MIT Saves Five Trailers of Surplus from Disposal – On Five Days’ Notice

After decades of hard use, MIT is undertaking a complete renovation of its Sloan Building, hub of the Sloan School of Management, on Memorial Drive in Cambridge.  After removing all furnishings suitable for reuse on campus, MIT was left with nearly 850 pieces of surplus, including office and school furnishings, desks, seating, file cabinets, shelving, work tables, and more.

MIT has a strong commitment to Sustainability, so they looked for an alternative to throwing these items in the dumpster.  MIT has worked with IRN on reuse and recycling initiatives for more than a decade; they were one of our very first members.  So it was natural they called IRN for help.

Finding a home for the surplus wasn’t an issue.  The issue was schedule.  When MIT called, just a week remained before the start of renovation, and that week included Labor Day.  And there were logistics issues:  no loading dock; a single, slow elevator; long carries; and the City of Cambridge, which imposes severe restrictions on trucking.  And there was enough surplus to fill five tractor-trailers; it wasn’t a small project.

With just a couple of days to work with, we didn’t have time to arrange trucking straight from MIT to a nonprofit recipient.  Or more accurately, we didn’t have time to be sure there wouldn’t be hangups.  The demo contractor was in the wings, on his own tight schedule.  Hangups were something we couldn’t afford.

The solution, worked out with our partner Olympia Moving & Storage, was to set up a shuttle to IRN’s warehouse in Somerville, about two miles away.  One crew at MIT loaded Olympia box trucks as fast as they could; another crew attended the trucks in Somerville, where they unloaded as fast as they could.  The long distance tractor trailers were instructed to arrive in Somerville, where the Somerville crew packed them high and tight for shipment to charitable recipients.

With a hammer deadline to empty the building by the close-of-business on Friday, MIT gave verbal approval for the project on Wednesday, September 4.  On Thursday, IRN and Olympia mobilized a 14-man crew and four 26-foot box trucks.  That day, we shuttled ten truckloads from the Sloan Building to our warehouse. On Friday, the crew loaded and shuttled another seven trucks.  At 1:00 PM on Friday we did a final walk-through with MIT, buttoned up, and turned the building over for renovation.  By Tuesday of the following week, the tractor-trailers had arrived, been loaded, and departed Somerville, on their way to needy communities.

The ultimate recipients were identified through longtime IRN charitable partner Food For The Poor.  Of the five trailers filled with MIT’s surplus, one trailer was sent to an FFP sister organization in Ghana, in West Africa, two trailers were sent to community development projects in Nicaragua, and two were sent to FFP’s warehouse in Jamaica, for distribution to relief projects there, in Haiti, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Great thanks go to MIT for their commitment to reuse and making this project happen; to Olympia for rescheduling other projects to make this one possible; and to Food For The Poor for so quickly identifying and setting up transportation to recipients.  Cooperation is a great thing, and cooperation for a good cause is the best.

Click here for a downloadable case study of this project in PDF .

Kudos to San Jose State University: A Great Solution for Small Quantity Surplus

Terri Ramirez at San Jose State University had a familiar issue:  lots of surplus, no storage space.  Every time a professor or administrator bought a new desk or chair or upgraded old equipment, there was nothing to do with the old except throw it out.  There was no place to put it, and no way to track it.  Which meant that a lot of perfectly good stuff was going in SJSU dumpsters.  A waste of good stuff; a waste of money.

Terri knew that any solution needed three parts.  First, she needed a way to identify and track SJSU’s surplus – what was it, where was it?  Second, she needed a market – someone who could use the surplus.  Third, she needed a way to get it off campus routinely, efficiently, and inexpensively.

Tracking:  Collaborating with SJSU’s Procurement Department, Terri developed a campus-wide reporting system.  Whenever staff or faculty have an item to be surplussed, they report it to the Furniture Reuse Program administrator (Rosario Micu), who maintains a running inventory of what and where it is.  This also allows Procurement, whenever possible, to match surplus against new purchasing requests, facilitating reuse of surplus right on the SJSU campus.

Market:  SJSU has worked with the Institution Recycling Network on several large cleanout projects, so she knew IRN could place SJSU’s surplus with its nonprofit network.

Moving:  It was inefficient and expensive to send maintenance staff to pick up one or two pieces of surplus at a time.  Terri came up with the simplest solution:  leave it where it is.  When faculty or staff report a surplus item to inventory through Rosario Micu, they are instructed to hold the item for pickup.  When enough pieces are logged to justify a cleanout, Terri calls IRN.  IRN conducts a quick site visit to review the surplus inventory and locations, and gives her a proposal for the cleanout cost.  IRN sends a crew of movers who make a quick and efficient sweep of the campus, and the surplus is dispatched immediately to an IRN nonprofit recipient.

Cost:  Terri has tracked the costs of SJSU’s program, and it’s less expensive than throwing surplus away.  Scheduling a crew to sweep the entire campus is a more cost-effective use of manpower than sending SJSU staff to pick up pieces of surplus in ones and twos.  And IRN trailers packed for reuse cost about one-third less than rolloffs filled for disposal.

The program went online in March 2011.  Since then, SJSU has captured more than 4,300 pieces of surplus in 21 cleanouts.  That’s 185 tons diverted from SJSU’s waste stream and added to the school’s reuse and recycling totals.  Before 2011, nearly all of these items would have ended up as trash.  The program is now averaging more than one pickup a month, so surplus doesn’t have a chance to pile up in offices and hallways.  It’s identified, and it’s gone.

Congrats to Terri, Rosario, and SJSU for a job well done!!

There’s a case study about Terri’s program at SJSU here.

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More Than 5 Million Pounds of Surplus Furniture and Equipment to Charity in 2013

In 2013 through August, IRN provided more than five million pounds of surplus furniture and equipment to charities in the United State and overseas.  Although we’ve cleared five million pounds before, this is by far the earliest in the year that we’ve reached this milestone in the dozen years that IRN has managed the Surplus Program.  Through August we packed more than 72,000 items into 382 tractor trailers, which were provided to fourteen different charities in thirteen countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and eight U.S. states.

Our projects in 2013 have been spread among 22 states from coast to coast, including CA, CO, DC, DE, FL, HI, IL, IN, MA, MD, MI, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, TX, UT, VA, and West Virginia.  Some projects were as small as a half dozen pieces delivered to IRN’s warehouse.  Others were as large as 41 trailers filled at the University of Massachusetts, 20 from Georgetown University, 17 from Wayne State University and the University of Illinois, and 16 from American University and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.  We would like to acknowledge the 88 different organizations that took advantage of the Surplus Program through September, who recognize that reuse is financially, socially, and environmentally the best way to manage their surplus.

Several program users reached their own milestones in 2013.  One was Skidmore College.  In just two years Skidmore has managed more than a quarter million pounds of surplus through IRN.  Another was the University of Central Missouri.  UCM has been working with IRN since 2010, and in May they went past one million pounds kept out of the landfill and provided to charity.

This is what Brenda Moeder, Director of Housing Facilities and Operations at Central Missouri, has to say about managing UCM’s surplus for reuse: “It’s a program with nothing but winners.  The University saves money, diverting material from landfill is a benefit to the environment, and most important, our furniture is provided where it will be needed, used and appreciated for years to come.”

Reuse isn’t just a feel-good thing.  Every organization has surplus that needs to disappear.  Reuse turns surplus from a liability into a social and environmental asset, and costs less than throwing it away.  When that realization clicks, we get the call.

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