For Climate Action Day I helped lead the PLAN/Exeter sustainability initiative workshop. PLAN (Post Land Fill Action Network) is a sustainability consulting group that travels across the country to universities to help student leaders create effective sustainability plans that recycle and resell thrown out items. Most often, these items (e-waste, clothes, plastic, furniture) are dumped together in large trash collectors or left outside. Here at Exeter, we have identified that our current end of year clean out period deals with those exact problems. Although the mandatory clean out is effective at cleaning the rooms, preventing students from leaving the dorm until they are done has stressed students into indiscriminately chucki ng away items into large trash containers outside their dorms. With this current method we spend large sums of money for these bins and end up actually doing more harm than good.
Of the recyclable or even reusable items that individuals throw out, electronic waste (e-waste) is perhaps the most problematic item because of the rare metals and toxic elements that are in its circuit boards. In a land fill, lead and mercury penetrate the soil and groundwater and gold and silver go to waste. Who has to deal with the bulk of this? Ghettos in Nigeria and India. The bad news for you and me? It’s ending up in our ocean and consequently seafood. We are all suffering for e-waste.
My interest in e-waste is actually how I got involved with PLAN and Exeter’s budding sustainable clean out initiative. This past summer, I attended the Global Citizens Initiative, which is a week long conference in Cambridge, MA where 24 scholars from around the world discuss global issues and develop independent projects focused on an array of our world’s most pressing needs. I was one of two Exonians admitted to this program and I befriended other high schoolers hailing from Iraq to Somalia to Brazil to Japan. The weeklong conference was an incredible opportunity for me to discover the striking commonalities between me and my global peers as well as the serious cultural and political differences. Under the staffing of several notable Exeter faculty I engaged in Harkness conversations with my peers to discuss topics ranging from the UN human rights list to exploring the definition of “engagement.” I left the program conscious of the political ailments of my friend, Aziza, in Afghanistan and Abdi from Somalia. I suddenly engaged with the world in a capacity I didn’t know I could reach. All of us had thought we were already cultured, but we had now reached a new level of global empathy and an awareness for different issues that were now bound to real faces. I returned with a strong conviction that whatever I did as an adult needed to be done in a global sphere where I could have these same interactions. I knew that I would have to do something that made a positive impact. The greatest thing? The week had convinced us all that we were future leaders in each of our respective countries and that we could get together and learn from each other. Would Aziza be the president of Afghanistan like she proclaimed she would so boldly? I now had numerous outlets into all corners of the world through my GCI friends. Taking on the world felt tangible and real. It wasn’t an unattainable dream.
As I mentioned, our time at the summit was also dedicated to developing independent projects in teams of four. Pursuing the question of how we (my team) could reduce e-waste became a topic we all felt strongly about. The plan would be that we would research and develop a project, pitch it to the rest of the students as well as our professional mentors individually assigned to us, and then go back to each of our communities and spend the next year implementing it. For me that meant my partners would go back to Hong Kong, England, and Connecticut. I have to admit, before the summit I wouldn’t be able to explain what E-waste was, but in a matter of days I had developed a deep concern for its implications.
With the stress of college decisions and senior fall, I decided to postpone working on my project. In January after I had been accepted ED to Columbia I finally began making my first moves. I reached out to Mr. Bre, the new sustainability coordinator, and was ecstatic when I found out that I would not be alone in this endeavor. PLAN was coming to work with students at Exeter to develop a project that would focus on all recyclable items! I worked closely with Mr. Bre to prepare for this initiative and I joined the student board where I was appointed co-project manager. Today’s workshop brought together the student board and 20 excited student volunteers to finalize our plan for the end of the year. As project manager, I will satisfy my project’s goal of reducing e-waste while also having the opportunity to manage the big picture aspects of this initiative which include the recycling of clothes, plastic, and furniture. While I would have honestly preferred to spend CAD outside at one of the many incredible workshops, today’s meeting was not just necessary but ended up being exciting for me to see how engaged and helpful our volunteers were. It was worth listening to volunteers come with energy and brainstorm new ideas for the three hours we worked with PLAN. Having held several different leadership positions, I have come to realize the great power in leaders that can maintain direction while also allowing the rest of the team to take a stake in the mission. Empowering our volunteers to hold impactful jobs has added energy and innovation to our project. Stay tuned because soon the whole school will be involved with our initiative Trash 2 Treasure!
Reach out to me if you are interested in learning about the specific steps we have outlined for our project or if you are interested in serving as a team volunteer.