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    How to Break the Waste Cycle: Lessons from Post-Landfill Action Network’s Student Conference

    On November 4th, 2017, we met a monster.

    Its name was Fill, short for landfill. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t an actual monster, but the idea behind it was just as frightening.

    As we walked into Temple’s Mitten Hall for the  Students for Zero-Waste Conference hosted by the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), we were greeted by a plastic bag monster – an individual covered in plastic bags. The conference was a day full of educational workshops and networking opportunities for college students across the country. Workshop leaders came from as far as University of Ohio and CU Berkeley to provide insights on the individual waste reduction initiatives taken on by their universities.

    PLAN conference

    The workshops covered an array of topics from eliminating coffee cups on college campuses to widescale sustainable project management. We definitely couldn’t let the opportunity to learn about zero-waste go to WASTE!

    How we Applied the Zero Waste Conference to Campus

    As students in the Eco-Reps Program at the University of Pennsylvania, we serve as environmental consultants for different departments within the university to improve our campus’s sustainable efforts. Not only did the conference allow us to gain a better understanding of how we could supplement our own Eco-Rep project, like reviewing community-based social marketing strategies, but it also showed how students outside of the environmental field to develop more sustainable lifestyle habits. Through fun and inexpensive activities such as DIY toothpaste, the conference leaders showed how simple it could be for students to reduce their material consumption and waste streams.

    These lessons are especially important to our country’s current waste problem, which is especially prevalent on college campuses. Though the amount of waste per person has relatively decreased in recent years, it is still far from ideal. Still, there are certain waste streams that show grand potential for change. When we first met Fill, we learned that one shopper uses approximately 500 plastic bags per year. A simple solution would be for everyone to use reusable bags.t shirt bag diy

    However, as Daniel Kahneman, a renowned behaviorist economist, points out in his work Thinking, Fast and Slow, through our system one behavior, or automatic thinking, people have a tendency to gravitate towards what is considered routine behavior. Opting to use plastic bags when grocery shopping would fall under this behavioral category. However, through the conference, we learned how to break this automatic behavior by making it easier for a person to partake in more sustainable behaviors as well as making them conscious of their unsustainable acts.

    For instance, through the coffee cup campaign that began in Western Washington University, we learned that one way of reducing coffee cup waste would be to replace them with compostable coffee cups, as well as incorporate visual demos of the amount of waste generated from coffee cups in a day. Using quantitative and qualitative analysis was essential in testing the effectiveness of these efforts.

    PLANs for students for zero waste conference 2018PLAN Student panel

    Being that Penn has extended it efforts to grow as a sustainable college campus and as a newly named arboretum, we are excited to continue to be part of this conversation by hosting the next Students for Zero Waste Conference in 2018!

    How to Get Involved in PLAN

    PLAN works with over 200 campuses across the country year-round on student leadership development and zero waste project guidance. Member campuses in Philly include Drexel, UPenn and Temple. If you are a student on any of these campuses you can make an account on their website to access tons of resources and discounts. If you are on a different campus, email Faye@postlandfill.org to get involved or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


    Header photo: Rachael Warriner

    Artemis Tiburcio & Nicole Posadas

    About Artemis Tiburcio & Nicole Posadas

    Artemis Diana Tiburcio is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, concentrating in Environmental Policy, Finance, and Operations. She is involved in Penn Eco-Reps, Student Sustainability at Penn (SSAP), and the Penn Community Garden. Nicole Posadas is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Earth Science with a concentration in Environmental Science. She is actively involved in Penn Eco-Reps, Student Advisory Group for the Environment (SAGE), and Penn's Earth & Environmental Science Undergraduate Advisory Board.

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