In anticipation of the class of 2021 leaving Berlin, a team of staff and students used design thinking to address the problem of end-of-semester waste in a co-curricular titled “Designing a Circular Economy for Minerva.” The group came up with several ideas to be implemented in Berlin this month and potentially in other Minerva rotation cities and in future semesters.

Barbara Walder, Minerva’s Global Director of Operations, told the Quest she led the co-curricular because of the “absolute need to tackle waste at the end of the semester.” In response, she introduced the idea that the principles of circular economy can help prevent and mitigate this waste. The circular economy model is in opposition to the traditional linear economy in which products are made, used, and then discarded. Circular economies reinvest resources back into the system instead of creating waste.

Walder says that the idea of a circular economy is “relevant for every human being.”  She added, “For Minerva, it’s relevant because I’ve seen in three years in Berlin and other cities the amount of stuff we accumulate, which makes me wonder how much a student in the four months actually needs to build a comfort nest.”

Walder kicked off the co-curricular by describing the goals of a circular economy and giving examples of projects that are working towards reducing waste. The group then split into two teams: one tackling food waste and one handling other waste like home items and clothing.

The students planned the following initiatives:

  • A Facebook post to encourage food sharing towards the end of the semester
  • A clothing swap and bulk clothing donation
  • Crowdsourcing baking ingredients to make Christmas cookies
  • An extra food “shop” in the common space
  • Collecting material goods (for example, drying racks, decorations, rice cookers) to be passed on to the class of 2022 when they get to Berlin next fall
  • Have a secondhand “shop” during Berlin Elevation next year to distribute items left by the class of 2021

Anna Graves (M’21) attended the co-curricular to gain “a toolkit to think about circular design, and the motivation to apply these practices in the Minerva framework.” She shared Walder’s concerns about Minerva’s sustainability. “From the student perspective, the desire to become circular and more sustainable exists, but the institutional framework to support it does not.”

Beyond this co-curricular, there has been a push to make Minerva more sustainable including a cross-class student initiative, the Berlin SXP theme of regeneration, and sustainability-focused work-study positions.