MCC photo/Diana Williams

John Harro, a third-year senior from Chester, Virginia, helps staff a semitrailer during Messiah College’s “Move Out Sustainably” program. From May 4-15, Ephrata Re-Uzit Stores, Inc. and the MCC East Coast Material Resources Center teamed up with the college to help reduce the amount of waste in the school’s dumpsters.

Dumpster divers around the country know that the best time to find discarded treasures is right around college move out time. Why? “The amount of trashed items that are either perfectly useable or recyclable is astounding on a college campus during this time,” says Brandon Hoover, director of sustainability at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

This year, Messiah College partnered with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast’s Material Resources Center (MRC) for their first “Move Out Sustainably” program. While in the past they had been marginally successful with another nonprofit partner, Hoover realized that the MRC could help with reducing even more student waste on campus. “I was blown away by MCC’s ability to reclaim a lot of materials,” he states which includes recycling and reusing materials like textiles, books and cardboard at the MRC.

James Wheeler, MRC manager, quickly realized that a collaboration like this could benefit from the involvement of a local shop in MCC's Thrift Shop Network to sell some of the collected items. Dave Worth, Ephrata Re-Uzit Stores, Inc. general manager, was then brought into the project. “Right away Dave saw the potential of highlighting sustainable practices through recycling and showing how these efforts might support MCC's work on the Messiah campus among the student body, staff and faculty,” says Wheeler.

Items collected during the “Move Out Sustainably” program will be sold at Ephrata Re-Uzit and recyclables will be processed through the MRC all generating income used to support MCC’s relief, development and peace work here and around the world.

“There are a lot of things that are still very useable. Barely used stuff. If you walk around department stores in July and August when they are pushing their dorm supply products, I wave to them and I say, ‘I’ll see you in May.’ They are often times single use items. They’re not quality made, they are designed to be abused in a residence hall scenario by college students and then they end up in the dumpster at the end of the year,” states Brandon Hoover.MCC photo/Diana Williams

Planning for the project started in October of last year. With Messiah, Ephrata Re-Uzit and the MRC at the table, the decision was made to place four semitrailers on the college campus next to the only four dumpsters adjacent to the residence halls. On each trailer were several large boxes where different gently used or clean items could be sorted such as clothing, household appliances, electronics, decorations and books. “It’s amazing… If it can’t fit (in the car) all of a sudden students want to get rid of it,” says Hoover.

With a goal of filling two of the four semitrailers this year, Messiah tapped into its underclass student body to staff the trailers and help sort things into the boxes. Hannah Hernley, a recent Messiah graduate and waste coordinator in Messiah’s Sustainability Office states, “I was amazed by the eagerness of my fellow students to help out. It was not an idea I felt like I had to sell anyone on; we all know it (moving out) creates a huge amount of waste. Students know there has to be a better way.”

“I think sustainability is important. I’m happy that I get to stay on campus with my friends (after his college finals were over) for a reason I can support,” says John Harro, a third-year senior from Chester, Virginia, who helped staff the trailers. He noted one of the strangest things he received at the trailers was a bike.

Dave Worth states that the most surprising item he saw on the semitrailers was an air hockey table. He notes, “It’s been a great experiment. The student volunteers have been great. They’re committed, they believe in waste reduction and sustainability and they like the idea of helping MCC.” Ephrata Re-Uzit will be taking the lead on this project again with Messiah in March 2018 with support from MCC and the MRC.

“There were definitely some challenges along the way, but even so, we ended up getting many good quality donations,” says James Wheeler. Semitrailers were placed right beside the dumpsters making it easy for residents moving out of dorms like Bittner Residence.MCC photo/Diana Williams“I wish we could see these dumpsters and trucks when we are doing our back to school shopping so we could understand the true cost of our cheaply made goods,” says Hernley.

But sustainability is more than keeping items from the landfill, stresses Hoover. It includes taking our products and resources and stretching them as far as possible. The “Move Out Sustainably” program helps students think about other uses for items they would typically discard while supporting MCC.

“This program is helping students think through the idea of lifecycle and embedded energy. There is energy (human or machine) that goes into every product we use. If we can continue that life and elongate that embedded energy into something that’s better for the planet. By partnering with MCC it’s better for communities, too,” says Hoover.

By the numbers

  • 3 partners: Messiah College, Ephrata Re-Uzit Stores, Inc., MCC East Coast’s Material Resources Center
  • 4 semitrailers
  • 10 student volunteers
  • 12 days
  • 32 large pieces of furniture and appliances collected
  • 11,000+ lbs. of clothes, housewares and linens collected