StandRe-Use 2014: We’re gonna need a bigger van

StAnd Re-Use 2014 started about 3 months ago when I first met with University waste guru Barbara to discuss how to make this year’s collection the biggest ever. ‘I want to mark out sections on the floor, have an army of volunteers, massive pop-ups, multiple collection points, we’re going to collect more than ever before’ I enthusiastically told her. ‘Go for it’ was her supportive response.

Picture 1: Our New Pop Ups!
Picture 1: Our New Pop Ups!

A few weeks later I met with the ever-commited St And Re-Use Committee to discuss how they could become a Union affiliated society (it’s happening… watch this space!). We discussed how we’d use the End of Semester pick-ups to drum-up support, have multiple students help us collect, have daily (hilarious?!?) Facebook updates. In short, run the best end of year reuse project in the world.

Enthusiasm aside, I’m also doing a PhD in Zero Waste Governance, I like to think I’m a garbologist, I’ve been working with St And Re-Use for the past 18 months. This isn’t my first rodeo. Knowledge and passion, that’s all a good project needs. Right?

Needless to say, the utopian mass collection of quality items with grace and ease didn’t quite materialise. It’s difficult to be prepared when most of the volunteers have exams and are trying to pack to leave town themselves. It’s difficult to have organised pick-ups when you are a part-time project that only has access to a van after usual hours. It’s difficult to keep donation points tidy when donators are leaving 24 hours a day every day in a rush to get to the airport/station/bus stop.

Big moves are situations that our everyday waste management mechanisms are not designed to cope with.  When we move house we tend to do so quickly, with a lot of unwanted items and very little time to sort them. Society hasn’t really designed efficient processes to deal with this frantic exodus. Academics have described this problem as the ‘lumpiness’ of waste. Ends of Semesters at academic institutions are scenarios of lumpiness writ large. Many people with limited packing allowance, leaving in a mass exodus after a stressful period where sustainable reuse of items was the last thing on their mind; any project which tries to deal with the unwanted items from this fallout is going to be messy.

That said I’m pretty proud of what St And Re-Use has achieved. We managed to place collection points in all halls, bought 5 new pop-ups (see picture 1), hosted pickup hours in the new Rector’s Café (mmm banana cake) and collected a heck of lot of stuff (see picture 2). I also learnt more about waste and reuse than I could ever imagine.

Picture 2: The Lock Up - post-collection
Picture 2: The Lock Up – post-collection

You wouldn’t believe the quality of unwanted goods people donate to StAnd Re-Use (an immaculate desk chair, a bluetooth keyboard, unused saucepan sets). These goods we can guess are unwanted because of lack of space or luggage allowance. On the other hand you couldn’t predict some of the less salubrious items we receive (rusty cutlery, broken and bashed folders, dirty underwear). I can see why people donate these things -we are all programmed not to want to throw things away and surely there is some worth in the materials at least – but we just don’t have the capacity to sort and collect these items through StAnd Re-Use. We are so stretched to capacity that sadly on the final Friday we had to decline items.

Thankfully we are not the only group collecting in St Andrews and Frontline Fife managed to pick up the slack. However, this is our first collection of 2014; we’ve still got graduation week and the PG departure to manage later in the summer (follow our Facebook page for updates on collections). Truthfully, I’m not sure how we will cope, there are a lot of people leaving St Andrews over the next few months with a lot of belongings, but I’m positive we will find a space for things. Don’t worry.

If you wanted to make things a bit easier for us (or any group that you might want to donate things to) here are our top 3 collection tips to make coping with the lumpiness a bit easier.

1. Keep fragile items separate (we had a few Greek tragedies with plates falling from plastic bags)

2. Don’t just dump your stuff and run (most reuse groups in Scotland -whether charities or student organisations – are run by volunteers, they have to sort through your items with only their passion for reducing waste to fuel them. I’m both paid and enthusiastic, but never under estimate the power of a smelly sock to curb your enthusiasm)

3. If you know you are leaving in a few months, try not to buy anything more (if this experience has taught me anything it’s that the best way to reduce lumpiness is not to buy things in the first place).

I love reuse. I love collecting. But what I love even more is rifling sorting through the donations. We’re right in the middle of that process at the moment and there will be another blogpost to follow. In the meantime, here’s a sneakpeak at some of the variety of items we’ve collected in our cornucopia of coathangers.

StAnd Re-Use is a student-run organisation which encourages reuse in St Andrews. We collect household items from students at the end of semesters and give them back to students at the beginning of term.