What We Leave Behind: Sorting 10 Tons of Move-Out Donations

From Bustling Dorms to Overflowing Donation Bins

Every spring, as the academic year wraps up, the University of Michigan undergoes a remarkable transformation. Dorms that were once filled with the buzz of student life now hum with a different kind of activity—move-out chaos. Amidst the flurry of packing and farewells during my freshman year, a simple question from an upperclassman sparked my curiosity: “Are you going to go move-out bin shopping?”. I was confused by her question, and she explained that the University places donation bins on each dorm floor every year to collect items students discard. I didn’t fully grasp what she meant until I saw it myself.

10 Tons of Move-Out Donations

The move-out process at the University of Michigan unveils a startling reality: the sheer volume of items students leave behind. During this year’s move-out, the University of Michigan collected over 10 tons of donations left in on-campus housing, diverting it from landfills. Since only 27% of students at the University of Michigan live on campus, it’s staggering to learn that less than a third of the student population generated 10 tons of donations in only a year.

As a new student or dorm resident, you might wonder what happens to all the items left behind at the end of the year. This summer, during my internship with PBA, I had the opportunity to help sort through these donations. I was amazed by not only the quantity but also the quality of the leftover items.

Where does it all go?

For several weeks, the Office of Campus Sustainability, in collaboration with various sustainability groups on campus, worked diligently to weigh and sort the donations into categories for partner organizations like House N2 Home, Ann Arbor Thrift Shop, Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, Kiwanis, and Goodwill. All food and personal care items went to the Maize and Blue Cupboard on campus. As I sifted through the bounty of discarded treasures, I was astonished—brand new Doc Martens, film cameras, laptops, TVs, room decor, clothes with tags, Louis Vuitton shoes, and more! Most items were in good condition and ready for a new home.

The numerous organizations that the University of Michigan partnered with worked tirelessly to redistribute the items to those in need within the Ann Arbor community. Witnessing the massive amount of waste collected throughout the move-out process was an eye-opening experience.

We Need to Reduce First

While the university was able to divert this waste from landfills, the significance of our mass purchasing is important to note. Do we need everything that we buy for our dorms? What happens to the other 73% of the student population’s waste? Do we consider a product’s longevity and long-term use before purchasing it, or do we buy lots of new things that we don’t need?

Numerous studies show that reducing waste is the most effective way to create a positive impact on the environment and economy. According to the reduce, reuse, recycle waste hierarchy, there are environmental, economic, and social impacts that can be mitigated if everyone reduces their waste first before relying on reusing or recycling products.

The Path Forward

As we gear up for the next academic year, let’s embrace a mindfulness mindset. Utilize the “What to Pack!” list as it covers all of the necessities you will need! Most students move off-campus after their first year and minimizing unnecessary purchases will save you money, help the environment, and ease your move-out process. As students, and the “leaders and best”, we have a responsibility to lower the amount of move-out waste to create an even more sustainable and just future for all.

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