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Photo by Aaron Nilsson of Southern Oregon GoodwillA collection of student's furniture saved from the landfill.

WasteNot: SOU move out — A waste prevention success story

The end of each school year in June at the residence halls at Southern Oregon University (SOU) signifies for many students time to pack up for the summer with plans to return to campus housing in the fall or to a new home or apartment in the region.

Not surprisingly, this annual migration of people and their stuff creates a sizeable pile of trash or resources (depending on how it’s treated). When a year of “stuff” doesn’t travel with them to the next chapter in their lives, its gotta go somewhere. This is where opportunity knocked and Roxane Beigel Coryell stepped up to the task.

She is the sustainability and recycling coordinator at SOU and, back in 2012, Roxane took action. She started a program by partnering with Goodwill to create an alternative to landfilling this usable material that was previously all treated as if it were “trash.” Since this program’s implementation, SOU has reduced the number of dumpsters during move out and also reduced costs by approximately $2,000 that is no longer necessary to collect and transport these materials to the landfill

There are always multiple costs associated with transporting materials. The landfill offers a dead end to the story of stuff. If “we” accumulated less and held on longer to what we have, the temptation to landfill could be reduced significantly. That requires elimination of cheaply made and one-time use items.

SOU and Goodwill work together to collect for the move out yearly. Southern Oregon Goodwill provides large donation carts that are set up at several stations in each residence hall for students to drop off their unwanted items during a three-week period. The donations primarily consist of clothing, bedding and books, as well as some housewares and electronics.

The full list of items accepted during the move out include: clothing and accessories, shoes, backpacks, bags, books, magazines, compact discs, dvds, toys, stuffed animals, games, sports and workout equipment, hangers, closet organizers and shelves, collectibles, linens, towels, curtains, rugs, electronics, TVs, cell phones, housewares, bedding, toiletries and unused makeup.

It takes people power to orchestrate the pick up, transportation, sorting and redistribution of goods. This creates local employment opportunities for education, training, and career services. Overall, there have been seven donation drives that have collected more than 58,000 pounds of goods from the residence halls. The average volume weighs in at a little more than 8,000 pounds each year. That’s four tons of “stuff” that has avoided the landfill!

SOU also sets up collections during Move Out for non-perishable food items that are donated to the SOU Food Pantry. New for 2018 was an additional collection for body care items like shampoo, conditioner and lotion donated to the Food Angels.

Food Angels is a grass roots, fully volunteer cooperative that helps organizations serving low-income people in the Rogue Valley, primarily through the daily distribution of food retrieved from markets, bakeries and local organic farmers. Food Angels has been combining the goals of providing food for those in need, offering an opportunity for self-help, self-reliance and community service, and keeping usable items out of the landfill since 1996.

In addition to the four tons of move-out materials, SOU’s other waste prevention programs diverted more than 365 tons from the landfill in 2017. That does not include items sold through surplus auctions or food scraps composted on campus. This volume is primarily amassed from commingle recycling, cardboard and metals.

This success has been achievable thanks to SOU’s modest yet mighty Recycle/Sort Center. Roxane shared that they also do some on-campus training for departments and programs in waste reduction and recycling. Additionally, SOU hosts Zero Waste Week to raise awareness and engage people to rethink waste, and offers the Dish Loan Program for events that supplies reusable dishes instead of single-use disposables/utensils.

Those of us who are not college students can be inspired by these options available to all of us to keep usable materials out of the landfill! Waste prevention is an equal-opportunity provider. Each of us have access to these local choices. The reflex and convenience to send these materials to the landfill can instead divert them into useful and needed resources for our community.

More information can be found at https://inside.sou.edu/sustainable/moveout.html.

Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through betling@dailytidings.com.

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