April is crunch time for McGill students, with final exams to prepare for and write. By month’s end, exams will end and many students will be on the move, packing their belongings and returning home for the summer.
But not all of those belongings make it into the back of the U-Haul.
The mass exodus of students from the Milton Park neighbourhood has been a source of concern for residents of the area, as abandoned household items clutter the streets and alleyways.
However, two student-run initiatives aim to reduce the refuse and clean the clutter.
A second life for used household items
Back for its second year is Trash2Treasure (T2T). An initiative of the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), T2T picks up students’ cast-off household items before they hit the curb and donates them to the Welcome Collective, a non-profit organization that helps newly arrived refugee claimants gather the essential items they need to live and to integrate into their new homes. Additionally, T2T also partners with Renaissance to donate clothing, books and small electronics.
From April 27 to May 2, the T2T volunteers will go to the homes of students who have signed up for the service and remove all furniture and household items that are in acceptable condition. The service is free, but monetary donations are welcome.
“In 2018, we diverted more than 5,038 kg from the landfill and were able to donate enough articles to assist Welcome Collective in fully furnishing 19 refugee-claimant households,” says Saeesh Mangwani, SSMU Community Affairs Commissioner. “We also had a very large net negative Carbon impact as a result of our diversion, avoiding the creation of nearly 13 metric tons of Carbon emissions.”
Bigger territory, bigger ambitions
This year’s objectives are even more ambitious. T2T has expanded to include Milton-Parc East (from Avenue du Parc to Boulevard Saint-Laurent), extending coverage to almost 700 more households – an increase of 75 per cent compared to 2018.
“The goals for this year are to achieve at least 1.5 times the outputs from last year on all fronts,” says Mangwani, including “increasing the number of home collections by 50 per cent and increasing the amount of recovered material by 50 per cent.”
On top of the scheduled pick-ups, T2T teams (comprised mostly of McGill students, Milton Park residents and refugee-claimants), will scour the streets for discarded items that can be recovered and reused.
The target is to collect some 7,600 kg or more worth of household items, which, according to Mangwani, is the equivalent of about 300 pieces of furniture and more than 2,200 items of clothing.
Of course, some benefits can’t be measured. The goodwill created by the T2T initiative among Milton Park residents is substantial.
“We work very closely with Milton Park residents since the project was conceived largely as a means to address an issue that was affecting them. As part of my portfolio of Community Affairs, I collaborate consistently with representatives from Milton Park associations such as the CCMP and the ARMP,” says Mangwani. “Both the Milton Park community and the Borough Plateau Mont-Royal were very content with the outcomes of the project last year, as it meant less waste lying around on the streets and less clean up that needed to be done at the Borough’s cost.
“Trash2Treasure serves the needs of several communities at once, assisting students in moving out their large and usable articles, reducing the intensity of required municipal clean up and assisting the Milton Park community in mitigating the waste accumulation on their streets,” continues Mangwani. “All of this, while also ensuring that collected items are donated to organizations and communities that may best benefit from them.”
Taking back the streets
While the T2T teams will be wrangling beds and bookcases, a group of volunteers will be patrolling the streets and alleyways of Milton Park on April 28, bagging garbage and refuse uncovered after the annual spring thaw.
In its first year, the Clean It Up initiative was organized by Victor Fradet, a U3 student majoring in Economics with Honours in Political Science; and Priscille Raynaud, who is doing a double major in Political Science and International Development (stream environment) and a minor in Social Entrepreneurship. Clean It Up’s five coordinators are all McGill students.
“After living on Aylmer my first year, I witnessed firsthand how much trash was generated by students in the neighbourhood,” says Fradet. “The idea of Clean It Up started then, but I did not know how to make it happen. After talking to people with similar experiences, I decided it was enough and we had to act as a community. I spoke to my friend Priscille about it and we decided together to launch a Facebook event to see if people were interested.” Two weeks later, over 1,000 people on Facebook have said they are interested in the event.
On April 28, volunteers will gather at the Milton gates at 10 am, divided into teams and assigned specific areas to cover. Volunteers will be fortified with water, coffee and homemade cakes – complete with a vegan option. They will also be given a crash course on what is trash, what can be recycled and what needs special treatment (such as batteries).
Raynaud says they have enlisted the help of members of the Milton Park community, especially sororities and frat houses because they can mobilize large numbers of people. But, also, because they may learn from the experience. “We noticed that students are not consistent with recycling (often even confused) or with trash pick-up dates. So, we will add an educational aspect to this event, by engaging the community and raising more awareness of waste management,” she says.
While many of the volunteers are McGill students, a fair share are not. “We are working with Plateau-Montreal within the ‘Corvées de Propreté’ framework. Among the 1.3 thousand people who said they were interested in our event, many are permanent residents of Milton Park. Interestingly, none of the five coordinators live in the area,” says Fradet.
Organizers are also working with the City of Montreal to coordinate pick-up.
Working together for the good of the community
As with Trash2Treasure, the benefits of Clean It Up go beyond waste management. Fradet believes the day will help strengthen the ties between students and Milton Park residents. Working side by side to clean the streets will “create a sense of belonging in this community,” he says, “because you start respecting your neighbours the minute you get to know them.”
“Not only do we want to raise awareness about waste management, we also want to show people that we care about the environment and the community we live in,” says Raynaud. “Milton Park is like a small-scale example of what’s happening in the world. We all care but don’t systematically recycle, compost or do our bit to safeguard our precious environment. We need to take a stand and show that we care about our environment and our neighbours.”