At the end of the academic year at the University of Sheffield, most students move out of their accommodation and end up leaving things behind. Sheffield City Council provides students with a “red sack” service to cope with the extra waste.
This June at the end of term, my partner and I went for a bit of a womble along my road to see what we could pick up. Amongst the bags we found: crockery, cutlery (including kitchen knives), cookware (frying pans, saucepans, woks, baking sheets/tins), kitchen appliances (including George Foreman grills, sandwich makers, toasters and kettles), televisions, DVD players, Freeview boxes, satellite decoders, speakers, games console accessories, lamps, clothes, fancy dress outfits and bedding. Hundreds of pounds' worth of stuff, going straight to landfill.
I picked up a few odds and ends for myself and friends (including my now-favourite red dress), but there was no way I could save everything that I found. Being a "don't mourn, organise" sort of person, at the start of this year I sent out some feelers to the students' union officers about setting up a recycling scheme, and boy did I get a response!
It turns out there exists in the university halls of residence a scheme called "Bring It, Don't Bin It", which sets out collection bins around the residences and co-ordinates with a local charity, who collect and sort the donated items and sell them in their shop.
I had a few ideas for extending the scheme. I think since the items that students throw away at the end of the year are exactly the things that new students buy in September, some method of giving them to students - such as a free shop - would be the most useful way of recycling them.
Another limitation is lack of involvement for students who live in private accommodation - which is most of the 2nd and 3rd years and post-grads. I have no idea if it would ever be feasible to run a collection service, but as I'll expand upon later, a collection point at the union is definitely on the cards.
The final issue was PAT testing. Most charity shops don't accept electrical items unless they have been PAT tested, so to date the collections have excluded them - but in a university this size there are plenty of staff who are qualified to test portable appliances.
A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with Matt Burdge from the communities team, Tim Roberts, the Environmental Co-Ordinator of the union, Rachel Steyne, who is the Women's Officer (in charge of the ethical and environmental policy) and the Residences' environmental overseer, whose name I unfortunately can't remember. They were really welcoming and leapt on my ideas, coming up with ways of implementing them. I was really impressed by their enthusiasm and drive.
The plan at the moment is to pilot the free shop scheme in February, when the ERASMUS foreign exchange students leave, and a new set move in to university accommodation. We'll have collection points for their items before they leave, and then sort and clean the materials so we can set up a free shop for new arriving students, and then donate any left-over items to charity. Hopefully if this goes well it can be extended for June-September, which would be a much bigger and even more exciting project.
So if you're going to be in Sheffield around February and might be able to spare a weekend or a few hours to sorting and redistributing stuff in an effort to combat needless waste, send me an email or facebook message and I'll let you know when I have more information.
Update: I've subsequently posted about how much bedding we collected from halls of residence, and then about the collection service we set up.