Student Recycling Staff Attend Zero Waste Conference

“Zero waste.” Maybe you’ve seen the term while scrolling through your Facebook feed or heard about millennials fitting a years worth of trash into a mason jar.

Zero waste has been defined in a number of ways. The quest is for a more sustainable lifestyle with a reduction in discarded resources. Still, it is important to recognize that fulfilling the goal of zero waste will take more than individualistic behavior changes.

At a conference with inspiring students and organizations from around the world my understanding of the fulfillment of zero waste transformed. The message became clear that this was not just the latest lifestyle trend; it was a movement.

With over 400 attendees at the Students For Zero Waste ‘16 Conference, a total of two pounds of ‘waste’ was generated. A measly TWO pounds. It is estimated about 4.6 pounds of trash is accumulated everyday by a single individual. Without the determination of attendees and Post-Landfill Action Network’s encouragement, around 1,800 pounds of waste could have been produced. But this sea of strangers took zero waste seriously.

Among the various eco-reputable organizations, Michigan State University was invited to inform students on the vision and process of creating a campus surplus store. MSU manages its waste through a comprehensive program that focuses on its Surplus Store.

We were able to talk with students individually on the environmental and financial benefits of implementing this type of comprehensive program. In the early 1990s, MSU Surplus was handled and sold through a warehouse with no heat or bathrooms. Today the store is a facility that welcomes students, faculty, alumni and community members. The store now generates over $3.5 million annually to fund waste diversion programs on campus. We hope to inspire other campuses to take initiative and realize the potential of a surplus store in moving towards a zero waste goal.

Rethink, repurpose, recycle and remember. Rethink your daily purchases and ask yourself if there are alternatives. Repurpose unused items into art pieces to decorate your home. Recycle materials that can be broken down and turned into new products. Remember someone in the world may not have the resources your garbage bag is filled with. Set the bar high, be the change you wish to see and educate others.

If you’re not for zero waste, how much are you really for?

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