Office of Sustainability student associate, Mia Phutrakul, Class of 2025, contributed to this story.
Every year, as part of the Share Our Stuff program, items are collected from the South 40 and Village residential areas, as well as nearby off-campus neighborhoods surrounding the WashU area with the intent to repurpose goods from student move-out and divert waste from landfills. Over the five months that follow, collected items are made available to students, university employees, and local non-profits through a complex and time-intensive process of sorting, work-trade, sales, and networking.
New this year, a series of events were hosted in the temporary collection space on the S40 with the aim of circulating these unwanted goods. Students took study breaks to “Sort and Score” earning 10 pounds of goods per each hour that they helped sort the mountains of materials. Students also had the option to buy items at $2/lb. Once the students left campus, employees were able to shop in a rummage sale format, discovering magical finds among the clothes and household items.
In tandem, specific types of materials were collected and set aside for local and on-campus partners. SWAP, the student-run business specializing in freecycle programs, got first dibs on mini-fridges, microwaves, and storage items for their annual move-in sale for first-year students. TRIO received all of the professional clothes and shoes for their clothing closet that is open to students year-round for interviews and internships. Operation Food Search received 915 pounds of collected non-perishable food, which could feed 229 people for one day. And Stray Rescue received 3 pick-up truckloads of bedding and towels, transported by WUPD. In addition, we opened the doors to United Way partners and other organizations that were able to “shop” (for free, of course) for items they can repurpose through the clients they serve or for their own operations. Any items that remain are either transported to the Circularity Center and saved for Summer and Fall move-in sales or donated to organizations like St. Vincent de Paul or Home Sweet Home.
Fast forward to summer, the Circularity Center hosted sales at the North Campus warehouse in June and August to support students setting up new residences. As students arrived in St. Louis eager to furnish and decorate new apartments and dorms, they could stop by North Campus for many of their household needs.
The Circularity Center is home to WashU’s reuse programs including housing the stored move-out collection. Spring of 2022 was the first time the SOS program had the physical space required to close the “circular economy” loop and offer collected items back to students. From this year’s August sales alone, the Circularity Center gave back over 4300 pounds (about the weight of a large car) of goods to students during the move-in sale. Students were able to browse everything from furniture items to clothing to kitchenware and stationery. The Circularity Center has something for everyone. Students happily wandered through the warehouse, most leaving with a big smile and a sweet deal!
The Circularity Center serves as a space for students to maintain sustainable practices while fulfilling their essential needs for move-in. The worry of having access to affordable furniture and household goods that comes with moving in is eased, making back-to-school that much smoother.
Similar to move-in, move-out time can be especially stressful for students in transition. Collection programs like those offered for over a decade at WashU can ease this burden while keeping materials out of the landfill. It also reduces the burden on housekeeping teams who are tasked with having to keep up with all the waste and neighbors who suffer from illegal dumping in alleys. While it’s only fall, keep these programs in mind when move-out time comes and plan accordingly to keep the loop going!
The Circularity Center has sparked great interest and enthusiasm at WashU and we cannot wait to continue fostering this community with shared love of the circular economy. It’s worth a visit. While not for everyone, most people who browse are delighted by what they find.
The Circularity Center is staffed by a small crew of interns through the Office of Sustainability and receives a huge amount of support from the Mail Services team. Open Warehouse hours are limited to Wednesdays weekly from 11a – 1p through the Fall semester. There will be one featured Friday per month where the center will be open from noon – 4p with a special interest in inviting students to provide greater access (though employees are also welcome to check it out!). In October, check out the Fall Fashion sale on the 13th. In addition, larger inventory (like furniture) and other prized finds are posted on WashUReuse. Utilize the Circularity Center filter to see what’s available!
Note: Proceeds from sales support the program’s operations and “shoe-string” budget.