‘Zero-Waste Movement’ talk sheds light on environmental flaws

By Katrina Borofski

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Alex Lindsay/Daily Collegian

Alex Lindsay/Daily Collegian

Talks on trash, consumerism and resource depletion commenced at the “Zero-Waste Movement” event on Monday night. Hosted by the Sustainable UMass Action Coalition in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall,students welcomed guest speaker Alex Freid, who shared his experiences and insight on pressing environmental issues.

A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, 22-year-old Freid is the founder and director of the Post-Landfill Action Network, also known as PLAN.

“Back in high school, I did some goofy activism,” Freid said of his deep-rooted interest in the environment. “I’ve been involved in environmental and social justice activism for years now. Eventually that lead me to this.”

Freid presented pictures of himself in high school alongside a plastic bottle recycling project and numerous other environmental initiatives. His work at college was inspired specifically by trash.

“In an average month, we throw away 25 tons of trash at UNH,” Freid explained, while sharing images of flooding trash bins and dumpsters at the UNH campus.

“We really wanted to find a way to solve this problem,” Freid said.

For this reason, Freid began the “Trash 2 Treasure” project, where he and a group of students collected things students would normally throw away at the end of the academic year, stored them over the summer and hosted a sale in the fall. The first Trash 2 Treasure event took place in 2011.

“To summarize, we reused 110 tons. We saved the University $10,000 in disposable fees,” Freid said.

Similarly, the University of Massachusetts is planning “New2U,” a tag sale scheduled to take place in the fall.

Sustainable UMass representatives noted the progress being made on the University’s own reusable-friendly initiative.

“We need minds and brains to help us out with the logistics,” one Sustainable UMass representative explained. “We’ve made progress, but there’s still a lot of stuff to do.”

A meeting to help plan New2U is scheduled for next Monday at 7 p.m. in the Physical Plant.

Alex Freid, having been successful in his reusable-friendly initiative at UNH, supported Sustainable UMass’s initiative and predicted the magnitude of success that New2U could have on a campus as substantial as UMass.

In addition to sharing his past involvement in environmental initiatives, Monday’s presentation also educated the audience on many of today’s most pressing environmental issues. To begin the educational aspect of his presentation, Freid shared some statistics that left much of the crowd astonished.

“In 1960, the average American threw away 2.6 pounds of waste per day,” he began. “Today, the average American throws away 4.6 pounds of waste every day.”

Freid expressed disapproval with how consumerism has evolved, and identified the reasons for this notable lifestyle change, as well as solutions to its detrimental effects.

At the root of society’s “throw away culture,” Alex Freid pinpointed planned obsolescence as one of its primary causes.

“It’s when manufacturers design goods to fail,” Freid explained. Whether this is a functional failure or a style failure, Freid noted that manufacturers focus on increasing profit, forcing consumers to frequently purchase new goods and thus use more materials and resources.

“As a world, we measure companies and countries by their growth,” Freid said. “I think this is fundamentally flawed.”

He also identified a number of other environmental issues, including the problems caused by landfills and excessive resource depletion.

“You have all these synthetics, all these metals,” Freid said. “And they’re getting into our water supply and food.”

A dangerous result, he said, is the effect on animals: “What we’ve done to the planet is make normal animals toxic waste.”

Freid also shed light on the history of environmental policy. Although his presentation reflected an overall dissatisfaction with the current state of the planet, he did recognize the progress that has been made since the early 1900s in legislation impacting the environment.

“Before 1976, we had no legislation to actually deal with waste issues in the country,” he explained.

“In 1976, the RCRA was passed.” Freid identified this law, also known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as the first primary legislation dedicated to governing hazardous waste.

“I believe this is a fundamentally solvable problem,” Freid explained. He cited individual action, regulation and innovation, hard-to-recycle technology and system change as four resolutions to the environmental issue that has arisen from consumer waste.

Freid is continuing his efforts toward improving the status of the environment through his work with PLAN. Some of PLAN’s goals include to “launch new programs, expand existing programs, optimize revenues, cooperate knowledge and aggregate waste.”

Katrina Borofski can be reached at [email protected]