Boston University Surplus Property Provided to Charities (Sustainability @ BU)

On April 17th Boston University celebrated the more than 1.5 million pounds of surplus furniture and equipment that BU has provided to charities since 2002.  As part of its Earth Week observances, BU hosted IRN – The Recycling Network and Food For The Poor (FFTP), who have been BU’s partners in making this achievement possible.

BU has been working with IRN since 2000.  IRN’s mission is to find ways to reuse or recycle just about anything in the waste stream.  Back in 2002, BU asked IRN to help with excess furniture and equipment – all the desks and file cabinets and beds and bureaus and thousands of other items that BU could no longer use.

IRN accepted the assignment, and starting with a bare 10,000 pounds in 2002, not enough to fill even a single truck, BU’s surplus management program with IRN has grown to the point that it recovered more than 525,000 pounds of surplus in 2011 alone.

BU's Reuse Program has grown steadily since it first started working with IRN in 2002.
BU’s Reuse Program has grown steadily since it first started working with IRN in 2002.

Food for the Poor is the third key member of the partnership.  FFTP is a charity that provides disaster and poverty relief in communities around the world.  FFTP has been the recipient of much of BU’s surplus, which it has distributed among relief projects in more than a dozen countries in the Caribbean Basin, Africa, and Asia.

FFTP representatives made the Earth Week journey to BU to acknowledge the school’s contribution to their relief work.  “Boston University has been a major source of relief goods for our programs,” comments Mark Khouri, FFTP Director of Gifts In Kind.  “BU has provided kitchens, classrooms, microfridges, dorm furniture, and much more.  It was important for us to come to BU and meet the individuals who make all of this good work come to fruition.”

Since 2005 BU’s surplus program has had two main tracks.  One works out of a parking lot behind 808 Commonwealth Avenue, where BU keeps two storage trailers.  Any time a department needs to get rid of some surplus, it goes into one of the trailers.  When they’re full, IRN cleans them out and matches the surplus with FFTP or another charity.  This steady program has kept more than 400,000 pounds of BU surplus out of the trash.

The second track comes largely from BU’s Housing Department.  When BU renovates a dorm or buys new furniture, IRN identifies FFTP or another charity that can use the surplus in relief or development projects.  IRN then arranges movers to come on campus and load the old furnishings into trailers (if surplus is to be reused in the U.S.) or shipping containers (for surplus that will be used overseas).  Once packed at BU, the trailers are not unsealed until they reach their final destination.

“This started out as a good idea for recycling our unwanted furniture, but as we became more connected with IRN and FFTP the social benefits of the program really grabbed our hearts,” states Jeanne Sevigny, Assistant Director of BU Housing.  “For those of us in Housing and Sustainability, we could not be more pleased.  We are doing the right thing environmentally and socially, and the costs related to this program are far less than disposal – a real win-win situation all around.”

And then there are things like the Brown Arena basketball floor.  BU kept the old floor in storage after the Agganis Arena opened.  But when BU needed the storage space, the old floor needed to go away.  FFTP’s Khouri tells what happened:  “We were working with a school outside of Kingston, Jamaica, that had a gym but no floor.  BU’s floor didn’t have a gym.  It was a perfect fit.  We put the floor into two shipping containers, and three weeks later it was installed and being used by school kids in Jamaica.”

Given the successes of the program since its start almost twelve years ago, BU is now recognized as a leader nationwide in surplus property reuse.  In addition to IRN and FFTP, BU works with Boston area nonprofits as much as it can to keep surplus local.  Whenever a BU building is renovated or old furniture needs to be replaced, the odds are close to 100% that the surplus will be reused.

Says Mike Lyons of BU’s Purchasing Department, “The days are long gone of filling dumpsters with materials that could have a second life.  The program has grown each year and will continue to grow.  It is not just about furniture.  It’s about doing the right thing for the environment and the right thing for people, and the right thing for BU.”

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