Heroes

It started with a futon in a dumpster. Now this student org is changing how we see waste.

It started with a futon in a dumpster. Now it's a a nationwide resource that's changing the way students think about campus waste. Heck yes.

It started with a futon in a dumpster. Now this student org is changing how we see waste.

Alex Freid was moving out of his dorm after his freshman year of college when something caught his eye: a futon.

It was still in excellent condition, sticking out of a dumpster on his University of New Hampshire campus. "That's perfect!" he thought. "I can grab that futon and use it for my apartment next year."

Upon further inspection, he saw that the dumpster was chock full of usable items — and there were dozens of others just like it all over campus. What was up with all this "waste"?


Every year, millions of college students in the U.S. pack up and head off campus, leaving tons (literally) of stuff behind.

And only a small fraction of it really belongs in a dumpster.

So Alex and a group of his friends at the University of New Hampshire started a campus organization called Trash2Treasure.

Students pick out things at a move-in yard sale at the University of New Hampshire. Image by John Benford.

Here's how it works: They collect usable dumpster-bound items during move out in May.

They put everything in storage over the summer.

And then — here's the kicker — they sell it all back to the students the next fall at a yard sale.

How genius is that? Better yet, the money they make from the move-in sale cycles back into the program, allowing them to run it again the next year, too.

The move-in sale is HUGE. Image courtesy of UNH Trash2Treasure.

But move-out day isn't the only time colleges are producing a sh** ton of waste.

Spurred by the success of Trash2Treasure's move-out program, Alex founded a national nonprofit called the Post-Landfill Action Network, or PLAN. As they like to say, "When the only solution is a dumpster, everything looks like trash" — it's become a sort of motto for the group.

"When the only solution is a dumpster, everything looks like trash."

In part, PLAN's goal is to encourage students all over the country to set up programs that diminish waste on campus — move-out programs like the one led by Trash2Treasure at UNH, electronics recycling drop offs, compost programs, you name it.

But the arguably more important goal is to set up a national network of student groups within what PLAN calls the student-led zero waste movement. That way, no individual school has to reinvent the wheel.

PLAN resources walk through things like how to start a compost program. Image courtesy of PLAN.

“[PLAN has] been working with hundreds of students on campuses across the country," Alex told me, “and they're constantly asking the same questions."

Questions like: Whose approval do I need to start a compost program on campus? What should I use for bins? Who should collect the bins? Where will the compost go?

That's where PLAN comes in.

In 2015, PLAN raised more than $11,000 (111% of their original goal) to set up an online resource for students all across the country.

Since PLAN was founded in 2013, it has expanded to 50 campuses nationwide, and it's rapidly growing. But they want to make it even bigger — to take things online and create a massive online network of resources and information.

“A lot of campuses are constantly reinventing the wheel and creating the same documents, same resources, doing the same research," Alex said.

“Basically," explained Alex, “[It will be] an online space where students can collaborate and coordinate, discuss programs, develop logistics, upload and download resources for free, and share information with each other."

So, that move-out program that students run at UNH — Trash2Treasure? Things like that will be able to spread across the country so much faster, and so much more efficiently, than ever before. Now that is something to get excited about.

And in a way, it can all be traced back to that lonely futon in the dumpster after Alex's freshman year.

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