Trash bins, pillows, sheets, a foam mattress pad, dry-erase boards, lamps, plastic containers, and a cooler painted with huge initials and bowties. These paltry offerings were the only reusable items seen in two dumpsters last week behind the College of Charleston's two largest dormitories. It's enough to make a dumpster-diver wonder: Where's all the good stuff? Through the college's efforts, it's increasingly in the hands of people who need it.
Every summer, many of CofC's 11,000-plus students leave in a mad dash for home, vacation, jobs, and internships. The piles of merchandise left in their wake used to go straight to the landfill. But in the past few years, the college has begun collecting the salvageable items — such as books, gently used clothing, and electronics — from its dormitories and selling them for $5 or less at huge yard sales in its Liberty Street Residence Hall. The money funds national and international student community service trips. All that's not sold goes to charity, this year to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and the Kidney Foundation.
This year, the sale, called Lighten Your Load, raised $1,700, said Residence Life Director Melantha Ardrey. "It was pretty packed," Ardrey said. "We had lines of people out the door waiting."
Universities nationwide have yard sales similar to CofC's. Clemson University's is also dubbed Lighten Your Load, while the University of South Carolina has Give it Up for Good, which collected almost 15 tons of reusable items last year. Previously, the Citadel Women's Club held an annual yard sale to raise scholarship money, but the yard sale was cancelled this year due to insufficient manpower and resources. The Citadel is looking at similar programs to use in the future.
Ardrey said CofC doesn't track how many items it collects, but said the sales have been expanding and dumpsters have been filling up more slowly.
Lighten Your Load, which is open to all but publicized only to students, is sadly already over. Kathryn Teska, a third-year studio art student, was wearing jeans from a sale. "It is kind of crazy when you walk in," Teska said of the event. One man was apparently buying mirrors to create a martial arts dojo.
Colleen Etman, a third-year English student who has helped Residence Life with the collections, brought home a lamp, several rugs, and kitchen supplies. But then there were the boxer shorts. "We threw that out, obviously," Etman said. The underwear didn't look too bad, but best to err on the side of caution.
But how much misses the collection bins? Wayne Wheldon can see the Liberty dormitory's dumpsters behind his shop, The Vault, on King Street. Wheldon said that, though this year was an improvement, there were a lot of good items thrown out last year.
"Bookcases, lamps, chairs, futons, you know, all the stuff that they brought at the beginning of the year, they just used it a year and threw it out," Wheldon said. He called the waste a shame.
"Walmart and Kmart love it, because everyone just goes and buys new stuff at the beginning of every school year," he said.
Ardrey says some students still trash useful items, despite being encouraged to donate them. Once they're in the dumpsters, owned by a private company, it's off to one of three local landfills.
Lisa Heller Boragine is the founder of Dump & Run, a nonprofit that helps 25 universities organize year-end item collections and sales and advises other colleges on how they can host their own. She said CofC's student population makes it a great place to do a sale.
"It's big enough to actually warrant a collection and small enough to get people involved," Heller Boragine said. At larger schools, it's harder to coordinate pickups and drop-offs, and students are often distracted by other things, she said. She added that the opportunity for a sale — students leaving things behind in a rush — is also its biggest hurdle. It's hard to collect items when people are leaving so quickly, and it's hard to get students to volunteer when they have final exams to take. "Your volunteer base really needs to be people who are community-based," she said. "[Students are] like the frosting on the cake, but I don't ever want to rely entirely on students for the collection."
But dormitory collections are only half the equation. Unlike many other colleges, CofC does not require freshmen to live in residence halls. Many students living in "off-campus" private residences near the college simultaneously dump items right before their leases end on July 31. In response to complaints about trash piling up on streets and sidewalks, the city and college began Operation Move-Out in 2009.
During Operation Move-Out, workers and volunteers help identify reusable items that can be given to charity, and CofC pays for an extra trash collection day in July. Sam Price, the city's director of environmental services, said the salvageable items were donated last year, and he didn't see anything of value on the curb on collection day.
Nevertheless, the city picked up about 17 tons of debris on the extra collection day. That was in addition to the 45 to 65 tons Price said the city normally collects each week from the private residences around campus.
The city is planning to continue the program this year.