Reuse For a Cause (Today’s Facility Manager)

By Anne Vazquez

Today’s Facility Manager, October 2008

Throughout the United States and the rest of the world, there are many organizations and individuals lacking funds to furnish their facilities or homes. As part of its work, the Institution Recycling Network (IRN), a cooperative, member-led organization, administers a Surplus Property Program focused on providing furnishings to needy organizations. In addition to this program, IRN works to improve recycling performance and related economics for a variety of commodities.

Based in Concord, NH, IRN works with colleges and universities, hospitals, private firms, public and private schools, and state agencies to further its Surplus Property Program. IRN works with facilities all over the U.S.

In the September 2007 issue, TFM included an article about this program [“Surplus Property: A Neglected Recyclable”; online at], and IRN has provided an update on its 2007 activities.

IRN managed cleanouts for more than 100 organizations in 15 states during 2007. This resulted in the donation of more than five million pounds of educational, professional, and medical surplus for worldwide disaster relief.

Speaking on this achievement, Stacey Clark, surplus program manager at IRN, said, “There is no end to the supply of surplus furniture and equipment throughout the U.S. and there is no shortage of needy recipients in third world countries or disaster relief zones. IRN’s role is to provide the link to make sure that this surplus isn’t wasted, but sent where it is desperately needed and will be truly appreciated, right away and for years to come.”

Usable surplus can include almost anything found in a hospital, office, classroom, living area, or dormitory. These include: office, administrative, and classroom furnishings; dormitory/residence hall furnishings; laboratory equipment; reception and lounge furnishings; healthcare diagnostic and test equipment; and expendable medical supplies and medical furnishings.

IRN matches this surplus with U.S.-based and international charities which are involved in disaster relief and economic development programs. When IRN makes a match, it calls for trailers and containers, fills them with the requested surplus, and dispatches them to their destinations.

The surplus collected in 2007 was mostly sourced from facilities in New England, but projects also came from as far away as Texas, North Carolina, and California. IRN reports that surplus volume ranged from a few items picked up in a box truck to major cleanouts of thousands of items from multiple buildings for the University of Massachusetts and Princeton University.

About three-quarters of the surplus handled by IRN came from large projects that filled at least one trailer or shipping container. But more than a quarter of the surplus, and a majority of the projects, came from small cleanouts that IRN handled with its own local trucking. Items from these cleanouts were consolidated in IRN’s warehouse in Everett, MA, matched with surplus from other small cleanouts, and dispatched in full container loads to recipients.

Ultimately, the surplus was sent to over a dozen different countries around the world, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. In addition, thousands of items were sent to aid organizations in the southern U.S. as part of continuing relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This effort, states IRN, ultimately provided usable furnishings and equipment to needy people in over 40 different relief and development projects.

In 2008 IRN has seen a sharp increase in demand for its surplus property services, as more organizations focus on Sustainability and are attempting to keep usable materials out of their waste stream. On the downstream side, demand is almost limitless, with particular needs for medical and school surplus.

 The Facility Manager’s Role

Facility managers disposing of their surplus property pay a fee for IRN to handle the items. Services include: cleanout of storage or warehouse space, or pickup from loading areas; move outs from medical, academic, and administrative areas; and dormitory cleanouts in advance of renovation or furniture replacement.

IRN aims to keep its fees competitive with other disposal entities. It notes that every project is different, but, evaluated across many cases, states that management for reuse is typically 10% to 30% less expensive than disposal and recycling for commodity content.

When employing a collection and reuse service for their surplus, there are several questions IRN suggests they the facility manager should ask at the outset. These questions, which could apply to any recyclable, are: Where is the material going? How does the market sustain itself financially? Who pays the costs of transportation, warehousing, triage, and distribution? Who handles the surplus—volunteers or professionals? Is the market adequately insured? And, can I set up a time to visit your operation?

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