Taking "The Compact" to University Land
Around the turn of the new year I read an article about a group of friends in San Francisco who had made "a compact" the previous New Year to buynothing newduring all of 2006 (except food, health and safety items and underwear). They accidently kicked off a movement, with more than 8,000 people officially participating and thousands more unofficially. Considering that I have been a thrift store regular and second hander for years, the Compact seemed like a great idea and a fun challenge for me. So, this past New Year I announced to my friends and family that I too was going to "take the compact."
It's July and I've only broken down and bought two things new. Once I bought a set of drywall anchors because the nails I'd gotten from the Habitat Reuse Store weren't doing the job. The other time I strongly hinted to my mom that I was in a pinch and could really use a new DVD burner for my birthday. Other than that, it's been 100% thrift, yard sale, surplus, second-hand, Freecycle, Craigslist, and eBay. Besides saving me a bundle of money, it's provided me with many meaningful and informative experiences. It's just astounding how a few days after you realize you need something you will see someone put that exact thing out on the curb for the garbage truck to haul away. (Aside: In fact, the idea of dumpster-diving never seemed appealing to me until the Compact caused me to notice how much perfectly useful stuff Americans throw away! In a few hours one Sunday, a friend of mine and I filled a car full of useful items pulled from dumpsters at apartment buildings and donated them to a local charity thrift store. Desks. Chairs. Lamps. Paintings. Strollers. You name it.)
Learning how to repair and maintain all kinds of equipment has boosted my sense of self-sufficiency and caused me to use equipment with more care. I've certainly come to value products designed for durability and serviceability rather than expendability. Here's the segue into campus sustainability: Colleges and universities as a sector deserve a lot of credit for moving in the direction charted by the Compact. Sure, higher education institutions consume a lot of new products and generate a significant amount of waste. But they are by far one of the more conscientious sectors. With long range planning that looks forward decades rather than quarters, higher education staff do an excellent job of purchasing for durability and serviceability. (I'm always impressed by the sturdy construction of campus furniture.)
They often have surplus or donation programs for items they no longer can use. And when consumables cannot be reused, reapplied or repaired, most have recycling programs that divert a significant amount from the landfill. Where I think there is significant room for improvement is in campus culture. When institutional money is being spent, as I've said, it often gets spent wisely on durable, serviceable and reusable products. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the money spent by the people that make up the campus community. Higher education institutions could do more to counter the American consumer culture that worships the latest fashion and flashiest gadgets. What if they did? What would that look like? Here are a few ideas that I've seen in a few places:
- hosting clothing exchanges
- having a general repair shop with tools that can be checked out (most students don't have that 3/8 inch wrench needed to fix their desk chair)
- end of semester quad/yard sales
- campus Freecycle-type mailing lists
- promoting "Buy Nothing Day"
- donation bins in dorms
- creative reuse competitions
- a "Fix-it"shop staffed by students. Other students and staff can bring their items that need repair to the "fix-it shop" where the student employees use their ingenuity, creativity, a good set of tools and Google to exact repairs (when repair is possible).
I'm sure there are many other and better ideas. If you have some ideas, please post them as comments here...
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