“I can’t believe what those kids leave behind.” If you do enough end-of-the-year student move outs, you hear that statement a lot. If you make that statement to judge college students, I’d urge you to read my blog post “The Move Out Surge Begins” to get a sense for what the end of the year is like for students. Even more so, try moving to a location at least 2 hours away, in a single afternoon, without a professional moving company, and tell me you don’t leave some stuff behind. However, if you’re making that statement to note the number of opportunities that there are to recover valuable materials, and how much of a shame it is to see that stuff end up in a landfill, then we’re on the same page.
The trick is how to recover those materials and for whom. For those of you who are still finalizing your end of the year plans, I am hoping that you find this information helpful.
Why Are You Asking Students to Leave Stuff
As I hopefully indicated in my previous posts “Planning for Student Move Out” and “The Move-Out Surge Begins,” this is a chaotic time of year. If you are asking students to set aside their unwanted clothes, furnishings, or other belongings, that is one more thing to add into the mix.
If setting stuff aside can be done with little extra effort (e.g. place your unwanted stuff in the dedicated corner of the lounge on your way out to the car), you are far more likely to get people to participate than if it requires greater extra effort (e.g. there is a collection trailer 6 buildings away in the oppose direction from the car).
Also, keep in mind that how well you keep your piles organized will determine how people reciprocate. If you are asking students to segregate their stuff into separate piles, what are you doing to keep those collection areas segregated and organized? If you can keep your pickups frequent enough to keep your collection area looking organized, most people will respond in kind. However, if you don’t stay on top of the collections and allow the piles to blend together into one big heap things will get disorganized in a hurry and you will have to spend a lot of time sorting through the pile later (which increases the likelihood that stuff gets thrown away in the process).
Who Is Doing Your Collections?
This is the single biggest issue for end-of-year collections. The student volunteers that you would typically rely on for this sort of thing are busy with their own exams or move-out and typically not available to help. Your operations staff is already crazy-busy getting the campus ready for Commencement. The charity you are working with may have volunteers, but there may be liability or security issues with having those volunteers on campus, especially in buildings, during that time of year.
Typically this is going to fall on a single dedicated staff person, and a box van or whatever other vehicle can be spared for them. To help that person, you might want to look at one or more of the following options:
- Do you just want to make the stuff go away? That is not an ignoble goal. Disposing of all that stuff can rack up considerable trash disposal fees, funds that could be better used elsewhere on campus.
- Are you looking to make money from this stuff?As you will repeatedly hear from folks on campus that have experience with Ebay, flea markets, or yard sales, some of the stuff left behind has value. Just remember though that when you do this as a campus, there are labor costs and liability issues that you have to deal with. If you need to make money, consider working with a textile recycler, or consider having students sell their own stuff before they leave (a residence hall-wide tag sale might be a viable final hall activity) as opposed to trying to do it with university labor after they leave.
- Community relations – do you want to use the items left behind to help those in need in your community?You might choose this option either from a purely altruistic perspective, a town-gown relations perspective, or a campus marketing perspective (or maybe even a little of all three).
Finding an Outlet
When looking for a local outlet, keep in mind that there are several different types of end users
Local Shelters and Survival Centers
Local shelters and survival centers donate reusable items directly to folks in need in your local community. If you are looking to maximize your altruism and community relations benefits, these folks will often give you the best bang for the buck. However, unfortunately they can also pose logistical challenges, so if you just want to make stuff go away, they may not be your best partner. Keep in mind that these organizations are typically operating on razor thin margins, rely primarily on volunteer labor (and often volunteer trucks), and have limited storage space. The combination of their logistics and their mission often means that they can only take the most reusable of items. It also typically means that you will end up doing a lot of work on your end, though I have often found that the net result is well worth it.
At some point in any of these collections, you will be exhausted from having spent your third day straight of dealing with mountains of used clothes and facing dozens more piles to deal with before you leave for the day. There will be that moment when you ask yourself what the heck you are doing to yourself and whether it is worth it. When you are working with local shelters and survival centers and you see first-hand the grateful looks on the faces of, or in the eyes of, the folks receiving these donations, you remember why you are doing it and it gives you the boost you need to get through the rest of your day. Likewise, with students or parents triple-parked and the frantic pace to get everything packed up and moved out, you are asking them to take a few extra moments to bring their unwanted stuff to the donation area. Knowing that those items are going to a local shelter can sometimes make the difference between people taking those few extra moments to participate and just leaving stuff piled up next to the trash dumpster.
These are local charities who are selling usable items to fund their primary mission. This can range from local chapters of national organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Saint Vincent de Paul, to local organizations that run a thrift store to fund a hospice center or food pantry. The larger of these organizations are often very well organized and can provide excellent logistical support, including frequent pickups, collection containers, and other support. Many of these larger organizations also typically have a secondary market division so the stuff that can’t be immediately re-sold can at the thrift store, can often be re-sold to cleaning rag markets, international textile markets, and other used textile markets. As a result, these organizations may provide you with the best balance of logistical viability and altruistic payback. As an added bonus, many of these organizations have textile recycling programs on the back end to manage the materials that aren’t of sufficient quality to resell. To maximize your altruism benefits of working with these types of organizations, look for those who run their program as a job-training program.
Textile recycling is one of the oldest forms of recycling in the country. Find someone old enough and you can still hear stories about rag men coming around to collect scraps. That industry is still going strong today. SMART is a national textile recycling organization that can teach you more about this fascinating industry.
The clothes that we cannot wear live on as cleaning rags, and filtration products, and even insulation. In addition, there is a thriving overseas market for torn and mismatched clothes. I have seen presentations recently about some amazing overseas tailors who take our discarded torn and mismatched clothes and transform them into designer pieces for the local market.
The advantage of working with textile recyclers is that they will typically pay you something for your used textiles. However, in many cases you need enough quantity to play in their world which means tractor trailer loads of dry materials. Some brokers will aggregate smaller loads and still cut you a share of the profits, but in general, you need volume to make this work.
Working with textile recyclers may be your best option when you need to get a financial return for your used clothes. However, if you are selling your program based on altruism (either to the folks participating in the program, or to the administrators you are asking to support the program), this option may not provide you with the altruistic returns you are looking for.
The end is near. What are you doing to prepare for it?