University of Washington Recycling wants to turn unwanted items into social change.
As a new school year begins, so do the university’s efforts to collect and donate reusable items that might otherwise go to the landfill including books that raise money to fight illiteracy and backpacks donated to Real Change newspaper sellers.
“With the help of partners like UW Recycling, we’ve raised more than $11 million for literacy,” said Tracy Kolar, campus account representative for Better World Books—an organization that raises funds for literacy by selling used books online. “The books UW Recycling collected and sent us will produce funding for the National Center for Family Literacy and PlanUSA, providing disaster relief in Haiti.We’re also the single largest donor of Books for Africa, so some of the books will probably end up being shipped to Africa.”
Last spring, for example, UW Recycling collected about 30 boxes of books through the UW’s SCRAM program. SCRAM, which stands for Student Cleanup, Recycle and Moveout, is a charity drive that collects unwanted reusable items from students leaving the residence halls at the end of each school year.
Husky Neighborhood Cleanup is a bi-annual donation event in the North Campus neighborhood that also provides drop-off locations for reusable items when students who live in the area are moving in or out.
“We used to see a lot perfectly good, still usable items being discarded outside the properties and in nearby dumpsters,” said Kristin Elko, program coordinator at UW Recycling. “We wanted to give people a convenient way to donate these items to help others and keep them out of the landfill.”
Combined, these events collect an average of nearly 15 tons of reusable items per year. Earlier this year, UW Recycling donated 1,540 pounds of food to the University District Food Bank; over 8,000 pounds of clothing to Northwest Center; 2,000 pounds of electronics to InterConnection; 980 pounds of toiletries and emergency kit backpacks to Real Change; and much more.
“Toiletries are not covered by food stamps and other government aid,” said Jenn Pearson, volunteer manager for Real Change. “Having access to a large, free supply is a great gift to our vendors.”
Real Change publishes the only “street newspaper” in Washington state, focusing on poverty and social justice stories. The newspaper is sold by more than 350 low-income and homeless adults who act as independent vendors—paying Real Change 35 cents for each newspaper and reselling the paper on the street for the dollar cover price plus tips.
These independent vendors position themselves on corners and by stores. They often must carry their belongings to the selling sites.
Each school year, UW residence halls issue a bright-red emergency backpack to each new resident. The backpacks include a three-day supply of food bars and water, a blanket, a whistle and a glow stick. When students leave the dorms, many of them donate their backpack during the SCRAM clean up, recycle and move-out event.
“We were seeing an increasing number of red backpacks at our collection sites in recent years,” said Elko, who sought a community partner who might benefit specifically from the backpacks.
Real Change was a perfect fit.
“We received 177 red backpacks from SCRAM this past year for our gear giveaway,” said Pearson. “They are very sought-after by our vendors, both for the emergency supplies within them and for the backpack itself. The UW Recycling staff seems genuinely pleased to see items being put to good use.”