IRN was founded in 1999 as a recycling cooperative for K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and healthcare. Our original members were committed recyclers who recognized that recycling can be difficult, frustrating, and expensive for any organization acting on its own. Recycling begs for a collaborative solution, and that’s what IRN offered. IRN was established with a threefold mission:
Expanding rapidly, IRN was soon providing services to about 200 schools and hospitals from Connecticut to Maine. And many of them started coming to IRN with a commodity we’d never thought about: surplus furniture. One of the first was a college in Boston, who asked us to help dispose of about 500 sets of dorm furniture. We showed up at their parking lot, and there were hundreds of perfectly good beds, chairs, desks, dressers, tables, and more, all in good shape, with years of life left in them. We said, “Wow, shouldn’t you be giving this away? This is good stuff!!”
To which the folks at the school replied, “We’re in Boston. Within ten miles there are two dozen schools and 50,000 dorm rooms, and we ALL have this furniture. We have long ago filled up every local charity. We just need this stuff to go away.” So IRN recycled that perfectly good dorm furniture.
But we wondered. If local charities couldn’t absorb this furniture, were there national and international charities that could? So we started making calls, and sure enough, there were a lot of big charities that needed furniture. But they didn’t have the time or resources to find out who had the furniture, much less manage a moving project to get it out of the generator’s premises and into the hands of recipients. It was the mirror image of our schools, who didn’t have the time or resources to find charities in need of furniture, much less manage a moving project to get it into the charities’ hands.
That is to say, there was a huge supply of good furniture, and huge need for good furniture, but no way to make the connection, and no one to manage the transfer. That’s what we set about to do. That was the beginning of our Surplus Reuse Program.
Starting with just a few projects in 2002, IRN’s Surplus Reuse Program has grown every year since then. In 2015 we handled 7.4 million pounds of surplus furniture. Filling about 600 tractor-trailers, this furniture was distributed to more than 100 nonprofit organizations working in 26 U.S. states and 29 foreign countries.
Over time we came to realize that surplus was where we should focus all our efforts. The supply of surplus kept growing as more people heard of us, and the worldwide need for usable furniture is limitless. And we had the experience, the skills, and the networks to make a match between supply and demand, to save money for our customers, and to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people around the globe.
So we gradually pared back on our general recycling, and by 2015 IRN was focused exclusively on surplus asset management. We are, by far, the largest and most experienced managers of surplus assets for reuse in the United States.
But at the same time, we haven’t lost sight of those core commitments:
Our business has evolved, but our core commitment has not: Reduce waste, put economically valuable materials back in the economy, and demonstrate that intelligent resource management through reuse and recycling makes social, environmental, and financial sense.