They come with cardboard boxes and bins, hauling plastic grocery bags stuffed with instant meals and new furniture cradled in plastic foam.
Every spring and fall, thousands of University of Colorado Boulder students moving on and off campus and around Boulder results in a massive amount of trash and recycling. It’s one of Boulder’s biggest sustainability challenges, said Sandy Briggs, a sustainability coordinator with the city.
“It is a huge problem that takes a lot of education and information every semester, because regularly you have a new set of students moving in who need to understand what Boulder is trying to accomplish,” Briggs said.
The amount of waste and recycling produced during move-in is comparable to a football game every day of move in week, said Angie Gilbert, zero waste events manager at CU Boulder. Campus leaders from housing, recycling and waste departments work to coordinate how they’re going to handle the sudden influx. The campus acquires extra recycling stations for plastic foam and plastic bags, which are not typically recycled, and places roll-off dumpsters near residence halls.
If this year is similar to fall 2019, the campus will recycle 1,000 pounds of plastic foam, 672 pounds of plastic bags, 10,580 pounds of paper and 19,560 pounds of cardboard during fall move-in.
The city has special regulations for how trash is handled during move-in and move-out in certain neighborhoods, Briggs said. Known as the six-day review, it requires property owners and managers to subscribe to a waste removal service and for waste haulers to check bins in those locations at least twice a week.
If bins are more than half full, waste haulers must empty them, regardless of the regular pick-up schedule.
Waste more than doubles during campus move-in, said Eric Loof of Western Disposal, one of the waste haulers that serves the city.
The city is also partnering with EcoCycle to work with people living in multi-family complexes on what else they can do with their waste other than leave it in the dumpster, Briggs said.
“That’s the biggest goal overall, educating people and trying to create less waste to begin with,” she said. “The more we can partner with thrift stores, with CU, nonprofit partners and other places to keep couches off lawns — that’s the best.”
Sustainability efforts at CU Boulder continue year-round, Gilbert said, including through a residential academic program that starts at move-in. New students who want to learn more about sustainability serve as liaisons for their residence halls, talking with their friends and neighbors about recycling and sustainability.
Gilbert said she’s noticed a decrease in some waste this year, like hard-to-recycle plastic packaging. That could be because move-in isn’t over yet, or because people are buying less stuff overall.
“There’s a different level of consciousness in the world in general about sustainability,” she said. “And recycling, to me, is the last piece of the puzzle. People forget the reduce and reuse part.”
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