How students can move out sustainably a year into the pandemic

Recycling and donation collection in front of Clark Kerr
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations among UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff increases, the campus’s plan to transition to in-person activities brings me hope for the future of our community. The light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel is finally becoming visible, and we should reflect on the ways it has transformed our sustainable practices and how we envision campus waste disposal. 

Earlier this semester, the Student Environmental Resource Center’s Zero Waste team and the Zero Waste Coalition partnered to create a series of infographics highlighting the intersectionality and environmental justice aspects of zero waste on UC Berkeley’s campus. In the report, both organizations concluded that the “communities affected by campus waste are disproportionately more Latinx and Black” and that these communities face more severe health impacts from a broken waste-management system. This study builds on previous work of the Students of Color Environmental Collective to address the campus’s role in mitigating and preventing environmental injustice.

As this conversation gains momentum and attention from popular sources such as The Story of Stuff Project, more environmental leaders at UC Berkeley are advocating for changes to the ways the campus addresses its waste production. The Zero Waste Coalition has pivoted from pre-pandemic waste-sorting education to deeply exploring the consequences of waste management on communities of color and lower socioeconomic status. 

That’s why Julia Sherman and I, chair and vice chair of the Zero Waste Coalition respectively, are centering environmental justice in UC Berkeley’s Cooperative Reuse program this year. Initiated in 2019, this is both a furniture drop-off and pick-up program in which students can recycle their gently used furniture, and anyone can come by Clark Kerr Campus to pick up these items for free.

You have the opportunity to engage in nonmonetary mutual aid efforts and contribute to campus sustainability efforts by participating in the Cooperative Reuse program if you are moving out of Berkeley this month. For the last two weekends of May, thanks to a partnership with Chipman Relocation & Logistics, you can sign up for a free pickup of reusable furniture and household items such as mattresses, couches, desks, chairs and electronics. You can also drop off your gently used furniture from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 21-23 and May 28-30 in the southwest parking lot of Clark Kerr Campus.

If you are moving to Berkeley in the near future, you can stop by the southwest parking lot of Clark Kerr during the above dates to pick up free furniture for your new apartment. In compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, visitors must wear a face covering at all times. We are operating this program over the course of two weeks to prevent crowds and minimize potential exposure.

Students moving out of the residence halls should consider donating any gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, sports items and unopened, nonperishable foods by bringing them to the bins in many residence hall locations by May 14. For more details about on-site recycling locations and moving out of your campus housing, visit UC Berkeley’s spring move-out page.

Individuals living in fraternities, sororities or other group living situations should focus on recycling and reusing internally by sharing clothes, books and furniture with their housemates. Students with larger furniture items can participate in the Cooperative Reuse program. 

In general, it is extremely important to dispose of waste properly, especially as increased landfill waste threatens air quality. Poor air quality can lead to an increase in asthma and other respiratory illnesses in surrounding communities and can potentially pollute our drinking water. See the Ecology Center’s interactive sorting guide for more information on where to dispose of specific waste items.

If you have waste that will not fit in your receptacle, you can purchase additional, prepaid refuse bags and plant debris bags at the city’s Transfer Station; you can also take items directly to the station. Talk to your landlord or property manager about ordering increased garbage or recycling collection services if needed. Up to two mattresses can be dropped off at the Transfer Station per visit for free. To dispose of additional electronic waste for free, see if you can donate it to the Computer and Technology Resource Center.

Last summer, UC Berkeley students experienced a major COVID-19 surge, making Berkeley a hot spot for the virus to spread. There are multiple steps we are taking to ensure that Cooperative Reuse remains a safe program for social distancing and little to no exposure to COVID-19. 

Partnerships have been a key component of this year’s Cooperative Reuse program. While Sherman and I are the student leads for this program, we have worked with Jen Loy, the associate director of UC Berkeley’s Government and Community Relations office, to form partnerships with the following entities: Berkeley Property Owners Association, UC Berkeley’s Leadership, Engagement, Advising and Development Center, Berkeley Student Cooperative, Cal Zero Waste, the city of Berkeley, Telegraph Business Improvement District, the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council.

Cooperative Reuse is a growing program that is in line with UC Berkeley’s major sustainability goals, including Zero Waste by 2020 and Beyond and the campus’s Zero Waste Target policy, which aims to eliminate all nonessential single-use plastic by 2030. As students, we play a key role in achieving these commitments and keeping our communities safe and clean. During this year’s move-out season, I have hope that we can collectively mobilize behind the Cooperative Reuse program to redistribute thousands of furniture items and leave Berkeley a more sustainable place.

Kathryn Wilson is a UC Berkeley Zero Waste Coalition leader who has written this article as a part of the 2021 Student Move Out Coalition.