It’s high time that we emphasize more sustainable college move-ins

The contemporary college experience can be costly for our Earth, so do your part.

(Nicholas Vizzi / Daily Trojan)

As the beginning of August unfolds, the familiarity of the campus scene rekindles — the synchronized choreography of large blue bins rolling down USC Village, the patient wait for elevators in the residence halls and the eerily sparse Target shelves that once held a world of products. Move-in week, no matter how many times you’ve done it, will maintain a sensation of novelty. From first-years stepping eagerly onto campus to returning students, the promise of a fresh beginning infuses the air.

During the move-out week of Spring 2022, which marked my own and many others’ first on-campus move-out experience post-pandemic, I vividly recall observing a crap ton of brand-new and lightly used items dumped in the lobby of Cale and Irani Residential College.

My own household contributed to this collection, witnessing the discard of an impressive array of items — from microwaves to shoe racks — that could easily outfit an entire college dormitory. It’s not that others and I purposely want to be wasteful. Sometimes, there’s no space to store bulky items, and no time to figure out a solution by the strict 5 p.m. move-out deadline.

On average, each college student generates about 640 pounds of waste annually, with the climactic move-out contributing a significant portion. To avoid the laborious task of transporting their possessions back home, students prefer to discard items like clothes, books, and furniture, starting afresh the next year. It’s become a wasteful tradition. Tufts University, for example, reveals a spike in solid waste in the May and June move-out season, as students leave behind around 230 tons of waste on average.

For the majority of USC, nicknamed the “University of Spoiled Children,” there could be a lack of incentive to explore sustainable alternatives with many students likely to have more disposable income to buy new products every academic year. Growing up with major financial constraints is a pivotal factor in forming my sustainable practices — the search for cost-effective and environmentally conscious alternatives becomes innate when resources are limited.

Financially well-off students might not immediately feel the impact of their consumption choices on the environment or their wallets, which can make preaching sustainable spending at an institution with an entitled reputation, difficult. It requires unlearning a lifestyle that is shaped by a combination of factors related to socioeconomic status and societal norms.

Overall, society is trapped within the expectations of fast delivery and mass purchasing of inexpensive items, shifting our shopping attitudes. The damages made to satisfy our needs for instant gratification and demands of convenience as busy college students have been extreme. Amazon delivered 4.75 billion packages in 2021, a sixfold increase from 0.75 billion in 2018. The environmental consequences extend beyond a bunch of cardboard and paper packaging that doesn’t properly get recycled due to China’s new foreign policy on recycling, or cushion packaging that can’t be recycled back into Earth. Carbon emissions are released from the procurement process of manufacturing an item, extraction of raw materials, assembling, and transportation. As the volume of deliveries will only continue to increase, what can we do?

To give credit where credit is due, USC is making tremendous sustainability efforts with Assignment Earth. However, I feel this program can improve by equally encouraging “reusing” and “reducing” as much as “recycling”. More proactive policies can reduce students’ environmental impact, rather than constantly reacting.

I envision an initiative akin to Cornell University’s approach, partnering with organizations like Dump & Run. This relieves students of the task of handling their items and providing them to a new owner, upcoming students, for an attainable price. It can start small too — with better recycling systems or even introducing targeted charges to dissuade the abandonment of items on campus.

Although there are limitations students face that are deterrents to buying “greener,” treating every purchase as a long-term investment will allow more items to be sustainably sourced — reducing indirect carbon emissions and diverting them from landfills.

I encourage students to explore the world of secondhand shopping — one can reduce waste while sourcing items without compromising their quality. There are many accessible resources near USC and you might recognize some of them, such as Facebook groups of avid secondhand shoppers and sellers near the USC campus like “Buy Nothing Jefferson Park/University Park.” On the same platform, Facebook Marketplace provides you an overview of items being listed in your area that you can customize based on the radius of your location, and there are walkable donation stores such as Goodwill nearby. Acknowledge an item’s imperfections, embracing them as part of its unique story rather than letting them go to waste.

Think of the waste you might create over a week — takeout boxes and disposable utensils, red solo cups, fast fashion party outfits — you name it. Then, imagine that 14 million more times to accommodate the estimated number of enrolled college students nationwide — it all accumulates. It’s time to start reusing and reducing, not just recycling.

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