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Tufts won a bench made out of recycled plastic film!

The bench, located in the backyard of CoHo

Tufts has a range of specialty recycling programs through which its community members can sustainably dispose of items that cannot be conventionally recycled. This includes items such as batteries, ink and toner, textiles, and as of 2018—plastic film! Tufts’ plastic film recycling program is a partnership between local grocers and Trex, a composite decking company.

In September 2019, Tufts signed-up for a Trex challenge to recycle 500 pounds of plastic film in 6 months. Between student Move-In, Dining Center kitchens, the mail room, and a range of other efforts, Tufts was able to meet this goal. In turn, we won a Trex bench made out of recycled plastic film!

The plaque on the bench.

How did we win the challenge?

Learn more about how we engaged the Tufts community and recycled enough plastic film to win the challenge:  

Student Move-In and plastic film recycling:

Some plastic film from Move In 2019.

Each fall when students move back to campus, they bring with them a range of packing items, often including a large amount of plastic film such as air pillows and bubble wrap. During Fall 2019 Move-In, our recycling workers circulated the residence halls and dumpsters with special bags for collecting plastic film from students. We were able to collect 192 pounds of film during Move-In alone!

Residence hall recycling competition and waste audits:

Contamination in the recycling from one of our waste audits, mostly consisting of plastic film items.

Later in the 2019 fall semester, the Office of Sustainability (OOS) recycling team partnered with the Eco-Reps to hold a residence hall recycling competition. We judged the competition through a series of 11 waste audits in the residence halls. Through good-spirited competition, we educated about and encouraged proper recycling.

The waste audits also provided valuable qualitative and quantitative data about diversion rate, contamination rate, and the most common contaminants in the recycling stream. Contaminants are when items that cannot be conventionally recycled are placed in the recycling bin, thereby contaminating it.

Plastic film bin expansion and educational campaign:

After noting from the waste audits that plastic film items were one of the most common contaminants in the conventional recycling stream, the Eco-Reps and OOS recycling team embarked upon a plastic film recycling educational campaign. This involved a range of efforts, including but not limited to:

A plastic film specialty recycling bin
  • Starting a new plastic film specialty recycling bin at the Boston campus (currently on hiatus during COVID)
  • Creating new audience-specific plastic film recycling signage (a general sign, a mail room sign, and a sign for the Dining Center kitchens catered to their specific items)
  • Fielding staff and faculty Eco-Ambassador requests for new bins in select spots
  • Creating and sharing social media and newsletter content educating about plastic film and the specialty recycling program
  • Eco-Reps put out “pop-up” plastic film recycling collection bins in the residence halls

How can I recycle plastic film at Tufts?

Plastic film items include soft plastics such as grocery bags, bubble wrap, plastic padded-envelopes, air pillows, and even bread, cereal, and produce bags.

Our general plastic film recycling sign.

These items cannot be conventionally recycled because they get tangled in the machinery at the sorting facility. This can shut things down, costing time and money and posing a safety hazard to the people working at the facility. Watch this video to learn more about the hazards that plastic film poses when placed in the conventional recycling bin.

Reducing waste is a great away to avoid this problem, such as through using reusable bags instead of grocery bags. However, if you do find yourself with a plastic film item, specialty recycling it at Tufts or at your local grocer is a great way to divert it from the landfill!

Though the plastic film specialty recycling program was paused at Tufts due to challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, as of February 2021, the program is back up and running. Learn more about what to recycle on our webpage and find specialty recycling bin locations on our Eco-Map.

What happens when I recycle plastic film at Tufts?

Here’s how the full process works:

  1. Tufts community member drops their plastic film items into a plastic film specialty recycling bin on campus
  2. The Office of Sustainability’s specialty recycling intern services the bins on a regular schedule, taking the plastic film to a local grocer accepting plastic film in partnership with Trex
  3. Trex picks up the film from the grocery store. They clean and grind the film into granules and combine and heat it with sawdust. The resulting mixture is formed into boards.
  4. Plastic film is recycled into eco-friendly decking, benches, and other outdoor living products! You can learn more about this process from Trex here.
The circular economy and product transformation of plastic film recycled at Tufts.

Congratulations to the 2020-2021 Green Fund Winners!

