Exchange students: recycle your stuff!
A sustainability challenge for ESN FINT

This work is the big challenge taken by Tatjana Blum with two other students from ESN FINT, a local section of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at the city centre campus of Tampere University.

It started from an exchange student’s perspective…
If you enter an exchange student building in Tampere on a day in mid-May or in December just before Christmas, you’re likely to find the following: Huge black garbage bags in the waste collection area, a mess of disposed items in the corridors, and even more abandoned things in the common spaces. What is piling up here inside and outside the building are bedsheets and duvets, desk lamps and routers, dishes and cutlery, clothing and decorative items and a lot more.

Or at least, that’s what I saw, the morning I left Tampere in December 2018 after my exchange period. The last image I had of my student residence TOAS Lapinkaari, drowning in garbage, never left me. Knowing that this “garbage” consisted to the most part of items that were in good condition and would have been perfect for reuse by other students, made it all the more painful.

Recycling: the challenge
So, in a way, the aim of this challenge is simple: Avoid the disposal of recyclable goods! When I got the chance to tackle a sustainability challenge for the Sustainability and Impact Club, I knew it had to be this one.
Despite a recycling room on the city centre campus and recycling instructions for departing exchange students, the majority of exchange students end up leaving their items behind in the corridors of their residence due to a lack of time and mobility. Therefore, what is needed is a sincere effort by TOAS and everyone involved to enable students to donate their things for the next intake of exchange students. So far, the student housing foundation has encouraged its tenants to engage in recycling by rewarding those locations which cause the least expenses in waste transports. However, not every residence has sufficient storage space to make the recycling of students’ items possible - which is one major problem.
Addressing this challenge, Eeva Karjalainen and Emma Turunen, both board members of ESN FINT – student association at the city centre campus – joined forces with me, Tatjana, in spring 2020. After a successful recycling tour in December 2019 where some FINTies collected a bunch of items to be given out to new students in January, it was our goal to build a cooperation with TOAS and to find a permanent solution to the dumping of reusable things by exchange students.

What came of it: an overview
The contact with TOAS was successfully initiated and the housing foundation demonstrated a genuine interest in tackling this problem together with us. However, COVID 19 hit Tampere in March and our plans for a joint implementation of the project were put on hold. Nevertheless, we continued preparing the project for post-corona times and created some material to raise awareness among (exchange) students and to promote our future recycling efforts!

Why bother recycling your stuff for other students? Some more ideas…

“Since we move so much in our program we cannot carry many decor items for ourselves. When I got to Tampere, I had a huge white room with only standard furniture. It felt weird and not like home. I got a fluffy carpet and a blanket at ESN FINT that made the room feel more like me.”
- Flávia Colus, Exchange student at TUNI

“Recycling makes me grateful. Most of my furniture was given away by friends, neighbours, family, and even people I didn’t know. I’m not only extremely grateful for their generosity, but it makes me want to be really generous, too!”
- Raysa França, Degree student at TUNI

Why this challenge?
Significance for the Sustainability & Impact Club, ESN FINT and the wider student community

1) Every new intake of exchange students (every semester!) sets out to Ikea to buy all the big and small things they need for their flat, spending tens or hundreds of euros for items they will use for 4-8 months max.
2) These often perfectly reusable items end up abandoned in the corridors of student buildings or outside these, costing the housing foundation TOAS tens of thousands of euros for professional removal each year.
3) Throwing away reusable stuff when only a few weeks later, new students will purchase the same items first-hand is highly unsustainable!
Therefore, this project combines principles of Circular Economy (Reduce – Reuse – Recycle) with great financial savings for both exchange students in Tampere & TOAS!

The beginning of a promising cooperation

Motivated by our positive experience in December 2019, Emma, Eeva and I were excited to start a cooperation with TOAS to make recycling possible for exchange students in Tampere on a large scale. That day in December, we had stopped by several exchange student buildings with TREY’s van to collect things for reuse, but we were still lacking a suitable storage room.
So, at the beginning, we were only hoping for a storage room at a TOAS building with enough space for all the items we meant to collect. In addition to a promising room, we were in fact offered their help with regard to transport and advertising of the project through their channels!

Challenges within the challenge: Corona-related troubles
Yet, when the COVID-19 crisis started, TOAS put our plans on pause to dedicate their resources to dealing with the entirely new circumstances. For us, the team, this meant an initial loss of confidence since it was quite foreseeable that there would be no co-organised collection tour in May and no handing out second-hand goods in the next term. Whilst at the beginning we had been communicating regularly and sharing work equally, I felt the need to take over the lead when Eeva and Emma needed to sort out other Corona-related issues arising for ESN FINT.

Still, it was definitely fun working on this project: we had a good internal team dynamic and knew we could rely on each other despite the difficult circumstances! Also, during the first weeks of Corona, the Sustainability and Impact Club sessions helped me considerably to stay focused. Supported by Eva, our coordinator, and motivated by the other Club students, I remembered that I had committed myself to this challenge, and at least wanted to prepare the project as much as I could.

Change of strategy and outcomes
In the following weeks, we, the team, changed the approach to the challenge: Instead of making it all about getting TOAS on board – a goal that was temporarily out of reach – we designed our info material to show students the versatile benefits of recycling. Since the use of second-hand items is frowned upon in some cultures or social circles, we wanted to point out the social value of peer-to-peer donations in addition to the economic savings and environmental impact of recycling. Apart from a poster which is to be put up at university and possibly in respective TOAS locations, we created a draft for the TOAS newsletter, updated ESN FINT’s recycling page, and collected inspirational quotes from students who had personally benefited from receiving second-hand items.

After the challenge: what now?
This project is now ready to be implemented once the situation allows it again. All we need is to get back to TOAS, continue our cooperation where we left it, and of course, we need YOU! The more students know about this project and engage in recycling for the benefit of their fellow students and the environment, the better! If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved, please get in touch with me ( Updates about this project will be communicated on ESN FINT’s recycling page and social media channels.

Update: Due to the high demand by departing international students and despite the challenging circumstances, a group of ESN FINT volunteers organised a spontaneous recycling tour at the end of May 2020. We are extremely happy that so many students asked about ESN FINT’s recycling activities and sought to donate their items for the next intake of international students! Though there will be no exchange students for the Autumn term 2020, new (international) degree students will come to TUNI who will be grateful for the donated goods. Also, this gives us a little more time to resume negotiations with TOAS to get the cooperation ready for the Spring term 2021 when there will most likely be exchange students in Tampere again!

Tatjana Blum (May 2020)

Read also Recycling room on campus

The PDF version of the poster is available here: