Trash into treasure: Rethinking waste in Michigan college towns

4 min read

So Rudd hopped on Facebook Marketplace, asking students to donate their furniture if they couldn’t find a buyer. And nine times out of 10, Rudd said, they donated. 

Now, House N2 Home partners with U-M Office of Campus Sustainability, the City of Ann Arbor and several sororities and high-rise student apartment buildings to keep usable furniture and appliances out of the dumpsters each spring.

Jesse Krugel, a graduating U-M film student, and his housemates donated three mattresses, three bed frames, two couches, two desks, a bookshelf and a few other kitchen appliances to House N2 Home this spring. Rudd had to return to the house twice to fit everything in the organization’s van. 

Krugel, who’s moving to Los Angeles, said House N2 Home was the easiest, most affordable option for moving-out since Rudd came and picked up his unwanted furniture at no cost. 

“I’m on a pretty tight timetable, and I like to procrastinate things. So honestly, maybe I would’ve sold a couple things on Facebook Marketplace or just paid a junk-removal place to come take it,” said Krugel. “But I don’t have a lot of time to coordinate all of that. I just need to get rid of it.”

Rudd said many students she took items from shared Krugel’s view. 

“I think students and parents are looking for a way to give [their unwanted items] to someone. It’s just there’s no one to take it,” said Rudd. “So we’re trying to fill the gap.” 

Krugel said he thinks other students would give to House N2 Home if they knew about the opportunity.

“If someone asked me, ‘How do I move out with all this furniture?’ I would definitely recommend [House N2 Home],” he said. “It feels good, too, because you’re giving to a good cause instead of just throwing it out and adding to the landfill.”

Krugel and his roommates’ furniture will likely help furnish an apartment for someone who needs it.  

Last year, House N2 Home furnished 352 homes for 740 people in Washtenaw County. And while not all the furniture and appliances come from college students, all of it has been diverted from landfills.

Rudd said volunteering for House N2 Home is the most rewarding thing she’s ever done in her life, especially because many of the homes they furnish are for single mothers and their children. 

“They leave us their keys with an empty apartment, leave for like two hours, and when they come home, it’s 100% furnished,” she said. “They see their girl’s pink bed and princess lights. It’s something they could never provide for their children, but now they don’t have to worry about it.”

Going beyond reuse

At MSU, this spring’s move-out produced 44 tons of reusable items, according to the Surplus Store data. 

The Surplus Store sells the items to other students and community residents like a university-scale thrift store. 

In addition to the 44 tons from move-out, items like computers and lab equipment from classrooms, microwaves and water filters from student housing — even the odd particle accelerator part — are collected from campus and brought to the Surplus Store.

Operations Manager Chris Hewiit said the Surplus Store’s mission is to find creative ways to keep as much waste from campus out of the landfill as possible. Whatever they can’t resell is sorted for recycling or composted right at the same facility. 

Over the last 12 months, the Surplus Store diverted 44% of discarded campus material from the landfill, including 5.6 million pounds that were recycled, 2.25 million pounds composted and 2.25 million pounds sent to the Surplus Store for reuse. 

Its recycling operations have reduced the amount of waste sent to the landfill per student by 66% since 1990. 

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