UCLA is known for its campuswide commitment to sustainability and waste management. But the volume of garbage left behind in the hallways of student dorms and apartments at the end of the year counters that message.
The end of an academic year is usually accompanied by a blissful sense of relief that summer has arrived. However, this relief is often converted into panicked frustration as thousands of students struggle to move out. And with so much to pack and move around in so little time, inappropriate waste disposal methods become the only solution for students desperate to leave on time.
UCLA Housing needs to ensure students can move out – and consequently move in – comfortably while making the housing staff’s jobs easier and respecting the campus’ Zero Waste Initiative, which sets a campus goal of having zero landfill waste by 2020. To do this, UCLA Housing needs to arrange more donation boxes to collect clothes and discarded household items; more recycling boxes for old books, papers and notes; and post clearer signage to streamline the process of moving in and out.
At UCLA, there are only 10 days between the end of the 2018 spring quarter and the start of the first summer session. During this period, housing staff must undergo the herculean task of cleaning out thousands of dorm rooms so summer students do not have to live with a year of rubbish the former occupants left behind.
And UCLA has data to show the negative effects of this. The campus produced close to 9,000 tons of landfill waste in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and saw landfill waste spikes particularly in its October and June periods, signaling the impact of moving in and moving out.
It seems that careful waste management goes out the window when students move out, in part because of the lack of recycling and trash segregation options or limited advertising for the residential halls’ donation boxes.
Claudia Perez, a fourth-year statistics student, said she thinks lack of signage contributes to the mess of move-in and move-out periods.
“I saw a lot of recyclable items in the trash chutes,” Perez said. “One thing that could help are flashy signs to remind (students) to recycle and handle their waste better.”
The same can also be said of UCLA’s apartments.
“I feel bad for the housing staff who have to handle all the boxes, papers and small items because they don’t fit in the trash chutes,” said Neil D’Silva, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student. “For the entire first week, there are mountains of trash (around the apartments).”
It’s clear the lack of resources – and lack of signage – to help students dispose of garbage during move-out not only makes it difficult for them to handle their excess personal belongings, but also makes it more difficult for the housing staff to maintain the buildings after move-out.
Other universities have some compelling solutions to this, though. Some have enacted donation programs encouraging students to give away instead of throw away.
In 2009, DePauw University in Indiana started a donation program that provides local low-income families with items like books and mattresses from students moving out. The program benefited more than 100 families in 2015 while reducing the amount of waste produced during move-out day. Universities such as Harvard and Northwestern have similar “take it or leave it” programs in which students are given boxes to place their small household items to give to donation centers.
UCLA should devise a similar system by expanding its donation program beyond its current form of placing just a couple of boxes on the ground floor of student dorms. Doing so, along with placing clearer signs in buildings, would allow students to easily deposit unwanted items in donation collection boxes instead of hastily dumping paper, plastics and other recyclable items together into the trash.
UCLA said in a statement that its Housing and Hospitality Services department prepares in advance for moving periods, providing extra dumpsters, donation bins and trash bags to students. The university added resident assistants inform students of these resources preceding moving periods. While UCLA Housing’s efforts have no doubt reduced waste in the moving process across the years, the fact that students continue to witness overfilled trash chutes and garbage strewn around the residences shows the campus still has room for improvement when it comes to making its housing transition periods cleaner.
And sure, it might seem as though improving signage and expanding the donation boxes would not have much of an effect on students’ move-in and move-out habits. However, these improvements can easily be paired with more extensive efforts to inform students of these resources, such as through staff telling students during move-in and move-out periods.
UCLA is a surprisingly sustainable campus despite its massive student population. It is time we bring move-in and move-out weekend up to the standards of other weeks on campus.