thrifting become a popular form of up cycling clothing and style, but we often forget how necessary these kinds of opportunities are for people who have little other options to affordably acquire the items they need,” said Kelsey Wingo, Webster University sustainability planner.
New or established, these universities and colleges’ sustainable ways of keeping unwanted but reusable items away from landfills is crucial to the health of our environment. College students everywhere must be mindful of the waste they generate and join in the fight to reduce waste, whether in the course of moving in or out of campus or in their everyday lives. They should make it their practice to reuse and recycle items, rather than discard them.