On Thursday December 10th, forty members of the Tufts community gathered virtually to watch the Green Fund finalists pitch their project ideas. After the event, the committee deliberated and the following three projects were awarded funding: 

Medford/Somerville Campus: 


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FlowGreen at Tufts, presented by Mia Nixon: FlowGreen uses QR code and landing page technology to make up-to-date recycling information and options readily accessible for Tufts community members, encouraging both a greener campus and a community committed to Zero Waste. This project will help people make informed decisions on what to recycle, and all recycling bins on campus will be outfitted with visible QR codes which are directly linked to local recycling guidelines. These FlowGreen stickers will promote engagement around proper recycling and help minimize the waste created by traditional flyers and pamphlets.  

This project was awarded funding totaling $3,590.  

Link to final presentation slides: 

Link to final proposal: 


Boston Health Sciences Campus: 

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Tufts Hydroponics Collaboration, presented by Kevin Cody & René LaPointe Jameson: This collaborative project will fund the initial operation and implementation of hydroponics equipment recently gifted to New Entry Sustainable Farming Project creating research and experiential learning opportunities for Tufts students, as well as community engagement opportunities with an innovative agricultural technical school and grassroots non-profit organization. This project will establish a collaboration with Building Audacity of Lynn, MA and Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School to design, build, and operate commercial hydroponics equipment to achieve three primary objectives: 

  1. Develop a hydroponics farm-to-school pipeline. This will be done with Essex Tech where they will build and operate a portion of the hydroponics equipment in an already existing greenhouse on their campus in Danvers, MA with the produce going primarily to the school cafeteria. 
  2. Support food access efforts already underway with Building Audacity, a nonprofit that will build and operate a portion of the hydroponics equipment at a facility in Lynn to serve low-income communities of color.  
  3. Integrate the Tufts community in ways that will support the development of an online training course in hydroponic farming, create opportunities for workshops in adult education that serve Tufts/New Entry participants and integrate students and courses from Environmental Engineering, The Friedman School, Urban Environmental Planning, Environmental Studies/Biology, and the Department of Education.  

This project was awarded funding totaling $21,319.65

Link to final presentation slides: 

Link to final proposal:


Grafton Campus: 


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Disposable Mask Recycling, presented by Juliette Nye: This project will establish recycling boxes for disposable masks at the Grafton Campus. These boxes will be situated in the Jean Mayer Administrative Building on the Grafton Campus where students, faculty, and staff are administered their COVID-19 tests. Community members will be able to recycle their masks as opposed to throwing them in the trash, reducing waste. PPE waste can also harm wildlife through ingestion and entanglement.  

This project was awarded funding totaling $1,000

Link to final presentation slides: 

Link to final proposal: 

Trash Talk November: Recycling and Environmental Justice

What does recycling have to do with environmental justice? Turns out, a lot! This month, we decided to explore the intersections between recycling and waste, environmental racism, and justice. Read on to find out what we learned.

Part 1: Landfills and Plastic Production Plants

How are recycling and waste connected to environmental justice? Part 1: Landfills and Plastic Production Plants
How are recycling and waste connected to environmental justice? Part 1: Landfills and Plastic Production Plants
When we throw something in the trash, it goes to a landfill or incinerator.

Landfills release methane, the most potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
Unlike landfills, waste-to-energy incinerators burn the waste for energy, thereby reducing emissions.

Similar to landfills, however, incinerators still have negative impacts on the environment and human health.
Landfills and incinerators are disproportionately located in low income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, and have negative public health impacts on these communities.
Plastic Production Plants: Plastic production plants are petrochemical facilities that use fossil fuels and emit toxic chemicals into the air, soil, and water.
Both surrounding residents and workers at these plants are at high risk of contracting respiratory disease, cancer, or other illness.

Like landfills and incinerators, plastic production plants are disproportionately located in low-income and BIPOC communities.
Waste reduction and recycling are forms of environmental justice.

Reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills and incinerators by making smart purchasing decisions that avoid trash items, and even better: refuse to buy into the waste system all together and say no to plastic.

Part 2: Recycling Workers

How are recycling and waste connected to environmental justice? Part 2: Recycling Workers
Recycling is a glamorous topic in the world of sustainability, but we don’t often think about the dirty underbelly. When we throw something away, it doesn’t just go “poof” and disappear. It goes somewhere, and from landfills to sorting facilities, there is someone on the other end of our waste!
When contaminants end up in the recycling bin, they can get caught in the machinery at the sorting facility, shutting it down, costing money, and posing a safety hazard to the workers who sort them out at the conveyer belt. Such contaminants include wires, hoses, and any soft plastics such as grocery bags.
Additionally, placing sharp items into the recycling bin can pose a hazard to custodial staff, who are not expecting it when handling the bags.
What does this mean for us? For the safety of our recycling and waste workers, who are often members of the communities that we advocate for, avoid contaminating the recycling stream. Know your local recycling rules, and when in doubt about whether something can be recycled, throw it out!

