College move-out is awash in waste

By Amanda Gorski

My finals have been finished, signifying the end of my junior year of college. The only thing left to do was to move out of my college owned apartment. I filled my car with all my clothing, bedding, mirrors, and other miscellaneous items. After everything I needed to bring home was packed up, I found myself with four entire trash bags, completely filled, left behind to throw away. As I walked to the dumpster to take them out, I saw how much it was overflowing. An absurd amount of waste is discarded every year when college students move in and out of their housing. The average college student creates 640 pounds of waste every year. That’s right, every year. Not only is this such a large amount of trash, but it mostly accumulates during move out. Tufts University did research to discover that on their campus, an average of 230 tons of waste is left behind after students move out in May.

So why does this happen? I spoke with multiple students and faculty members to find out. Whether a student is moving out of a dorm, an apartment or a house, there is still a large amount that is thrown away every year. Caroline Horst, a freshman at Muhlenberg College, spoke with me about moving out of her dorm, Prosser Hall. While she brought home many items to reuse for her housing next year, she still found herself discarding a lot. Caroline said, “I mostly brought disposable or cheap items to school this year because I knew they would get lost, ruined, or not need to be used again in the future. Now that I won’t be living in a dorm again, I have no need for things like shower caddies, small plastic drawers, or the other decorations I had, so I just threw them away.” This seemed to be the attitude most freshmen have coming in, so when they move out, a lot of waste is discarded in the large dumpsters outside the buildings.

I then spoke with Devin Goldsmith, a senior at Muhlenberg who lives in an off campus house. Living off campus, she needed to have her own couches, bed, and kitchen supplies. However, rather than discarding what she couldn’t bring home, she sold these items to other students who would be moving into off campus housing next year. This is a common practice among Muhlenberg students, which limits a lot of waste. However, other forms of waste come from these off campus houses. When I asked Devin about what she thinks will be most wasteful, she replied, “We’re going to have to throw away a lot of unused food items, which feels so wasteful but we have too much that we aren’t going to use. We also have a lot of things that were broken or ruined throughout the year that are not worth saving or selling, so that will get thrown away too.” Food waste that gets discarded throughout the year is another large issue at this school, but there are ways to limit this. Food can be donated to food drives in multiple places, and furniture and other items such as kitchenware can be donated to Habitat for Humanity. While it is easy to just throw things away, there are other options for some items that can make a difference in the waste we produce as college students.

I also was able to speak with Kalyna Procyk, the head of sustainability at Muhlenberg College. Surprisingly, even after all the information that is taught about waste and the environment, the amount of garbage produced only continues to grow. Kalyna runs a program called Green Team Move In, which helps first year students recycle cardboard boxes and other items after they move in. She said that each year, she finds the amount of waste accumulated from move-in doubles each year. Surprised by this fact, I asked why she thought this occurred, and she believes that Amazon and online shopping play such a large role. When everything is shipped to houses instead of being bought in store, students simply throw the boxes away once they move in, producing far more waste. During move out, large dumpsters have to be brought to campus each year as the permanent ones are not big enough to contain all the waste that students throw away at the end of the year.

Before doing research into this topic, I had never considered what an impact on the environment moving in and out of college has. As a college student myself, I find myself being extremely guilty of wasting food, ordering items and throwing away the boxes, and buying items that are inexpensive and can be discarded at the end of the year. Each time I move in and out of college, there are always multiple garbage bags filled. For my senior year, I want to challenge myself to reduce the amount of waste I produce during my move in and move out. Instead of ordering everything online, I can try to buy items in store, and if I need to order items, I can recycle the boxes instead of just throwing them away. In addition, I can donate unused food. There are many small steps that can be taken to limit the waste. I look forward to challenging myself to do so, and I invite you to challenge yourself as well.