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Breaking the (rinse) cycle: Sustainability Office and BSG shake up campus laundry services

September 8, 2023

Amira Oguntoyinbo
CLEAN AND GREEN: An empty laundry basket sits in front of a new, free-of-charge washing machine. The Office of Sustainability and the Bowdoin Student Government have recently collaborated to offer free and eco-friendly laundry services and detergent to students.

Quarters and swipes no more—Bowdoin is officially offering free laundry this year, and a Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) initiative means access to free laundry detergent is on the horizon.

This summer, the Office of Sustainability spearheaded the replacement of all the laundry machines across campus, some of which were over 10 years old.

The Office hopes that free laundry services will keep cost-conscious students from overloading the machines, resulting in fewer service calls and increased efficiency. The College has chosen to maintain front-loading models in order to encourage less detergent use.

“These are high-efficiency machines. They are front loaders. Oftentimes, if you are used to a top-loading machine, you are used to using a lot more laundry detergent. With the high efficiency machines, they use less detergent,” Director of Sustainability Keisha Payson said. “If you over detergent your load, it creates too much suds and then the machine has a hard time spinning out the laundry—that’s why oftentimes your laundry ends up feeling too wet.”

Students used to virtually monitoring their laundry progress need not fear; the new machines bring with them a new monitoring system, LaundryConnect, that offers similar tracking features to the previous platform LaundryView. Students can see which machines are in use, how long they have left and whether someone left clothes in a machine with a finished cycle.

The Office of Sustainability isn’t the only campus body working to revolutionize the College’s laundry system. This fall, BSG is continuing an initiative started last spring to give out packs of ten free laundry detergent sheets to interested students.

The initiative was also offered to first years this year; over 500 packaged laundry sheets were made available to them at move-in with proctors handing them out to first years on their floor. Now, the group is hoping to introduce the program to the student body in a more permanent way.

“I think that the services that BSG can do are invisible to people. So I think this will be a great way to show people who may have thought about joining [BSG] that they can actually do something,” former BSG Chair of Facilities and Sustainability Sam Thomson ’24 said.

BSG plans to distribute the laundry sheets by rolling out two detergent vending machines at the College sometime in October. The dispensers will hold and distribute about 30,000 laundry sheets in total—roughly 15 sheets per student. The entire project will total roughly 10,000 dollars, a number pre-approved by the BSG.

Thomson’s initiative is in collaboration with Generation Conscious, a sustainably-focused organization that makes laundry sheets and detergent vending machines for colleges and universities, to bring these services to campus.

Part of this partnership with Generation Conscious is a new student employment opportunity working in cooperation with the THRIVE office. Generation Conscious plans to hire at least one student a year, preferably from the THRIVE program, to help manage the machines on campus.

With expected increased laundry use due to free machines and access to free detergent, the Sustainability Office will monitor machine usage data to ensure that sustainability goals are being maintained.

Thomson emphasized that beyond just the initiative’s sustainability goals, there is a second overarching goal of these new changes is increasing hygiene equity. To encourage the conversation, the founder of Generation Conscious plans to visit campus this spring and talk about how equity and sustainability can be compatible in creating a sustainable business.

“For hygiene equity, the THRIVE office [already] offers funding for students to get laundry detergent, but this way it creates an even playing field for everybody,” Thomson said.


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