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.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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