COLLECTION: South Carolina Lessens Dorm Dumping

After taking their final exams, college students typically want to flee campus as quickly as possible. And whatever doesn't fit into Mom and Dad's SUV often is left behind, leaving universities to handle the extra trash pickups required to clean up the curbside. Recognizing that most materials that are thrown away are reusable and recyclable, the University of South Carolina (USC), Columbia, S.C., decided this year to reduce collection and disposal costs, as well as divert material from the landfill.

In the past, student organizations held sporadic food drives and placed “donation” boxes in building lobbies to collect these unwanted items. But this never resulted in more than 500 pounds of material. So to recover clothing, toiletries and furniture, USC assembled a coalition of housing, facilities and student government representatives including custodians, recycling personnel and maintenance employees, to determine what should be collected and how.

Items to collect were divided into two areas. The first group included clothing and shoes, non-perishable food, and miscellaneous toiletries, small appliances and utensils.

Furniture, cement blocks (which students often use to make bookshelves and bunk beds), bed loft wood and carpets, were selected to be in the second group.

As part of the collection project, student groups and USC's housing department used announcements, banners, posters and on-campus cable television commercials to explain the program's benefits and direct students to drop-off locations. Residence hall assistants (RA) also encouraged students to participate: The more active the RA, the higher the participation rate and material volume.

To collect non-bulky items, the university wanted to set up three boxes — one for each item type — on every floor of its 37 residence halls. Boxes would be set up near trash cans, or near exits, with the goal to make it just as convenient for students to recycle as it was to throw out trash.

However, purchasing collection boxes was not an option. So after raiding several cardboard collection points on campus, Corrugated Containers Inc., Cayce, S.C., donated 500 large boxes to the program. Then, two to three weeks before the spring session ended, student organizations and volunteers created signs for the collection points. Within a week, enough materials had accumulated to be taken away. And by the last week of school, most buildings needed two to three pickups to haul materials away.

To gather the materials, volunteers wheeled items on carts to a large Gaylord container. Campus recycling personnel then emptied the larger containers into a recycling truck. Once a truck was full, it was weighed on a scale to track its material volume and delivered to local charities.

Collection points for bulky items were set up at designated residence halls that were known to generate specific items. This allowed students and parents to participate in the recovery program and avoid excess charges for abandoning belongings, which was a common practice prior to the program. The program also helped the university reduce the costs of preparing buildings for renovation or summer conferences.

Although USC decided that hauling the bulky items away for recycling was not cost-effective, it was necessary to determine the actual volumes generated. So, USC allowed state institutions and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to pickup furniture. To prepare materials for these organizations, during one weekend, housing personnel moved more than 89 tons of furniture from residence halls. Habitat for Humanity alone hauled away more than 30 tons of furniture, as well as numerous cement blocks and pieces of carpet.

Initially, USC had a collection goal of four to five tons, which seemed optimistic. However, the university eventually collected:

  • Cement blocks: 41.7 tons;
  • Clothing and shoes: 3.91 tons;
  • Toiletries and appliances: 0.50 tons;
  • Non-perishable food: 0.49 tons;
  • Wood: 0.50 tons;
  • Carpet: 2 tons; and
  • Furniture: 89 tons.

The materials generated by students totaled 138.1 tons, which saved the school more than $10,000 in disposal expenses and $30,000 in labor costs.

With the help of local media coverage and students, USC hopes to make this an annual campus tradition.

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