Free (Re-Used) Stuff!

Earlier today, there was a certain event that caused excitement at the Stata building. It wasn’t the budding joy of freshmen turning in an 8.02 pset, nor was it the ever-chased free food (although it was close) — it wasn’t even a lecture by some famous professor or other.

Instead it was an event called Choose to Reuse, which is carried out by some of our local recycling and go-green groups at MIT every third Thursday of the month. Sustainability@MIT, Facilities, and the Working Green group came together to volunteer for this event, which is carried out every third Thursday of the month at the funky mirror in the Stata building.

The basic premise, which can be guessed by the name of the event, is to get used stuff for free instead of going out and buying it. While one’s first thought would be torn clothes and useless junk, that’s actually not the case. Instead, people go and give up their unwanted, lightly used items around 8 a.m. At 11 a.m., others can peruse the items and pick whichever ones they like best and take it home with them for free — no strings attached.

The organizers discourage overly used and broken items by emailing out guidelines in an email announcing the event: “If you’re not sure what condition an item should be in, consider this: if you wouldn’t buy it at a thrift store, then don’t bring it.”

So what sort of things can one find over at the mass reuse event? It’s a lot like the small spontaneous emails sent out on the reuse mailing list — only this time, there are loads more items for many different purposes to find. The items are split up into a few main groups: electronics, clothes and accessories, and household/miscellaneous items.

As for what stuff there is, I found a few cool things, such as a Mickey Mouse Cap, a cool scarf, calendars, a vest jacket, and a teapot with a tea cup. A few people were carrying more exotic items that went from scythes, to fancy pants, to even a Chia Pet Homer Simpson.

The Tech decided to go to the heart of the matter and find out more about the origins of this event, so we went to the coordinator of the event, Ruth T. Davis, the communications manager for the Department of Facilities.

The Tech: How did this event get started? Why did people want this?

Ruth T. Davis: It started off as an event that was twice a year, for Earth Day and America Recycles, both designed to encourage waste reduction. Eventually, people were demanding more frequent events of this kind and we just started doing it the third Thursday of every month.

TT: What happens to all the stuff after 1 p.m. if it isn’t gone by then?

A: Usually, we get pretty empty by one, but if anything is left over, we just clean up and Facilities’ Recycling Program sends it off to be donated, since everything is already in good condition. In order to not have stuff left over though, we do a bit of refining and put in constraints to what sort of items people can bring in — it has to be clean, in working condition, and able to be carried off on one’s own.

TT: That’s really neat. What are some of the more interesting things you guys have seen go on reuse over the time of doing this?

RTD: Actually, we once got a whole fencing suit in.

TT: What? How did that happen?

RTD: Yeah, they just brought it in and it was given out, just like that. We’ve also gotten a snowboard, and a Chinese cooking Wok. We also sometimes get brand-new stuff right out of the box at times — one of my favorite times is when a lady came and gave a box full of new clothes to be given out. She had recently lost weight, and when she gave the clothes, she said “I’m not going to gain that again — here ya go!”

TT: That is a nice story. So basically what you’re working at doing is both extending the life of items bought, and showing people that the life of something isn’t just store-me-trash, but that it can continue after its owner doesn’t need it?

RTD: That’s exactly it. A lot of the things thrown away are trashed because people didn’t know what to with it anymore — it was just lying in the closet or taking up space in a back room. Instead, people are now able to give that to someone else who can use it. As for the receivers, they’re finding a way to get something cool without having to buy it.

We later talked with one of the volunteers at the event, Rosalie Belanger-Rioux, who described how she got involved with the whole event.

“Well, I was already in the sustainability group, and Ruth [Davis] suggested that I should do it, so I started helping out,” Belanger-Rioux said.

After the interviews, we took some time to peruse a bit more and talk with some of the people picking stuff out. Their comments were mainly things along the line of “this event is really good” and “you can find really neat things here” and when asked about how they knew of the event, mostly everyone answered, “Email.”

A number of posters about recycling and sustainability were scattered throughout the event space, useful reminders and information for the people attending.

After nabbing the teapot and tea cup, we ran off to find our next story.

Until next time!

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