As the Mail Center’s start-of-semester bustle of move-in boxes, Amazon packages and textbooks seems to slow down, a new problem arises: getting rid of all the boxes.
Starting this month, the Mail Center’s newly-hired student “sustainability analysts” will work to combat its growing amount of packaging waste.
Since the pandemic, the number of packages coming into the Mail Center every year has almost doubled, with the center processing around 80,000 packages each school year. This influx of packages has caused a waste processing issue that Mail Center staff are eager to solve.
“We are having an issue dealing the packing material afterward, and [what’s] been on my mind for as long as I’ve been in this role is ‘What can we do about this?’” Manager of Campus Services and Logistics Joe Anderson said. “It’s one of those problems that needs a lot of time and energy to figure out. There are a lot of pieces to it, and the solutions are not always simple.”
That’s where the sustainability analysts come in. By having a position focused on devising creative measures to address this problem, Anderson hopes to find a more lasting solution that can be incorporated into the Mail Center’s day-to-day.
The new hires specialize in either community engagement or data analysis. Peyton Semjen ’24 works as the data analysis point-person, collecting data on Mail Center waste to understand where the Center can improve in its operations.
“I am trying to quantify how much recyclable waste and normal packing waste the Mail Center produces, where that mostly comes [from], how we can set initiatives to reduce that and then also how much money the campus is spending on trash disposal and recycling,” Semjen said.
Approaching the issue from a different angle, Kaitlyn Brunner ’25 works as the Mail Center’s community engagement-focused analyst. Her job is geared toward reaching out to students and community members to encourage them to use more sustainable practices when disposing of their mailing materials.
“I am working on making more clear material for students to use to know how to recycle and properly break down boxes,” Brunner said. “We want to get a better flow of information between students and the Mail Center.”
An important aspect of this initiative is finding new ways to handle the reusable or recyclable mailing materials on campus, such as a recycled material art contest proposed for later this semester.
“My plan is to have a creative reuse of the excess materials,” Brunner said.
Semjen and Brunner are also hoping to work with more offices on campus—and potentially in Brunswick—that utilize shipping materials to not only repurpose the excess boxes and packaging from the Mail Center but also to save money.
Beyond the new initiatives, Anderson hopes these new positions will increase student awareness of the already-present sustainable actions taken by the Mail Center to reduce waste. The Mail Center already reuses boxes and provides free boxes to students or faculty shipping out of the Copy Center. It also works with the Bowdoin Store and administrative offices to provide shipping materials.
In addition to the new package breakdown station outside of the Mail Center, Anderson wants students to intentionally and fully break down their boxes so all materials that can be recycled get recycled.
“A lot of people care about sustainability, but getting them to take action is difficult. It’s sometimes frustrating to see students care and be so passionate about it and then throw all of their stuff in a bin and not separate it out between trash and recycling—stuff that seems [like] it should be pretty obvious,” Anderson said.
Semjen and Brunner will be at the Sustainability Fair next Friday to answer questions about the initiative and share preliminary data collected about Mail Center waste.