GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Cornell University’s Dump and Run program

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As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

Cornell's "Dump and Run" program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.

Cornell's "Dump and Run" program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.

As each year of college draws to a close, students have to face a reality that, for months, they been avoiding—the amount of stuff that has accumulated in their rooms. With time and space in short supply, students will often throw away many still-useful items. That’s why Cornell University gives its students the ability to “Dump and Run.”

Since 2003, Cornell’s Dump and Run program has decreased its move-out waste stream by collecting unwanted items at the end of each school year and re-selling things that are still usable at the start of the next year.

“[This program is] really good in terms of keeping as much as we possibly can out of the landfill,” says Karen Brown, Cornell’s Director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, who oversees the Dump and Run program. “And I think it’s very effective in terms of our relationship with the Ithaca community.”

Before Cornell’s residence halls close for the summer, the Campus Life office reminds students to place their unwanted items in collection boxes, which are situated in several residence halls, sororities, and fraternities around campus.  In the late spring and summer, those living in off-campus residences and homes in the community can also call Brown’s office to request pickups of their donations.

Dump and Run commonly receives refrigerators, clothing, lamps, and storage containers. Many of the donated items still contain tags, says Brown. In the past few years, she has seen a life-size inflatable palm tree, Halloween costumes, aquariums, Christmas trees, and a $700 pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

Volunteers from local nonprofits, along with a few student volunteers, spend the summer in a 3,500-square-foot storage unit, sorting through the collection of college artifacts to separate still-usable items from things that are clearly at the end of their lives and need to be disposed of.

“We try to recycle everything that we can,” says Brown. “I’m pleasantly surprised [by] how little ends up in the landfill.”

The vast majority of the items are sold at the campus Dump and Run sale on the Saturday after freshmen move-in day. This sale is open to Cornell students and staff, as well as the general public. It’s so popular that, although the sale starts at 8:30 a.m., townspeople start arriving at 5:30 a.m. By the time the doors open, there are usually about 100 people lined up outside.

“I think this program has done a lot to help with our relationship with our surrounding town…because they really appreciate it,” says Brown. “It’s a great way to convince people to clean out their basements and garages.”

After the sale, Brown says the program distributes leftover items to nearby nonprofits that might be able to use them. Dump and Run volunteers give leftover clothes to a local women’s center, send blankets and towels to animal shelters, and donate nonperishable food to food pantries.

However, Cornell does manage to sell most of the donations it receives. It gives almost 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale to the local nonprofits that send volunteers to help with the Dump and Run program. The fraction of the sales revenue that each nonprofit receives is proportional to the number of hours that its volunteers spent working with Dump and Run. Cops, Kids & Toys, the group that helps Dump and Run the most, volunteered more than 3,000 hours last year.

One of these nonprofit groups is a student-run organization. According to former co-Chair Christina Roberti, Cornell’s Student United Way chapter uses its share of the sale revenue to fund its Summers of Service program. Summers of Service provides financially constrained high school students with a stipend so that they can afford to accept unpaid summer internships at nonprofits.

Cornell’s Campus Life office presently stores items in facilities donated by the Cornell Veterinary School. However, a lack of storage space is the largest constraint that Dump and Run faces, so students still end up throwing some still-usable items out at the end of the year.

“When we see things end up in the dumpsters and we know we can’t go get it, it’s disheartening,” says Brown. “I think if we had twice the warehouse space, we would fill it.”

From a student perspective, Roberti really appreciates the Dump and Run program.

“From my point of view, it saves a lot of waste,” says Roberti. “I just moved out of a 14-person house… Anything that wasn’t trash we donated to Dump and Run, but we probably would have thrown it out had it not been for the sale.”

—Sari Amiel

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