10 Fantastic Ways to Reduce waste...on Campus (or Even in the Office)
Did you know that 99% of stuff Americans buy is discarded within 6 months? Likewise, the EU has hit an all-time high in waste generation in the past 3 years. Waste is an enormous problem, and it’s only going to get worse.
The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) is a non-profit taking on the issue of waste. They focus on college campuses to model zero waste systems, and work with student leaders to implement solutions.
As a zero waste organization, PLAN spends a lot of time thinking and talking about trash. When we zoom out just a bit, we have to acknowledge that waste is the byproduct of a much larger system: the Linear Consumption Economy. This is a lot to explain, so check out this handy graphic first. Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it!
The Linear Consumption Economy — AKA the way things are mostly done these days — is represented in red above. In this model we extract resources from the Earth and use them just once before disposing of them forever. This process is toxic and exploitative at every step of the way.
Represented in blue are the imaginative and optimistic people who are challenging the Linear Consumption Economy at every stage. They resist, redesign, refuse, reuse, repair, and reclaim the system. They each focus on their own point of intervention and shift the whole system in the right direction to make change on the principle that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Isn’t that a nice thought? Small changes can make big differences!
Going off to college is an amazing opportunity to find your own Point of Intervention, but it can be challenging! PLAN have put together the tips below to guide you through.
Intervening with a Sustainable Lifestyle
We've all heard of reduce, reuse, recycle and that's a great place to begin. What do you buy, use, and discard on a daily basis? How can you use the waste hierarchy to do better? There's a whole world of tools out there for living a zero waste lifestyle (check out these) but below are some high impact suggestions.
Imagine a college move-in day. You know what I’m talking about: the piles of brand-new bedding, appliances, decorations, electronics, even furniture. Every item in that pile was mass-produced, and nearly all were shipped around the world to get here. What if, instead, we purchased pre-owned goods from a thrift store? Goodwill and other stores in many college towns collect tons of dorm goods during spring move-out. Buy some of that stuff back up for a quarter of the price and none of the environmental impact!
Free stuff can be a big draw at the beginning of the year at back-to-school events. But take a look at the branded swag that you’re being handed — is it durable and something you’ll actually use? If not, leave it behind for someone else. It will just be trash later. You don’t need that junk in your life!
Invest in a fix-it kit
Backpacker? Dancer? Gamer? Fashionista? Whatever your hobby, eventually the gear you use will break. Fixing is a great way to give your stuff a new life and avoid buying new! Invest in a iFixIt kit for your electronics, a sewing kit for your clothes, patches for your tent, and of course, Sugru for everything else. You’ll be ready for anything and soon you'll be the go-to fixer for your whole dorm!
Carry your zero waste meal kit
College is a place where you’re constantly on the go, and meals are no exception. If you aren’t prepared, you'll wind up eating out of styrofoam a few times a week. Figure out what you need in your personal zero waste meal kit to avoid trash. A few key items are a reusable bag that folds into a pouch, a green spork, amy water bottle, a coffee mug, and a sealable container. Check out PLAN’s discounts if you need some gear, too.
This is easily the least sexy of the tips, but it’s among the most important! Recycling rules can vary dramatically, so check out the rules for your campus before you toss. What sorts of plastic do they accept? Do you have to wash out your peanut butter jars? Quiz your friends!
Intervening within your Campus Community
Choosing to live your own life sustainably is important, but it’s only half of the battle. PLAN has a saying that “system change precedes behaviour change.” The following tips are ways that you — yes YOU — can help build systemic change on your campus.
Start or support a system for resusables
Does your campus offer reusable to-go boxes, coffee mugs, or plates? If so, rock on and make sure you use that system! If not, think about how you could start a system. Try PLAN’s guide for inspiration.
Find your local craft, maker, or repair space
Many campuses support makerspaces or tool libraries that are for cheap or free. Getting hands-on with materials to upcycle, fix, modify, or build with is an incredible way to extend the lifecycle of things. Help build the reuse & repair economy on your campus by sharing resources and making sure everyone knows they exist.
Support your local community
What environmental justice battle is going on in your very own backyard? Many campuses border low-income areas, which are disproportionately likely to be sites for waste infrastructure, such as landfills and incinerators, and toxic industrial facilities. How can you use your position to support a community fighting to reclaim their land?
Does your campus have a composting program? Composting is a way to deal with food waste, and many campuses have a program for dining hall scraps. If yours does, talk it up! Composting is sometimes invisible but it’s a huge part of a zero waste world. If you think the program could use some work, volunteer to help start or expand its scale. PLAN has a best-practice guide to support this if you take it on!
Get your campus to take the Plastic-Free Pledge
Right around the world, towns, cities and even countries are committing to go plastic-free. Single-use disposable plastics are a huge pollution issue and an obvious example of the Linear Consumption Economy. It’s time for campuses to hop on the plastic-free bandwagon! Try using tactics like a petition or engaging your student government to convince your school to sign the Plastic-Free Pledge.
We hope that with these tips, you can encourage yourself and your community to get closer to zero waste. If you need support, you know where to turn: PLAN is here to help. Find them at www.postlandfill.org!
And remember college is some of the best time of your life. Enjoy!