Working to Divert Waste from Landfills in Annual College Dorm Clean-out

The end of the academic year on college campuses around the country, coincides with another annual event – the dorm clean-out. This can generate an enormous amount of waste and efforts have been underway at CU Boulder for 25 years, through the Environmental Center, to divert much of that waste from the landfill to local food-banks, thrift stores and recycling centers.

 

 

Angie Gilbert, Zero Waste Events coordinator at CU Boulder, says they’re working with students to donate and recycle unwanted items instead of putting them in the dumpster. 

“Last year in 2018 we collected 44 tons of usable goods that we gave to different nonprofits to distribute out to the community however they see fit. This year we’re anticipating collecting somewhere near around the same amount of usable products that students can’t bring with them after they purchase them. They live in the dorms or the residence halls for about 7 to 8 months and then they have no way to take this stuff home with them.”

Some of the CU Environmental Center volunteers working to divert things from dumpsters during the dorm clean out.

Thousands of wall mirrors and hangers are discarded every year and Gilbert says they’re working now to store those things over the summer so that students don’t have to buy them again in August.

“And so this year we’re doing some internal collections actually, so that students don’t have to buy some of the things that are repetitive like mirrors, hangars, textbooks, some breakable items, things like that. And we’re trying to collect those in the halls, gonna store those over the summer and the rest of the stuff is going to a local vendor, Resource Central in Boulder.”

Gilbert says they’re working with about 7,000 students and 26 dorm halls which generates a lot of discarded items.

“It is a lot of stuff, we’re kind of a stuff society nowadays, very consumeristic, people think they need a lot of things and then when they get here actually most of the things we pick up are brand new, still with packaging on them, or maybe been used once or twice. It is a lot of stuff, I think people that don’t understand waste or the practice of trying to be minimal in your consumption, on your footprint is shocking to some people that come and actually volunteer, and after they volunteer for one day it changes their entire perspective on what people throw away. We do a lot of personal care items, sometimes we’ll pick up full shampoos, unused razors, things like that that would go into the landfill. And then there’s a lot of food that’s non perishable that students think they need and that they don’t eat, their parents send them care packages. It’s very great that they’re doing that but they just don’t need all these things, obviously, ‘cause we have so much here. We give those things to Emergency Family Assistance (EFAA) in Boulder which is very helpful for them, but overwhelming to them. We gave them 4,000 pounds of usable food and products last year and that was a lot for them.”

SarahDawn Haynes of the CU Environmental Center coordinates a team of volunteers at dorms around CU Boulder to help students drop off items at donation areas however many students bypass this and instead dump items such as electronics, clothing and unopened food.

“In a perfect world what I would be doing is standing here and doing intervention. I want to stand here and politely and encouragingly say “I can take your thing.”  Sort, with gloves, the bags… The next level is to stop and to sort items, be able to have a fund for CHaRM. (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials.)”