U’s ReUse Center finds new life for trash

Down Como Avenue nearly to St. Paul, there is a warehouse center housing the University of Minnesota’s not-too-distance past.

(Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/UMN Reuse)
(Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/UMN Reuse)

The ReUse Program is a recycling center that goes the extra mile, collecting old, used university items for resale, interrupting their path to the garbage. From the mundane to the downright bizarre, the program accumulates items to be purchased back into the university community.

Office furniture, lab equipment, school supplies, house and kitchenware are just some of the goods that can be found for sale at the warehouse. The program packs its warehouse with as many things as possible, large and small, from the floor to ceiling.

The ReUse Program has been in existence in one form or another since the 1980s, but it has operated out of its current warehouse space since 1993. Some regular customers have been coming to the program for over 20, even 30 years, program manager Todd Tanner said.

The warehouse has a large group of regulars from the general public. Tanner describes them as eclectic artists, refurbishing vintage furniture or repurposing old items to use in a project.

“Our first goal is to get [items] back into the hands of the university… It diverts the item from the waste stream…and saves the university money if they don’t have to repurchase,” Tanner said.

The program grew in the 1990s as awareness increased to be more environmentally sustainable, Tanner said. This is the concept that attracted environmental science, policy and management student Chris Hinze to seek out a part-time student staff position at the program.

“[I] believe that this warehouse has huge potential to reduce the University’s spending as well as ecological footprint. [The University community] is promoting sustainability and reducing waste while also not creating a demand for additional resource extraction and manufacturing elsewhere,” Hinze said.

The ReUse Program processes about 40 tons of product every month, sustainability coordinator Stacey White said. When the program partners with other organizations for events, this amount is even more. ReUse recently partnered with the Textile Center for its annual textile garage sale. In the fall, it also works with the university’s ReUse-a-palooza bike sale on Northrop Plaza.

However, the biggest event, Pack and Give Back, revolves around the move out of the U’s campus and surrounding neighborhoods. For this, the program, with the help of Goodwill, collects donated items from the U’s residency halls. In the surrounding Marcy-Holmes and Como neighborhoods, they collect usable items that would normally end up in the city’s landfill and incinerator.

“The idea was… all of these things that are probably less than a year old. How can we capture this stuff and, instead of putting it in a landfill, get it back to people who need it? So that was kind of the inspiration behind Pack and Give Back,” Tanner said.

As of April 30 of this year, the ReUse Program began collecting the usable items that will stay in storage over the summer. In fall as the school year begins, all the items will be available in the program’s free store for students and the University community. In previous years, the program and its partners have collected and redistributed over 175 tons of product.

It’s a way for the previous students to pay it forward to current students, Tanner said.

All of this product moving in and out of the program definitely sends in the oddity or two…or three. Tanner and Hinze said medical training mannequins and gurneys are not uncommon. But the weirdest of them all was turned over to biohazard.

“[I]t was the rear end of a cow and it was meant to do birth training on. So you’d like stick your hand up to pull the calf out, but they looked really, really, really real,” White said. After putting a picture up on the program’s Facebook page, she received a lot of feedback from customers, including much concern.

“The concern was that it was real, but like obviously I’m not going to have a half of a skeleton of a real cow!” White decided against selling the piece, despite the intense interest online for it.

The ReUse Program is open to students and the public every Thursday and the first Saturday of the month. Aside from their free store in the fall, they always have many items available for free at the warehouse.


Reporter Kerry Gaynor is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota. Thanks to Gaynor and Murphy News Service for sharing this story with us.