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As the semester winds down and summer vacation begins, university students living in halls need to empty out their room and return it to the university. Personal belongings such as clothing, stationery, kitchen ware and personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash) are often simply thrown in the trash. Three years ago, a group of green-minded students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) took action. They spent countless hours and untold effort to sort all the stuff being thrown out, store it, and then bring it back to campus the following school year for use by incoming students. Last month, I was lucky enough to join and was able to witness first-hand the severity of the waste problem. Here’s what I saw:

1. Tonnes of (hardly worn) clothes being abandoned

It seems many young people are deeply influenced by the ubiquitous advertising campaigns mounted by fast fashion brands. A large proportion of the “waste” consisted of clothing. Not only poor quality clothing which has lost its shape after a few washes, but also many durable items such as jeans are easily discarded.

Each college, department and club holds it’s own orientation camp. The participants are provided with logo-ed T-shirts. Camp organisers are very “considerate” to the fact that participants are usually too busy to wash their T-shirt during the camp, so they provide several T-shirts to each and every participant.  While sorting out the discard clothing, I picked up 8 brand new T-shirts still in the original plastic packaging. I won’t need to buy T-shirts for quite a while.

2. Pillows, quilts and bedding are being needlessly discarded

Mattresses are provided by the halls, but students have to bring their own pillow, quilt and bedding. From what I could tell, most students were moving out with one or two large luggages. If they stuff their pillow, quilt and bedding into the luggage, there really isn’t much room for anything else. Hence, much of the bedding is simply abandoned (photo above). The head of a college, has agreed to implement a program to have these items dry-cleaned, and then re-sold to incoming students to defray the dry-cleaning cost. There are simple, effective solutions to reduce waste but many more administrators need to get on board.

3. Hangars, hangars and more hangars

There is wardrobe in the student’s room but hangers aren’t provided. Students are required to return the room completely empty.  Even the hangers can’t stay. Thousands of hangers are thus dumped into the garbage every year. A few months later, another batch of students moving in will need to buy thousands more hangers. Witnessing such needless waste really frustrated me. Why can’t halls simply make an exception for hangers? Or at least, set up a re-use corner in the laundry room where students moving out can leave their hangers, laundry baskets and laundry pegs for students who will move in the following semester (photo below). Again, there are simple, practical solutions but administrators need to be coaxed or incentivised into doing more than the bare-minimum.

This re-use initiative was started by the students green group “CU x Rubbish” three years ago. This year, the initiative has spread to all nine colleges of CUHK. We hope that the university administration will provide more concrete support and encouragement to this terrific student-led initiative. We also hope other universities in Hong Kong will take up the challenge of reducing this needless waste.

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