In our ongoing series looking at the US Surplus Asset sector we talk to Corey Berman is the Recycling Program Manager at the University of Vermont.The motivation for the interview is to find out the barriers and short cuts to success so that others may repeat the process- internationally and the interview will form part of our reuse report which will compare surplus assets practices across the world.
University of Vermont is not a Warp It customer this is a case study to benefit all.
The University of Vermont, also known under its official name The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College, was founded in 1791, making it one of the oldest universities in the US. In 1871 the it took steps towards gender equality and defied custom by admitting two women as students. Likewise, in 1877, it initiated the first African American into the society. Being the fifth institution of higher education established in the New England region of the northeast U.S, the university was chartered the same year that Vermont became the 14th state.
Today, the university blends the traditions of both a private and public university, drawing 13.6% (as of 2012) of its general fund from the state of Vermont. It offers a public ivy experience to 10,267 undergraduate students who can choose to study one of the 100 undergraduate majors. The University also welcomes international students from approximately 68 countries and enrolls about 1,462 students in 50 master programs and 22 doctoral programs.
Corey Berman is the Recycling Program Manager at the University of Vermont and responsible for recycling waste management. He also deals with surplus property and internal moving services. He said: “If it’s going to leave the university and be discarded, we either try to recycle it or compost it or reuse or sell it, or do something before we send it to the landfill.”
The way the surplus system works is usually someone will first get in touch with the surplus office and then fill out a form. They work on Famis, a web-based platform that requires them to fill out a form and specify their budget. After the information is processed they go and pick up the items and take them to their storage space, which is just off campus. Currently there is no internal mechanism for people or departments to discuss with each other, so there’s no way of knowing if a department needs the furniture another department is getting rid of. Corey said: “We would love to create some sort of an intra-university web where they can communicate.
In the summer of 2007, UVM removed theater seating from a classroom in Williams Hall. The seats were picked up by the Playhouse Movie Theater in Randolph, Vermont- the oldest movie theater in the state! This photo features the old seats in their new home.
We have tried a few things in the past, like Freecycle, but that didn’t really take root.” However, there’s still some internal unofficial reuse, as some departments will notify the rest of the departments if they’re getting rid of surplus furniture.
Some of the challenges the surplus property program faces are space constraints, finding a customer base and maximising the visibility of the program. Because of the location of the campus, the university doesn’t have too much space available that they can use as storage for surplus items. Their current storage space is an old dairy barn, around two miles from campus, that was re-purposed as a surplus facility:
Corey said: “This barn is very old, it still smells like cows. If you drove by, it’s very nondescript. There’s no signs. You would never even know what’s in there if you drove by, it just looks like an old barn. That is where we bring our surplus furniture. We have desks, tables, chairs, office supplies, whatever oddball things we have.”
Because the barn doesn’t have electricity, plumbing and heat, they can’t take any electrical items, but they take books or anything else students leave behind when they move out.
The barn is opened one hour a week for people interested in purchasing surplus items. Corey said: “One of the big things for me is, I think we can run a better thing if we had a better space. There’s no electricity so we can’t bring electrical items and test them, which is unfortunate. It means we’re losing out on stuff like microwaves and lamps and office fans and air conditioning units and things like that. The biggest thing for us is the physical space.”
Finding a customer base is another problem Corey is facing. They sell their surplus items at very low prices in order to help the people interested in purchasing them, whether it’s a new school who doesn’t have any money, a church group or a non-profit organisation.
Corey said: “We’re certainly not getting any money from the program. We’re constantly under budget and my regular recycling budget has to subsidise the surplus budget.”
Maximising the visibility of the program is another issue because the department is underfunded and they don’t have a lot of resources to focus on marketing the surplus side.
Corey also talked about the current problems of reuse programs: “One is the systemic issue of just trash and waste, certainly here in the US. We have much different standards and specs that over there in Europe, whether you’re in the EU or not. We just developed our waste management programs, over generations here, differently in the US because we have so much available space. That said, there hasn’t been a big push to reuse resources in a responsible way because we can just go to the landfill, of which there are plenty.”
Corey believes that the issues of reduce and reuse don’t get the deserved attention because people are much more focused on recycling: “We’re dealing with climate change issues so people are focused on energy expenditure, organics collection and methane capture from organics. They’re focused on things like recycling and computer reuse, which is great. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the old mantra in the recycling world, and unfortunately, when it comes to surplus property, things like furniture, people just automatically think recycling. The reduce and the reuse get skipped over, even though those are the first two words in that cycle.”
To improve reuse, Corey thinks there should be some sort of limit on the ability to use the individual purchasing cards to buy new furniture or equipment before checking if there are any surplus items available. Another solution would be to repurpose and fix things in order for them to become reusable, and build a mentality around repairing rather than throwing things away.
He said: “I think the biggest mission of our program here at the university, is to keep the stuff out of the landfill, certainly, but also as a public good because we are a public institution, taxpayer funded. We have to change our mindset around how we use our resources, certainly with surplus property but also just with what we would call waste. We have to continue to push for a changing paradigm with what we call waste management.”
Thankyou Corey for a great chat and insight into your work!
This success story was sent to us by the Avalon Triumvirate Academy school in Fairfax, Vermont. The school picked up dozens of old wooden wardrobes from the Residential Life Furniture Giveaway. They cut the depth down and used the material cut off for shelves, and the extenders on top were book shelves that were supposed to fit on the student desks. Here are the "recycled" shelves in the school's library.