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Student-led program provides Western students with free recycled dorm necessities, increasing sustainability and decreasing waste

Co-founders of Western’s Residence Hall Reuse Program Dora Vaughan and Hannah Nienaber (pictured left to right) stand in front of donated dorm items ready for rental as they welcome students during fall quarter move-in, Sep. 19, 2020. // Photo courtesy of Hannah Nienaber

By Hannah Cross

Western Washington University students struggling to find new homes for used or unwanted dorm items have a new sustainable option.

The Residence Hall Reuse Program is a student-led initiative created by Western students Hannah Nienaber and Dora Vaughan. This program invites students to donate their unwanted items which are then collected, stored and rented out to other students as they move into the residence halls each quarter. 

“[This program] was born out of what we see as a much-needed paradigm shift away from current destructive tendencies of materialism,” Nienaber said. “We ultimately hope to create a shift among our peers and their families away from unnecessary and short-lasting purchases toward community-focused sharing.” 

By keeping items in use longer, students can help reduce waste on campus while also making the transition to Western more affordable and accessible for incoming students and their families, Nienaber said. The only requirement is that students live on campus. 

So how does this program help reduce waste on campus?

“One of the simplest ways we can reduce waste is by using what we have, and this program is one way we can do that,” said Lauren Sanner, a zero-waste coordinator at Western’s Associated Students Recycle Center. “By using items to their fullest potential, which includes taking care of our belongings so someone else may use them in the future, we prolong the life cycle of what we own.”

Sanner said the AS Recycle Center sees students throw out a huge amount of usable goods on and off campus during the move-out season. 

“The ResReuse program supports sustainability in many different aspects,” Sanner said. “Not only does this program support environmental sustainability by reducing waste and keeping us from demanding more natural resources be used as material goods, but these types of programs also support economic sustainability for students.”

Economic sustainability helps alleviate the financial burdens of living on campus by providing cheaper or free alternatives, such as what this program offers Western students. 

“By reusing items from this program, an economic weight can be taken off students’ shoulders, which will allow them to focus on sustaining themselves as human beings and their well-being, an important aspect of sustainability we often forget about,” Sanner said. 

The program launched in spring 2020. Nienaber and Vaughan began developing the program in fall 2019, Nienaber said. 

“We collected our first round of donations during spring quarter move-out and continued to sort and sanitize items over the summer while setting up our reservation system for the fall,” Nienaber said. “We were able to rent items out to over 50 students during the fall 2020 move-in which we consider to be a huge success for our first run, especially considering that it was in the middle of a pandemic.”

Mark Peterson, sustainable business manager at Sustainable Connections, said waste production plays a much higher role in climate change than many students would think. 

Peterson said the quantity of waste production in Whatcom County is a problem. He said this is a problem because Whatcom does not have designated places for large quantities of waste to be transported.

“We don’t have landfills in Whatcom County, so we ship two trucks worth of our garbage to other parts of the state every day,” Peterson said.

Recycling and reusing college furniture and appliances helps to reduce carbon footprints, Peterson said. He also called this student-led program “forward-thinking” for taking concerns surrounding waste production and providing an accessible and practical approach to limiting it.

“I think that this program is awesome,” Peterson said. “Waste production professionals live to reduce, reuse, recycle and anytime we can take durable items and increase their lifespan, we are helping reduce our own carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Western first-year Katrina Doerflinger said this free program has helped her save money. She said she was able to avoid wasting money and materials by simply renting the same durable goods from the ResReuse program when she moved on campus in fall 2020.

“Instead of buying desk dividers, door hooks and Tupperware, I rented them for free at the start of fall quarter,” Doerflinger said. “Why buy something if you’re only going to use it for a short time?”  

In addition to providing a money-saving option, Doerflinger said the reuse program helped encourage her environmental consciousness. She said the program’s mission to limit materialism on Western’s campus and promote reusability through community-based sharing better informed her sustainable choices as a student resident. 

“I am practicing sustainability by reusing and repurposing items that others don’t want but are still perfectly good to use,” Doerflinger said.

Doerflinger also said students can rent from and donate to this program throughout the year, not just during move-in at the beginning of the quarter. 

So what items can students donate to this program?

Nienaber said the program accepts a wide variety of residence hall living essentials including but not limited to: microwaves, mini-fridges, extra-long twin sheets, mattress pads or toppers, comforters, laundry hampers, storage solutions, rugs, technology, kitchen essentials, mirrors, lighting and hangers. 

“We’ve poured everything we have into the creation of this program, and knowing that we were able to help even a few students makes it all worth it,” Nienaber said.

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