By Edith Allard
You may not have heard of UNH alumnus Alex Freid, but you’re probably familiar with the program he and a few friends left behind here at school. It’s Trash 2 Treasure, the university-wide project that collects unneeded dorm materials at the end of the year and sells them back to students at a massive event before move-in day. Since its creation, UNH’s Trash 2 Treasure program has donated over five tons of food and clothing to local shelters, and prevented over 100 tons of waste from reaching local landfills.
But Freid didn’t want to stop at UNH. In 2013, he decided to create a model like Trash 2 Treasure that could be used nationwide, helping to give universities their own self-sustaining tools to end the cycle of waste. To achieve this goal, he founded the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN). With 23 current member schools nationwide, this nonprofit has been steadily growing, and changing the way campuses deal with their waste.
When Freid created Trash 2 Treasure at UNH, he realized that the problem of overflowing dumpsters during move-out day was actually something that affected many different campuses across the nation. As the project he created here at school gained traction, some of these campuses reached out to him for guidance on how to start similar trash-collecting initiatives of their own.
PLAN became the guidance that those schools needed. Not only does it keep usable items from the landfill, it gives enthusiastic, environmentally conscious students a way to create solutions for their own campus. The nonprofit’s leadership training and program advising can help bring down the barriers that might stand in the way of making comprehensive waste programs.
It hasn’t all been easy. Freid says they had to learn to change their business model and adapt according to the situation, something that the business world calls “pivoting.” He stressed the importance of doing your research ahead of time to avoid looking unprofessional to someone more experienced.
“We went to a campus that is kind of at the top tier, and we asked them for a membership fee that was way too high and they kind of laughed,” Freid recalled. Since then, they have had to alter their approach, review their costs, and try to rebuild their relationship with that school.
Freid and the rest of the PLAN team also drew from other resources in New Hampshire to help them understand the process of building a nonprofit. UNH’s Carsey Institute, Paul College, and the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center were key players during PLAN’s national growth.
With two years under its belt, PLAN has picked up campus members like Pitzer College in California, the College of Charleston in North Carolina, and even Harvard University. Freid attributes a lot of his success to the network he built while he attended UNH.
“We would not have been anywhere where we are now if it wasn’t for the network of advisors and donors,” he said. “Utilizing the network of people that are out there and asking people for advice … that is really important.”
For other students who want to get into social innovation, Freid has related advice.
“My answer is threefold. One is find your passion, two is build your network, and three is don’t take no for an answer.”
Edith Allard is a member of the student organization Net Impact UNH, which inspires and prepares students for careers that benefit society and the environment. Net Impact UNH meets Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in MUB room 156.