Town and Gown conference: Recycling implementation for student move out

James Heggen

Don’t throw that out; they could use it.

Traci Claar, director of community relations at George Mason University, and Sarah Gallagher, also with the office of community relations, explained how they designed and implemented a move out recycling program for student at the Fairfax, Virginia campus.

The session was part of the 5th Annual Best Practices in Building University/City Relations Conference held this year in Ames.

The conference is put on by the International Town and Gown Association, an organization of university cities for discussing issues unique to these types of cities.

The program, “Patriot Pack Out,” collects food, clothing and appliances from students moving out of the dorms, as well as some off-campus housing, and donates the goods to local charities.

Many of the cities who were a part of the session, including the city of Ames, did not have a similar program in place but were looking to implement one.

Claar said they began doing research by looking at different universities that already had such programs in place. She said there are many different models, including a thrift sale model, where the recycled items are stored for students to buy them, a clothing swap model and a charity model.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” she said.

Gallagher said the program covers a seven-day period during the month of May with 14 different stations set up in the residence halls. Drive-up drop-offs are offered for faculty, staff and off campus residents’ convenience. The food goes to the local food bank, and the appliances and clothing goes to a local thrift shop, she said. The program takes about 30 to 50 volunteers working 22 shifts to run it.

Claar said the program has saved the university a lot of money.

“We have a very low cost program,” Claar said.

A one-time event costs a total of $663 and the annual costs come to $245.

The savings from not having to haul trash to the landfill is about $400, and some $5,000 was saved in labor costs from the office of recycling and waste management, Claar said. Before the program, staff from this office were going through the residence halls and looking for things that could be taken to the Salvation Army and then taking it there, which they did in between fulfilling their other responsibilities.

“We’re probably saving between $5,000 and $6,000,” she said.

The program also offers free storage and delivery for the program, Claar said. A member of the board of chamber and commerce, of which Claar is also a member, donated his business’ storage truck as well as a driver to deliver the items.

Last year, the program collected 1,385 pounds of food and 6,796 pounds of items to donate to the thrift shop.