Inspired by Dumpster Diver

WNMU student launches recycling program


When students were moving out of the Western New Mexico University residence halls this spring, they may have observed something unfamiliar: donation boxes set up by the Choose to Reuse program.

Choose to Reuse is the brainchild of Kinesiology major Itzela Darkenwald, who explained what motivated her to create the program,

“When I was a freshman here and ... everyone was moving out, I noticed that a lot of people were throwing away good, reusable stuff because they couldn’t take it back home – it wouldn’t fit in their car, or they didn’t need twin sheets or a mini-fridge once they had graduated – so a bunch of stuff was going to waste,” Darkenwald said. “We really needed to do something about it.”

She was also concerned the move-out process was encouraging dumpster divers on campus.
A conversation with a person taking material from the dumpsters, however, revealed that some of those collecting the students’ cast-offs were from the local homeless shelter and they were looking for items that would benefit their clients, such as towels.

When Darkenwald realized this and saw that the items were going to be reused by people who needed them, she became determined to create a program that allowed students to directly donate their unwanted items.

“I reached out to the Silver City Gospel Mission which has a thrift shop and soup kitchen, and they help people get back on their feet when they are struggling,” she said.

As a resident assistant in Student Housing, Darkenwald spoke with her supervisor to get started. She then created a flyer to spread the word about the program, coordinated with Facilities and Maintenance to provide a drop zone for donations, and set up donation boxes provided by the Gospel Mission. Her goal was to make everything as easy as possible to encourage students to participate, so she set up the donation boxes near the dumpsters where students would usually take their unwanted belongings.

“Once I set up the [donation] tables, people were using them . . . It made me so happy to see it all come into play,” she said.
She was also pleased she could help bridge the gap between the university and the community of Silver City. Through the program, said Darkenwald, “We are reaching out and helping the local community.”

“It was a win-win situation in my head,” she said, “We will get rid of dumpster diving and make the university a more welcoming and better-looking place, and we will give back to the community. . . It’s really not that difficult to put something [like this] together.”