Just as we know spring is on the way when the robins return, Pittsburghers know that fall is approaching when the streets of Oakland are gridlocked with students and parents unloading desks, chairs, mattresses, books, bed linens… all the things required to furnish a dorm or apartment. In other words, it’s Move-In Week.
On the flip side, the end of classes in the spring brings with it the companion ritual of Moving Out. We don’t have the same traffic issues in the spring. That’s because many students, uninterested in the bother of moving everything and storing it, just throw it all into a dumpster or put it out on the curb. Departing seniors are sometimes dumping four years worth of accumulated household goods like furniture, appliances, clothing, and textbooks. It’s not only wasteful; it’s environmentally unfriendly.
What’s worse is that most of the tons of stuff they throw away is not trash. It’s still usable, and someone else could give it a good home.
So it makes sense that a dumpster dive is what that inspired a University of New Hampshire student to create a business to address that problem.
At the end of his freshman year at UNH, Alex Freid noticed a discarded futon sticking out of the top of a dumpster. “That’s perfect!” he thought. “I can grab that futon and use it for my apartment next year.” When he climbed up to retrieve it, he noticed that the dumpster was overflowing with perfectly good usable stuff. And there were dozens of dumpsters just like it on campus.
So Alex and his friends started an enterprise at UNH called Trash2Treasure. The business model couldn’t be simpler: Unwanted items are picked up when students move out in the spring. Then they’re put in storage for the summer months, and resold to incoming students in the fall.
Not only has over 110 tons of waste been diverted from landfills, but Trash2Treasure actually turns a profit, earning $55,000 in revenue for future initiatives, saving the school $10,000 in cleanup costs, and saving parents more than $200,000 on new dorm furnishings.
Alex now runs the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a nonprofit that helps other colleges use the same principles to reduce waste. Their motto is “When the only solution is a dumpster, everything looks like trash.” Their goal is to encourage students all over the country to start waste-reduction programs like Trash2Treasure as well as electronics recycling programs and composting.
Since it was founded in 2013, PLAN has expanded to over 50 campuses and is still growing. Where does it go from here? They’re now raising money to set up an online resource for collaboration, coordination, logistics, and information sharing so that students who want to start a group like theirs know where to go for assistance.
Alex’s goal is to help campuses achieve zero waste and demonstrate how sustainability is achievable in the world at large. “What we’re trying to do is to build universities as microcosms of how the world can and should function in the future.”
And to think it all started with an abandoned futon in a dumpster!