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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Freecycle it
May 2, 2008 - 2:05pm

One of the mantras of the sustainability movement is "reduce, reuse, recycle." The three options are stated in order of preferability. Policies in place at Greenback already promote reduction and recycling (although I'd like to see those policies strengthened), but promotion of reuse is limited to running a warehouse where departments can store unwanted furniture, equipment, and the like. If you need a desk for a new employee, you can go down there and requisition something. If you need a desk chair, you probably better order it new -- the ones that make it to the warehouse are in pretty bad shape.

I was thinking about policy proposals for next year, and wondering how to promote reuse. Didn't come up with much in the way of ideas at an institutional level, but I did think of something students could do, for and, pretty much, by themselves.

When I was growing up, there was a "clothing exchange" that was run out of the back of the local Episcopal church. Families -- low-, middle-, and even some upper-middle-income -- would bring used clothing they no longer needed, for resale. I'm not sure how the prices got set (I think the ladies who ran the operation ruled pricing with a steady hand), but they were pretty low and, if the item stayed on the rack too long, they got lower. When something sold, you could go in and collect your money. Or, at least as often, you could spend what you had earned on replacement clothing. The whole thing ran off of volunteer labor, so overhead was low. I think the families ended up with 75-80% of the sales price.

A similar operation runs out of a community church where I now live. Clothing gets donated, and then sold at very low prices, mostly to lower- and fixed-income families. The church keeps any proceeds, but I doubt they do more than cover expenses.

On campus, I could see establishing a similar operation as a "freecycling center." Students would bring clothes and other stuff they no longer want, and take clothes and other stuff someone else no longer wants. Based on experience with my own kids through high school and college, they wear each other's clothes as often as they wear their own, so barriers to utilization should be low. Some mechanism to enforce a bit of equity would probably be needed, but the details can be worked out over time.

No institutional policy change required. Any initial working capital can probably come from the student association, or Student Affairs. Volunteer or work-study labor should suffice, as the thing wouldn't have to be open a lot of hours each week.

As sustainable as recycling is, freecycling is more so. And when that pair of blue jeans finally does get work out, it can still get recycled into insulation, or pencils, or whatever. That point, however, should come after as long a useful life as possible.


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