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Woman wearing backpack shops through a secondhand store

On-campus thrift stores can help reduce student waste throughout the year and during the move-out process, when gently used items are left behind.

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At residential campuses, students often leave items behind that they either won’t need or don’t use when they move out of the dorms. However, this process can generate waste, making it unsustainable and bad for the environment.

To combat the problem, colleges and universities have opened campus thrift stores that resell or “freecycle” items to students for low or no cost. These on-campus sites help students save money, minimize their carbon footprint and encourage students to lean into the trend of buying secondhand.

A January 2023 Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed, conducted by College Pulse, found that 81 percent of respondents are worried about climate change, and half of those students are very worried. Eighty-five percent of students say it’s at least somewhat important for their campus to prioritize sustainability.

Here are six examples of on-campus thrift stores that minimize student move-out garbage.

Georgia Tech — Green Goodbyes

The fall, Georgia Tech will open its campus thrift store, filled with donations from students that are typically tossed during the move-out process at the end of the year.

The program, Green Goodbyes, has collected reusable items since 2021 to donate to different sectors on campus, such as the campus closet, food pantry or local animal shelters. University leaders noticed that there was a surplus of items left around campus at the end of the year that, instead of being donated to another location, could be reused by students coming to campus in the fall.

So far in the store, the university has collected cups, mugs, pots and pans, clothing, hangers, mini fridges, microwaves, printers, TVs, and more.

University of California Berkely — ReUSE

ReUSE, originally short for the Re-Used Stuff Emporium, started as a student club and opened a physical space in 2000 with funding from the university. Students, faculty and staff could donate and pick up materials from the central location or ReUSE stations around campus (as of 2007).

At ReUSE, students pay $3 or less for items or can engage in a one-for-one trade. The shop is volunteer-run, being stocked and managed by students who learn more about green and ethical second-hand practices. At the end of the year, any profits made (after expenses—store cleaning supplies, social events and marketing materials—are covered) get donated to a selected charity.

During the 2022–23 academic year, ReUSE donated $2,971.51 to charity and redirected 1,112.3 pounds of items to a new purpose, according to the organization’s fundraising site.

The store also has a repair clinic, which helps students complete clothing repairs such as stitching on new buttons or fixing tears to reduce waste.

University of Pittsburgh — University of Thriftsburg

Opened in 2011, the student-run on-campus thrift store repurposes and sells secondhand clothes, shoes and accessories to campus stakeholders, including staff, faculty and community members.

All items in the store, located in the student center, cost $10 or less.

Thriftsburg staff also host a regular event each fall, the Reuse Rummage Sale to provide clothing, kitchen, dorm and bathroom essentials for residential students moving onto or around campus for $25 or less—including mirrors, shelving and storage units, hangers, lamps and mini fridges.

The thrift store collects items throughout the year and contributes to the university’s annual Clutter for a Cause in the spring, which collects clothing, textiles, dorm room essentials, electronics, hygiene products and nonperishable food donations at the end of the spring term.

University of Denver — DU Thrift Store

The University of Denver used to collect items students disposed of at the end of the term and resell them at an annual pop-up thrift store, but campus leaders elected to open a physical location in fall 2021 to give students more opportunities to purchase items.

In addition to selling clothing and dorm materials, the DU Thrift Store is home to a used bookstore, which allows students to donate and purchase textbooks or other required course materials. The store keeps an online catalog with the current selection, and students can request to reserve titles. All books are priced at $20 or less.

The thrift store also recently started a graduation gown program that allows grads to loan out a gown from the thrift store to be returned after graduation.

Pop-Up Sales

Some campuses don’t have a standing thrift store but instead, collect items from move out to be recycled during the fall.

The University of Utah’s facilities management, housing and residential education and sustainability offices partner in the spring to collect donations including clothing, shoes, pillows, sheets, blankets, kitchenware, décor and books which are offered back to students in the fall during an event.

At Coastal Carolina University, student group Sustain Coastal partners with University Housing and Public Safety to collect items at the end of the year as part of the Campus Salvage. After collecting, sorting and donating items, students can visit the Campus Salvage Sale, which costs $5 to enter and offers items for under $10. All proceeds go toward the CCU Endowed Sustainability Scholarship Fund, and unsold items go to local charities or to the on-campus food and resource pantry.

Illinois State University — ISU Share Shop

Located in the Office of Sustainability, the ISU Share Shop is a resource-sharing store that allows students to shop for free gently used items, including shoes, clothing, accessories, household items, textbooks and more. Professional dress, athletic clothing and loungewear are among the clothing types.

During the spring semester, students, campus and community volunteers save items from move-out to be sorted, stored and cleaned to be given out to ISU students, or those from neighboring institutions including Illinois Wesleyan University and Heartland Community College, during the Front Yard Free Cycle in the fall. The collection process took 10 days and some dumpster diving, Elisabeth Reed, director of sustainability, wrote on LinkedIn.

How does your campus go green in a way that also supports student wellness? Tell us more here.

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