To the PLAN Network:
Things have been changing rapidly. At the beginning of last week, only a handful of colleges and universities had closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States. By mid-week, we were tracking dozens of schools announcing that they were shutting down, sending students home, and moving classes online. By the end of the week, US News and World Report was tracking the responses of over 200 campuses. Over the weekend, as the reality of the pandemic declaration settled in, local and state governments started to respond, closing entire city-wide and state-wide systems. Today – Monday, March 16th, 2020 – we’re looking at hundreds of closures, and we’re expecting that, by the end of this week, the overwhelming majority of college and university campuses in the US will be closed for at least the next few weeks, with many closed until further notice. We understand and support the campus and government officials that are making these decisions — so long as they continue to keep everyones’ health and well-being at the forefront during this time, and keep in mind the social and financial needs of historically-marginalized communities and vulnerable populations. As such, we are calling on those administrators who are enacting policies around transitioning to online learning platforms for the remainder of the term or requiring students to move out of their dorms indefinitely to consider the impact and stress this will put on students and staff in this already challenging time. We at PLAN urge you to have a plan in place for students who don’t have access to laptops for submitting digital assignments, waiving forced eviction policies, and reimbursing pay for both work-study students and custodial staff.
From the zero waste perspective, we believe that no lives are disposable, and that it is everyone’s responsibility to do what we can to protect the lives of those around us. This statement is in no way comprehensive, but we felt it was important, as an organization, to ground our network through the updates below. Things are going to continue to change, and we will do our best to stay on top of them and keep everyone updated.
A note to our students:
We wanted to say, first and foremost, that you and your health come before the movement. In fact, you are the movement! This means that your health and well-being matter the most right now! Regardless of what your campus or community is doing to respond to the virus, it’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and, by extension, your community. In order to ensure that the movement we are building together is sustainable, we must take action to prioritize our own sustainability – and the sustainability of others. As we collectively move through this moment, it’s especially necessary that we take into account those of us who might be the most vulnerable: folks with compromised health or immune systems, folks who are undocumented, folks who do not have access to (adequate) healthcare, folks who might not be able to return to work or travel back home for an extended period of time, folks struggling with housing and food insecurity, folks from frontline communities who are actively addressing pollution and other systemic injustices, and others. If you have the ability to do so, we encourage you to do as much as you can to “flatten the curve”. Let’s approach this thing like source reduction: look upstream and stop the flow of infection by self-isolation and self-care.
We also want to name that the closing of campus buildings and dorms specifically leaves many students without stable housing, internet, and/or access to food and health services. If this applies to you, we urge you to look into mutual aid resources in your area. To the people coming together to provide the supplies and support that our national systems are failing to contribute, see the Student Mutual Aid Network. Also, check out this resource: What to do if your colleges close due to the Coronavirus.
Remember our core principle here at PLAN: no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. So, even if that something is taking a breath, know that we will get through this time by leaning on one another and continuing to move forward.
A note to our move-out programs:
We understand that these abrupt changes will cause significant disruptions to daily life, as well as the programs and operations that many of us have fought so hard to put together. For us at PLAN, we’re thinking a lot about our move-out programs.
Hundreds of the campuses that PLAN supports around the US run student-led efforts to collect items discarded when students head home for the Summer, and either donate those items to local partners or organize a yard sale for students and/or their community. Unfortunately, with limited time to make decisions and organize logistics, many of these programs simply will not be possible this year. For other campuses, they have made the decision to organize quickly and collect a small amount of specific items – see Tufts University’s Green Move-Out 2020, as an example. Whether it’s because of the logistics and timing of your program, your concerns about spreading the virus in your community, or your concerns about the long-term financial capacity of your program, it may be in your best interest to pause your move-out program this year. However, if your campus does choose to continue collections, please keep in mind the CDC’s guidelines for disinfecting household items.
Each campus has a unique set of circumstances and local regulations, so we understand that for many of you this may be complicated. If you are struggling to decide what to do with your program this year, please feel free to reach out to us for support or guidance. As always, we are here to help – either to talk through specific logistics or to lend an ear as you mourn the loss of a program that you worked hard to build.
In the more just and sustainable world that we are working to build at PLAN, we see move-out programs as a form of community-care and mutual aid. If this is not what is possible for you right now, it’s possible to find other ways to support each other. A zero-waste world is a world where nobody’s humanity is disposable. Whatever happens from here, please know that we are here for you, your campus, your program, and the health and well-being of your community.
PLAN’s next steps and changes going forward:
The PLAN team is approaching our work with care and respect for both our staff and the rad students we work with, while still continuing to enact our core mission of fostering and cultivating the student-led zero waste movement. To that point, we will be postponing or canceling all of our in-person events or meetings until we are sure that it is safe for crowds to gather once again. However, we already do so much of our work digitally! That is why we are doubling down, getting creative, connecting with our movement partners, and working to provide engaging content for the next several months! Be sure to keep an eye out for all of the exciting things we have planned, as well as by following us on social media (@postlandfill across all platforms). We are also still available for the same digital 1×1 conversations and club advising that you already know us for!
If you are a student, staff member, or professor trying to create an action plan for organizing on your campus or want us to give a personalized digital presentation to your group, class, or organization, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Campus Coordinator, sending us a DM on any of our social media pages, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We aren’t going anywhere, and we are here for all of our students and partners who need support in continuing to organize around and build this movement!
Here’s a list of other things that we are currently still working on:
- Developing new digital training opportunities for the PLAN Leadership Certification
- Building out virtual contingency plans for our next Students for Zero Waste Conference
- Hiring students for our remote Summer positions: Atlas Fellowship and Zero Waste Strategy Internship
- Hiring a new Communications Director and Co-Executive Director
PLAN’s systems of staff support:
All PLAN staff are on full-time salaries, with flexible schedules and a significant bank of Paid Time Off (PTO) hours available, which means we all have guaranteed sick leave and paid time off to get us through. But, we recognize this system was created and intended for when we’re operating under regular circumstances, which is beyond where we are now. That said, we commit to remaining flexible and aware of changing circumstances and the needs of all of our staff, as each others’ health and well-being is of the highest priority.
In closing: this is a defining moment for our generation. How we get through this – and we will get through this – will redefine how we approach global challenges like resource consumption, income inequality, and climate change. We will be better prepared for what comes next, and we will have seen what real examples of solidarity, mutual aid, resistance, and resilience look like. We are here, and we will support each other. Stay safe and healthy, friends!
The PLAN Team