Part 3: Where does Trash from Tufts Go?

Part 3: Where does Trash from Tufts go?
Proximity to waste facilities increases the vulnerability of communities. We decided to learn more about the people and places near where trash from Tufts goes.
The majority of Tufts’ trash goes to the Covanta Haverfill Facility, a waste-to-energy facility.

Waste-to-energy facilities burn waste for energy and are preferable to landfills. Covanta Haverfull is committed to sustainable waste management.

Still, the incineration process pollutes nearby communities with toxins that diminish health.
In the area surrounding the facility:
44% of residents identify as a racial minority
34% of residents are low-income
17% of adults have less than a high school education
17% of households are linguistically isolated
Reducing waste and choosing to recycle your recyclable items lessens the impact Tufts has on these communities.

What will you do to reduce waste, starting today?

Part 4: Massachusetts Landfills and their Communities

Recycling and Environmental Justice Part 4: Massachusetts Landfills and their communities
Graphic depicts the locations of active landfills in Massachusetts, Environmental Justice communities in Massachusetts, and the geographical relation between the two.
Graphic depicts a close-up of the destinations of Tufts’ trash and their relation to Environmental Justice communities.
As defined by MassGIS, EJ communities meet one or all of the following conditions:
-Greater than 25% minority population (M)
-Median income less than or equal to 65% of state median income (I)
-greater than 25% of the population is English-isolated, meaning no person over the age of 14 speaks English “very well” in a household (E)

Trash to Treasures: Closing the Loop During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kristen Kaufman and Carly Thibodeau

What we do, and why it’s important

Desk lamps at the Back to School Sale

When students move out of college campuses, they discard items they do not need or want anymore, most of them in good reusable condition. To prevent tons (literally- Tons!) of salvageable waste from ending up in landfills and incinerators, the Office of Sustainability (OOS) facilitates a campus reuse economy through our Trash to Treasures program.

This includes collecting donations during Move Out in the spring and giving them back to students during fall Move-In through our Back to School Sale. To make this happen, we collaborate with a range of campus partners, including Facilities, the Office of Residential Life and Learning, and the FIRST Resource Center.

“Closing the Loop” (also sometimes called “Cradle to Cradle”) is the idea of moving from a linear production system to a circular system. In the traditional linear economy, products are made, used, and then disposed of— often in landfills, which can be harmful sources of pollution to their local environments and communities. Products are born, and when they are disposed of, they “die” (“Cradle to Grave”). In a circular system, items are reused or transformed to be reborn again. So, rather than moving in a line from creation straight to a landfill, products complete a full circle of being made, used, and then used or remade again.

Collecting Move Out donations

In the midst of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the move-out program went a little differently this year. Despite challenges, it was a success! Read more about 2020’s March Move-out madness and our impromptu May Move Out Day here.

Gearing up for the Back to School Sale

At the end of the spring semester and our May Move Out Day, we were eager to enjoy the summer outdoors. But alas, treasure calls! After a few months to decompress, in August we kicked back into gear to organize the sale.

As the pandemic raged on, the first step was to develop protocol for how to safely plan and run the sale. We contacted, the one-stop-shop for questions about COVID and Tufts, to develop guidelines for if and how we could safely run the sale.

Once we had our protocol, we hired on-call student recycling workers to help prepare the sale. This included 9 student recycling workers, who worked a total of 92 hours over 10 shifts that spanned a week-long period. Though the donations had been sitting in storage untouched for most of the summer (so that any virus would have died), we provided student recycling workers with access to a range of PPE items, including gloves, aprons, goggles, and tongs. In addition to wearing masks as required, most workers also opted to wear gloves. Hand sanitizer was also made available.

The first thing we did as a team was sort all of the donations we’d collected. We had already initiated a rough sorting system at the end of Move Out when we counted and weighed the donation items to gather data on each donation category. Now, however, it was time to be a little more thoughtful. We sharpened the categories into sub-categories, turning broad categories such as kitchenware and toiletries into sub-categories such as keurigs and pots, or feminine hygiene products and shower caddies. In doing so, we identified items that were either broken or of such poor quality that they were not salvageable and discarded of them.

