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Graduate takes UNH waste reduction program to other schools

At the end of his freshman year, Alex Freid was disgusted by all the furniture, electronics and other belongings his fellow University of New Hampshire students were tossing in the trash as they moved out for summer break. Three years later, he is leading a nonprofit that aims to help other campuses start waste-reduction programs like the one he created at UNH.

The nonprofit group called PLAN: The Post-Landfill Action Network, builds on the success of the three-year-old student-led Trash 2 Treasure program at UNH, which involves collecting usable goods that otherwise would be discarded – think sofas, televisions, dishes and lamps – cleaning and organizing them, and then selling them at a massive yard sale when students return to campus in the fall.

That program has diverted more than 100 tons of materials, saved the university more than $10,000 in disposal fees and generated more than $30,000 in revenue, which has been reinvested in other sustainability initiatives, such as a bike-sharing service. And it led Freid, a double major in political science and philosophy who graduated in May, to a full-time job focused on spreading such programs to other schools.

“We’ve always had people come up to us and say, ‘Oh, man, this is such a great idea, why don’t other campuses do this?’ So it kind of got to a point where it was inevitable,” he said yesterday.

The network has approached 77 schools across New England so far, and more than two dozen have expressed interest. At least six have committed to applying for what the network calls Phase 1, including Plymouth State
University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. At that level, PLAN provides startup funding to student groups to launch the move-out waste collections and
yard sales. Those who progress to Phase 2 would be charged a membership fee in exchange for help expanding and improving their programs. That help could range from consulting services to discounts on storage facilities, recycling companies and other vendors with which PLAN has negotiated.

In Phase 3, PLAN would guide participating students through a comprehensive campus waste audit to design new ways to reduce waste year-round.

“There are a lot of schools with very loose waste reduction initiatives – they collect stuff and they donate it to charity, or they give it away for free. There’s a lot of different programs where they do something, but that something isn’t very well organized, it’s starting to fall apart or it’s costing the university money,” Freid said. “There are a lot of different reasons why these programs aren’t as efficient or effective as they could be.”

Frank Cocchiarella, assistant vice president for student affairs at Plymouth State, said the university has a system of donating discarded items to charity, including sending clothing to a group that helps adults with disabilities, housewares to an anti-domestic violence group, and toiletries, cleaners and other items to the Salvation Army. There has been some discussion about doing more move-in yard sales, but storage would be an issue and could cost the university more in the long run, he said.

“We continue each year to work with our students and community to keep items out of our landfills – it seems each year we grow on our success and contributions to the community,” he said. “We will continue to work with student government and our local landlords and community partners to see if this would be a viable option for us in the future.”

Freid said PLAN also is working to develop partnerships with businesses that could handle hard-to-recycle materials such as carpets and mattresses.

“We would serve as a conduit. We would work with a lot of campuses to aggregate a lot of carpeting in bulk at the end of the year, and then we’d get it off to a carpet recycling company in a truckload,” he said. “And then we can divide that cost among our members. For many of the schools, to recycle carpeting is extraordinarily expensive, but to do it through essentially a co-op, it would be reasonable.”

The nonprofit recently
was awarded a $10,000 public service award from National Grid in Massachusetts, and it’s hoping to raise $50,000 by Sept. 5 through the crowd-funding site IndieGoGo at igg.me/at/PLAN.

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