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Students get sustainable with campus move-in

Students shop for move-in items at Carolina Thrift’s sixth annual Back-To-School sale outside of UNC’s Bell Tower on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

From using laundry hampers as storage bins to wrapping fragile dishes in clothing, UNC students have some creative solutions to sustainably move-in for years.

Still, Olivia Gambocarto, interim program manager for UNC's waste reduction and recycling department, said that being earth-friendly during campus move-in can be difficult given the culture surrounding consumerism.

“There’s a lot of messaging out there before you go to college that 'you need this and you need that,' you need this specialized box to carry X, Y and Z," Gambocarto said. "I don’t think you always need that."

Gambocarto said she wondered if students truly need to bring as many items to school as they do, such as items that can be shared like microwaves and fridges.

Despite Gambocarto's concerns, UNC's Waste Diversion Coordinator Kelli Maturano said she has personally seen improvements in move-in sustainability and congratulates students on their efforts.

“Based on move-out last year, we didn't see nearly as much donatable items go in the trash —which was great," Maturano said. "We want to see that people are keeping their stuff and reusing that year after year and not having to buy new things each year. That's great, and we encourage our students to keep that in mind while they're on campus."

Maturano said that the main goal this year for a sustainable move-in was making sure cardboard gets recycled rather than thrown into the trash, and minimizing the amount of waste that is brought onto campus by unpacking at home. 

“If you’re thrifting a microwave that's obviously not coming with any packaging — it’s second-hand and that's the best option,” she said.

Maturano said that recently there has been a decrease in plastic film and Styrofoam waste — which are materials that are difficult to recycle — as well as an increase in student awareness.

A great way to tap into second-hand use and minimize waste is by shopping at Carolina Thrift — UNC’s first student-run thrift store — said Abigail Brewer, the communications and engagement specialist for Sustainable Carolina. 

Brewer said that Carolina Thrift is an example of students combining innovation and sustainability. 

“They collect all this stuff at the end of the year and store it over the summer and make sure it's ready for their beginning-of-year-sale," she said. "I think that’s a really innovative way that students are making an effort to be sustainable." 

Yakob Lemma, a sophomore psychology major, encourages students to thrift shop when revamping their closet. It's a more economically and environmentally friendly choice, Lemma said.

“It's another way to get creative with your fits and creative with your fashion,” Lemma said.

Brewer recommended students pack as lightly as possible to reduce carbon emissions from unnecessary car trips, use reusable water bottles during move-in to cut down on plastic waste production and use reusable boxes for packing.

Students have also found creative ways to pack by assembling and filling furniture before going to campus, rather than using cardboard boxes, Gambocarto said. 

This is the very thing students like Ariyah Sadler, a sophomore public policy major, did at move-in this semester to be environmentally friendly and efficient.

“I have these three-tier drawers, and instead of bringing those separately and packing my stuff in boxes, I packed all my things into those drawers,” Sadler said. 

In addition to using drawers, shelves and reusable plastic containers, many students either save the boxes from move-out or keep their things stored in the same boxes all summer long.

Students wishing to learn more about sustainability efforts can attend the Sustainable Carolina’s sustainability social on Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Student Union Gift Plaza.


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