The home decor section of our sale

As we cleaned, sorted, and even laundered items (thanks to Event and Conference Services for lending us their van!), we began to think strategically about which categories should go where. Our space was the second floor of 550 Boston Ave, where there are a few different rooms—some were small and office-sized and some were large and open. Together we created a map and began setting everything up in its spot. The student recycling workers were a great help for this—some even had retail experience and were able to creatively arrange our items for a polished store appearance.

For photos of this year’s sale, view our Flickr album.

Running the Sale

While preparing donations, we made a plan and timeline for the sale. Scheduling was tricky. Due to COVID, students were arriving to campus in waves: one wave for out-of-region students, and then another wave for in-region students two weeks later, after out-of-region students had been tested and were out of quarantine. We decided to open in two waves based on the move-in and quarantine schedule. Similar to 2019, we opened up the sale exclusively for FIRST Resource Center students first and gave almost everything away. Only on the last day of the last wave did we price items more expansively and open up for the rest of the Tufts student body. 

Once all the donations were set up for the sale, the campus planner came to assess the space. We marked the floors for social distancing and determined both the COVID-safe building capacity as well as the capacity for individual rooms. The student recycling workers spent the final day making signs for the sale categories and sections, room occupancy, and social distancing markers.

Finally, it was time to open! Eco-Reps helped to greet students and run the sale. At the entrance to the sale, all students were required to show us a negative COVID test result from Tufts to confirm they had been approved to leave quarantine. To ensure the sale was as equitable as possible given the scheduling challenges and restraints, we restricted shoppers to one item from each category so that folks who could not attend until a later date would still have a wide selection of items to choose from.

The first two days were packed, and due to limited building capacity and COVID-restrictions, we had students waiting in a social distanced line outside that curled around the building and up Boston Ave. Subsequent days were slower with a trickle of students throughout our open hours. Overall, we had about 260 shoppers in attendance!

Wrapping things up (metaphorically speaking)

By the last day of the sale, it was amazing to see how few items were left! At noon, almost all remaining items became free and the sale opened up to the larger Tufts community.

School supplies. Some Medford community members we freecycled to were school teachers.

Afterwards, we tried something new: remaining items were either donated to Goodwill or freecycled via the “Everything is Free Medford” Facebook page. Freecycling is a great way to give away unneeded items to people who will make use of them, diverting them from the landfill! We gave away a range of items to Medford residents and calculated the value for Community Relations; check out our free-cycling totals here. For more information about freecycling at Tufts, visit our reuse page.

Winter Clothing Drive

Instead of freecycling, the OOS held on to remaining winter and professional clothes, bedding and sheets, and books. These items had been collected in separate streams for FIRST, and the plan was to make them available to FIRST students later in the semester.

In mid-December, the OOS met with Tufts’ Director of Infectious Disease Control, Michael Jordan, to discuss how to safely distribute remaining items to students in need of them amidst the worsening pandemic.

With enhanced guidelines in place, the OOS was able to collaborate with Tufts Mutual Aid to host a winter clothing giveaway for FIRST Resource Center students, international students on financial aid, and any other student in need of winter clothes. A great textile upcycling opportunity, students browsed our jackets, hats, scarves, and sweaters just in time for the holiday break. Students also had the opportunity to browse through our remaining selection of sheets and books.

Remaining clothes were donated or recycled through our Bay State Textile bins and remaining books and textbooks were donated to Boston-area non-profit More Than Words.

Reflections on closing the loop

After all was said and done, we were able to divert the 10 tons of donations we collected in the spring from landfills and incinerators and put them to good use by new owners. That’s the equivalent of 10 Jumbos!

In addition to serving an environmental purpose, the program is beneficial from economic and social perspectives. The redistribution of items helps students save money and learn about the reuse economy. The University also saves money on hefty waste disposal fees typical during a Move-Out season. The process additionally promotes social sustainability: redistribution of items for the community from the community contributes to the interconnectedness and resilience of the Tufts community, along with the well-being of its individual members.

Through the hard work of the OOS, student workers and donators, and collaborating departments across the University, we were able to close the loop and turn trash into treasure.

Climate change is increasingly prompting mental health problems among college students

Grace van Deelen, Research Intern at Tufts University Office of Sustainability 

Recently, colleges and universities are witnessing a sharp increase in the number of students seeking mental health treatment. In line with the national trend, Tufts University has seen a notable increase in the number of students with significant and ongoing mental health needs.  

In response to increased needs for mental health resources, Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco launched the Mental Health Task Force in 2016. After undertaking extensive research on the mental health needs trends in all four campuses, the Mental Health Task Force reported in 2019 that students are suffering from increasing mental health issues, particularly those related to anxiety and severe stress. 

