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Cover image from Beyond Waste Student Summits in early 2020

Despite another year of uncertainty, students have persevered and demonstrated immense flexibility. We are beyond impressed with all that has been accomplished this year, and honored to share two profiles of student work with PLAN!

Raul Leon, a current student at San Diego State University and former president of the Geography Club at Cerritos

Cerritos College’s Path to Signing the Plastic-Free Pledge

Raul Leon

The dream for our Break Free From Plastic campaign came from Salvador Uribe, the former president and creator of the Geography Club at Cerritos College. He started the campaign by connecting with different department boards and with organizations that would lead us with the best steps to move forward. At the end of Salvador’s time at Cerritos, Covid-19 prevented from meeting with the board. I was then elected as president of the Geography Club and had the option to keep moving this project forward.

This eventually resulted in us writing a seven year plan with the guidance of PLAN, and getting our resolution passed on December 6 by the Board of Trustees with the leadership of Dr. Ryan Goode, Gisselle Delgadillo, and Hector Ledesma, who supported me as I continued with this project.

What inspired me to make this dream a reality is that the issue of plastic affects us in ways that many do not know. I live and grew up in a community infested by these toxic facilities where chemicals used to create plastic are produced. I got involved with East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice before college a non-profit organization that works on issues that affect our communities. Being involved with them allowed me to realize that these facilities are harmful and toxic, and should not be placed in our backyards.

Being able to help my community by reducing our plastic waste may seem like it will not solve this issue—however, this step could inspire others to take the step. Like my great friend Mark Lopez once said, “Community is what makes things possible.”

At the beginning of this movement, many people closed their doors for Salvador Uribe, making it difficult to keep going. I started this project during the pandemic, and during this time I didn’t have the support lead something like this.

At this time, our PLAN mentor Young began to advise us on next steps. PLAN was our light in the middle of the darkness! With the help of Young and Algalita, Salvador was first able to begin with this project. Young was there to guide me when I started and gave us a direction to go and feedback on the seven year plan. I appreciate them for being there throughout this whole project and for being patient with all the questions that I had. PLAN is continuing to support us as we begin this new change at Cerritos College. I also appreciate them for supporting me personally through this project and my educational career. This has inspired me to keep working on a change at San Diego State University, where I currently attend.

Another great quote from Mark Lopez is, “So much is decided for our communities, not by our communities.” Our campaign was one of the few times community members were represented and successfully made a change. What made this project special is that everyone involved was impacted by this issue or knew a loved one who was impacted. As a community, we were able to come together and make a resolution and have it approved by the governing board of the institution. I hope to inspire others to keep working collectively for zero-waste systems to be implemented worldwide. I hope that we inspire people to keep working for the betterment for our communities—because we are only trying to breathe.

Top photos from this year’s move-out program at University of South Dakota, bottom photo of Caitlin Reimers and Anna Moore with their SZW Outstanding New Program awards

University of South Dakota’s First Move-Out Program

Anna Moore

PLAN hosted a virtual panel that inspired University of South Dakota Sustainability B.S. student Caitlin Reimers to build a move-out program as her spring semester internship with Sustainability M.S. student and campus recycling coordinator Anna Moore. Hundreds of USD students are required to move out of their residence halls at the end of the school year, and there are often many items that they can’t or don’t want to take with them. If they are not provided with an alternative way to keep these items in use, perfectly good items end up in dumpsters bound for the landfill.

Many at USD and in Vermillion have been aware of and saddened by this waste, but implementing a waste-diversion program at the end of the school year—when students are busy wrapping up for the year, faculty are busy with end-of-the-semester projects and grading, and many USD offices, especially housing, are extra busy during this transition time—has been challenging without a campus sustainability office.

Our main challenges building this program were recruiting volunteers, marketing the program without a budget, and covering the entire campus. We were lucky to have the support of one of our vice presidents, Scott Pohlson, in helping us succeed despite these challenges and build more institutional support for next year.

PLAN advised the program throughout the process and shared helpful resources for tracking donations and orienting volunteers. Over the course of move-out week, the program diverted more than 4,400 pounds of material from the landfill including more than 500 items of clothing, 20 crates of food, 70 rugs, 50 mirrors, and 25 mattress pads. The donated items went to the Vermillion Food Pantry, the Transformation Project in Sioux Falls, Pathways Shelter for the Homeless in Yankton and the Civic Council Thrift Store in Vermillion. 

The success of the first year created excitement, pride, and more personnel support for this next year. We are transferring leadership of the move-out program to a new university committee and a volunteer donation team full of passionate students, faculty, staff, and community members. The team is coordinated by a graduate assistant who works for Student Services.