Ethos of the Depot: NU Oakland’s eco-reps fight for campus sustainability 

In the heart of Northeastern’s Oakland campus lies a sanctuary of sustainability: the Reuse Depot Program. This haven of secondhand treasures offers students, faculty, staff, and locals free, gently worn apparel to kitchen gadgets and electronic marvels. Yet, behind its welcoming doors, a cadre of dedicated eco-reps quietly toils, ensuring the depot remains a vibrant hub of eco-consciousness. 

The eco-rep program is comprised of eleven students who work in between classes and other commitments to monitor, preserve, and promote the shop, in addition to supporting other sustainable initiatives at the Oakland campus. We got the opportunity to speak with three of the eco-reps, each bringing their unique perspective and passion to the Reuse Depot program. 

Aarushi Gupta, a first-year Computer Science and Biology major, joined the program in Fall 2023 to nurture her passion for the environment. “Moving here, I see people who are so committed to sustainable living,” Gupta said. Raised in Iowa, Gupta has always advocated for sustainability, but it wasn’t until she moved to California that she found other kindred spirits dedicated to sustainable living. To her, the Reuse Deposit is not just a place to volunteer, but a community where she can connect with like-minded individuals who share her values and commitment to environmental stewardship. 

Similarly, Sophie Farrell, a first-year Computer Science major and Vice President of Northeastern’s Oakland campus drama club, found her role as an eco-rep intersecting with her academics and career aspirations in an unexpected way. Farrell discovered that the skills she honed at the depot were applicable to her future endeavors, from repurposing costumes and props in the theatre world to coding for sustainability companies. 

Completing the trio is Hanin Shehata, a first-year Health Science and Business major on the pre-med route. Shehata originally joined the program to pursue her interest in communications, only to discover that the enthusiasm and spirit of the team empowered her to get more involved.  

Despite their diverse backgrounds and motivations, Gupta, Farrell, and Shehata are all here to make a difference in their community, and their unique passions shape how they each contribute to the depot. Some are tasked with sorting, organizing, and taking inventory, while others focus on communications and campus engagement; but together, they serve as inspiring role models for their peers. 

These eco-reps foster a vibrant community within the depot and contribute to larger sustainability goals of the university. Morgan Billington, Programs Coordinator at Oakland Facilities, lauds the depot as “the gem of the sustainability department,” recognizing its pivotal role in diverting functional items from landfills and fostering a culture of reuse and conservation within the campus community. 

In a transient academic environment where students come and go, the Reuse Depot plays a crucial role in ensuring that functional and decorative items find new homes rather than end up in landfills. Even items that cannot be accepted into the depot’s inventory are donated to organizations like Goodwill, ensuring their continued utility. Billington emphasizes, “Ultimately, the goal is to prevent things from going in the landfill.” The depot plays a pivotal role in achieving this objective by repurposing items and mitigating waste. 

Yet, amidst their noble efforts, eco-reps like Gupta, Farrell, and Shehata often encounter challenges and moments of discouragement. “Working on climate change-related things can be disheartening,” Gupta acknowledges, “but all the eco-reps I know are very optimistic.” It is this unwavering optimism that distinguishes eco-reps as leaders within the Oakland campus, paving the way for future cohorts and setting a precedent for the university’s environmental aspirations. 

It has become clear that the eco-reps’ impact extends far beyond the confines of the depot, serving as catalysts for change within the university and beyond. Through their advocacy and activism, they inspire others to join the cause, ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come. As Billington aptly summarizes, “They’re all just wonderful.” 

 Written By Tula Singer. May 13th, 2024