School of Public Policy Student Urges "Culture of Reuse"

PJ Niver grabs the attention of passersby by wearing a dress constructed from reclaimed plastic bags and bubble wrap and offers handouts with information about recycling, composting and other ways to cut back on waste at the Easthampton farmer’s market.
PJ Niver grabs the attention of passersby by wearing a dress constructed from reclaimed plastic bags and bubble wrap and offers handouts with information about recycling, composting and other ways to cut back on waste at the Easthampton farmer’s market.

PJ Niver, a School of Public Policy (SPP) graduate student, has been giving educational presentations on her “Culture of Reuse” project with funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The project was selected by the Easthampton Cultural Council, which awards grants to projects with solid business plans that also “further the diversity in Easthampton's programming in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences.” 

A class assignment in SPP’S course on social and environmental enterprises developed into this opportunity to secure funding for the project she founded to help consumers make environmentally sound choices and reduce plastic waste.

When Betsy Schmidt assigned students to put together a plan for a social enterprise of their own design, Niver decided to develop one for “Culture of Reuse,” which she’d started the previous year. The class prompted Niver to think about how to communicate her project’s mission to potential funding sources.

“I’m excited that PJ was able to take some of what we studied in this course and run with it,” Schmidt said. “We spend half the class examining what it takes to design, start, and run a social enterprise, and the other half thinking about public policies that will help these enterprises succeed. PJ has an important mission and an engaging way of educating the public, including her fellow students and professors.”

Niver created “Culture of Reuse” as a resource for people looking for ways to reduce their consumer waste, through thoughtful purchasing decisions, creative reuse and recycling. Much of her work focuses on reducing plastic waste, which has become especially important as the markets for recycled plastic have dried up. “[Plastic is] the visible manifestation of fossil fuel damage to the planet that can't be denied,” she said. “It's a by-product of oil and gas refinement process. Slowing down its production may help to slow down climate change.” 

For the past two years, Niver has staffed a “Culture of Reuse” informational booth at the Easthampton farmer’s market, as well as at Cultural Chaos, the town’s annual arts and culture street festival. Niver—who grabs the attention of passersby by wearing a dress constructed from reclaimed plastic bags and bubble wrap—offers handouts with information about recycling, composting, and other ways to cut back on waste, from reusable “paper” towels made from old flannel blankets to bamboo straws. 

The work allows Niver to share concrete, immediate ways to fight environmental degradation with people who might feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. “I want to give them convenient solutions they can feel good about right now,” she said.

Niver is studying public policy so she can also address environmental issues in a more systemic way. Before officially enrolling in the program this summer, she took two SPP classes: Schmidt’s social and environmental enterprises course and Marta Vicarelli’s environmental policy course, which uses cutting-edge video technology to connect with experts working on innovative sustainability efforts around the world. For her final project in Vicarelli’s class, Niver researched the global economic and environmental costs of single-use plastic and international and domestic policy responses. “I learned so much that I can apply to the work I’m doing,” Niver said.