While the Report of the Mental Health Task Force did not mention the environment as a possible contributing reason, climate change’s associated mental health risks could be responsible for this sharp increase in the number of students with mental health needs. Climate change could contribute to mental health disorders in multiple ways, either directly or indirectly, and affects even those of us who do not live in places experiencing climate-change-induced natural disasters. Here are some of the following ways that climate change affects mental well-being: 

Immediate or long-term exposure to climate-induced natural disasters has been proven to cause multiple mental health disorders.  

The most common varieties of mental health disorders caused by this direct experience with climate change are post-traumatic stress disorders, increased levels of anxiety, depression, increases in aggressive behavior and domestic violence, and self-harm that might lead to suicidal ideation and substance abuse. In fact, according to a 2016 study from the American Psychological Association, 25-50% of people exposed to an extreme weather disaster are at risk of adverse mental health effects.  

Climate change could create a feeling of loss or grief for a changing world.  

While the direct mental health impacts of climate-change-induced traumatic events are important, climate change can incur mental health impacts in individuals who have not experienced such events, as well. Even the tiny changes in one’s environment, such as a decrease in yearly snowfall, or a shifting of other familiar seasonal markers, can create a sense of anxiety. One paper by Wooster College Psychology Professor Susan Clayton described climate anxiety as a “loss of ontological security,” which is a feeling that one’s knowledge, way of being, or understanding of the world is no longer true due to the landscape changes that climate change can cause. Other vocabulary that describes this feeling include: solastalgia, a type of loss that happens when people become less familiar with the place in which they live, biospheric concern, a type of anxiety that happens when people perceive animals or plants in danger, and eco-anxiety, a feeling of loss, helplessness, and frustration caused by climate change, according to Paolo Cianconi, a neuroscience professor at Catholic University in Rome, Italy. 

Climate change can cause anxiety and worry about the future among young people.  

This climate anxiety or “eco-anxiety,” according to the American Psychological Association, is a leading cause of worry among young adults and college students. The unpredictability of climate change increases worry and anxiety in college students because they tend to be young people who spend much of their time planning for the future. A 2018 Gallup poll of 4,103 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that 70% of 18- to-34 year-olds worry “a great deal” about global warming, compared to 63% of adults aged 35- to-54 and 56% of adults aged 55 and older. A national poll by Clayton in 2019 found that 57% of teens said that “climate change makes them feel afraid.” The same poll found that “a small, but not inconsequential, proportion of the public (17-27%) reported a degree of climate anxiety that was having some impact on their ability to function.” In general, younger age groups worry more about climate change than older adults.  

Climate change is making young people re-think their life plans.  

A 2020 Washington Post article quoted an 18-year-old from Alabama on the confounding stresses of college life during the climate crisis; “The ice caps are melting and my hypothetical children won’t get to see them, but also I have a calculus test tomorrow.” This is a familiar feeling among college students, and having children is becoming a widespread topic of concern among young people. This trend is evidenced by movements such as the BirthStrike movement, a worldwide movement of people refusing to have children due to the ecological crisis. A New York Times poll in 2018 found that “25% of the 1,800 Americans surveyed said they expected to have fewer children than they considered ideal; of these, 33% cited worry about climate change.” 

Climate change’s mental health impacts will continue to be more widespread.  

As climate change accelerates, the mental health impacts of climate change will not only be limited to young people and those who have experienced climate-induced traumatic events. As climate change becomes more widespread and serious, so will its mental health impacts, according to a paper by Policy Analyst Dr. Katie Hayes. For example, while the Boston area has been spared from the most severe hurricanes and wildfires recently, it can expect to see continued increases in sea levels, extreme precipitation, and extreme high temperatures in the future, according to Boston Research Advisory Group’s 2016 report . Even though Tufts may seem far away from these events at the moment, climate-induced natural disasters will become more common in the future. Furthermore, is important to note that many Tufts students either live in or have family in parts of the world that are experiencing climate disasters far more frequently than the Boston area, and are therefore susceptible to the immediate mental health impacts that these events can bring.  

Individual and institutional commitments to climate activism, along with climate literacy among counselors, can help to alleviate these climate-induced mental health problems, according to Yale Climate Connections. Part of the efforts to alleviate these mental health issues among college students should include initiatives from universities that display a commitment to meaningful climate action, in addition to improving campus mental health resources. 

The full Tufts Office of Sustainability memo on this topic can be found here, while an annotated bibliography of literature pertaining to this topic can be found here.

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