The evolution of Ohio State’s furniture recycling program

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Goodwill Columbus collects donations from on-campus residence halls and off-campus houses. They accept furniture, clothing and other household items. Credit: Sarah Szilagy | Lantern Reporter

Students staring down the barrel of a lightly used couch or rarely vacuumed rug need not condemn their unwanted furniture to rot in a landfill — no matter if they live in a residence hall or off campus.

Since 2018, the Office of Student Life has partnered with Goodwill Columbus to salvage furniture left by students at the end of the spring semester, and they look to save as many couches, bed frames and other home staples from the garbage as possible, Tom Reeves, director of energy management and sustainability for the office, said.

“It was a great opportunity for them. They loved the idea of working with Ohio State students and kind of teaching the larger community, the Ohio State community, about reusing because that’s really what their stores are all about,” Reeves said.

However, the effort to recycle students’ furniture started long before Goodwill Columbus began setting up collection bins in the residence halls.

Hailey Hayes, a fourth-year in environmental science and president of Students for Recycling, an organization on campus that promotes recycling awareness and other sustainability measures, said the organization has been collecting furniture abandoned by students since 2004. During what they call the “Dump and Run,” club members go around campus and collect furniture, clothes and food left behind by students. 

Hayes said they then sort through the haul and sell things back to other students at a discounted rate on the first Friday of the following fall semester.

Reeves said that for years, the university helped Students For Recycling transport donations and find storage space, but the amount of things left behind quickly began to outpace the manpower of club members on their own.

The opening of new residence halls on North Campus over the past several years has added 3,200 additional beds — and a lot more trash, Reeves said. 

“We noticed that this is a bigger problem that we didn’t anticipate,” he said. 

The Office of Student Life reached out to Students For Recycling in spring 2017 to develop a program by which students would collect unwanted items and local agencies would pick them up from the residence halls. 

“The first year wasn’t very good,” Reeves said. “We only had one agency that wanted to participate. And it didn’t go — it didn’t go very well because the challenge is that when we move what is 14,000-some students out of our residence halls all during that three-to-four day window, it’s a logistical nightmare.”

In 2018, Goodwill Columbus stepped in and focused on collecting donations from North Campus while Students for Recycling handled South Campus. Goodwill Columbus also helped sort items for the annual sell-back to students and provided storage during the summer, Reeves said. 

After some finetuning, Reeves said the collaboration between Students for Recycling and Goodwill Columbus was very successful its second time around: In spring 2019, they diverted 39 tons of clothing and furniture and 1 ton of food from the landfill, which they donated to Buckeye Food Alliance on Ohio State’s campus. 

Looking forward, both Reeves and Hayes said the biggest challenge they face is collecting unwanted items from off-campus areas. 

“I think where the problem comes in is that either students aren’t able to plan — again, if you’re taking finals and doing all that stuff and you’re moving out at the end of April so that you can go for an internship, it makes planning that stuff a little more difficult,” Reeves said. 

He said that after realizing only one major community agency picked up donations directly from houses and apartments, Goodwill Columbus began offering pickup services as well. 

“Last year, we did some communicating in the off-campus area trying to push students to Goodwill,” Reeves said. 

Goodwill Columbus is currently working on developing an app on which students can directly request donation pickup, Reeves said

Hayes said it’s important to remember that there are many agencies in Columbus looking for donations. 

“Goodwill does not take everything,” she said. “They don’t take box springs, mattresses or bedding in general.” 

Hayes said the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio accepts those items, and homeless shelters are looking for all kinds of donations. 

Bins for donations are available on campus, and while Goodwill works on its app, off-campus students can file a request for pickup online at www.goodwillcolumbus.org/donate/goodwill-at-your-door. 



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