University and College Campuses Are Working Toward Zero Waste

©. Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN)

The Post-Landfill Action Network, launched at the University of New Hampshire, challenges campuses across the continent to start tackling waste seriously.

“Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is a phenomenon noticeable in no other society in history... It must be further nurtured even though it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity, the law of thrift.” — J. Gordon Lippincott, 1947

In 2011, a group of students at the University of New Hampshire noticed overflowing Dumpsters, filled with perfectly good items and reusable materials that had been thrown away by students moving out. Further digging revealed that the average amount of trash tossed in the month of May on campus was 125 tons, up from the usual monthly average of 25 tons.

Horrified by such waste, the students came up with a simple yet highly effective solution. They collected the furniture, dishes, electronics, clothing, decorations, and school supplies that were still good and stored them until fall. Then they sold them back to the incoming students who would otherwise buy those same items at big box stores.

It was the first student-led, self-sustaining program of its kind – one that generated enough revenue to run it again the following year. The program was a hit, and has become a permanent fixture on the UNH campus ever since. It has also inspired other campuses across the country to adopt similar solutions.

The group of students from UNH, which launched itself as an NGO in 2013 called the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), hopes to spread its zero-waste mission across the continent. There is a lot of interest in the topic. Founder Alex Fried says, “Every day we receive questions from committed student leaders looking for answers to problems that other campuses have already solved.”

Many of the more than 2,000 post-secondary institutions across the United States have already implemented their own versions of waste-reduction, such as campus thrift stores, ‘free’ stores, composting initiatives, places to recycle household items like carpeting and electronics, and elimination of plastic bags.

PLAN, which hosted the first annual Students for Zero Waste conference in 2014, is currently fundraising $10,000 in order to create a ‘Campus Zero Waste Platform and Database.’ (See campaign details here.) This would be a centralized location for students to share resources, ideas, and inspiration. As Fried explains in a brief video clip about the network, “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” The templates and documents for going zero-waste already exist; most campuses simply need help with implementation.

Dr. Paul Connett, author of Zero Waste Solution, sees great promise in the mobilization of students against waste: “This thing’s just going to grow. It’s the hottest topic right now, I think, in the environmental movement.”

It's a wonderful thing for many students who are starting their lives as independent adults. The more young people pay attention to waste now, the better the environmental leadership of the next generation will be.