As the end of the school year approaches, many will be looking forward to Spring Salvage. This program is Yale’s annual attempt at decreasing the amount of student-generated waste during move out. Students are able to bring their unwanted items to large blue bins inside their residential colleges, which will eventually be transported to Goodwill distribution centers across the Northeast. Students also look forward to taking some of these unwanted items from peers for their own use.
While Spring Salvage makes a good attempt at reducing waste, it isn’t the most sustainable solution to the piles of unwanted items that build up over move out. The program has unknowingly incentivized many students to increase their impact on the environment by encouraging them to discard items rather than store them. Students who don’t want to pay for or move their items to storage, or who don’t have the means to, see the Spring Salvage as an opportunity to dispose of items they only use while at school. Many will donate lamps, clothes, chairs and even microwaves to the salvage every year, only to arrive on campus the next fall and repurchase these items. This cycle ultimately increases their footprint by encouraging students to repurchase items annually when they were designed to last a lifetime.
Similarly, many students who are able to take items home with them or store them in New Haven use the salvage as an opportunity to get free things. Before the bins are emptied by volunteer staff, students will scour through them and take nearly anything that is in good condition. I’ve seen students do this because they believe they have a genuine use for the appliance or clothing they’ve found, and I’ve seen others grab things in the hopes of selling them later via online marketplaces or tag sales. Despite their motives, a large portion of what students take out of the bins ultimately ends up in landfills when they realize they have no room or use for the excess furniture, or when they can’t find a buyer. Some people may even try to recycle what they have no use for, but due to misconceptions about what is recyclable, they are most likely cluttering the recycling centers with items that are actually sent to the trash.
We need to be more sustainable about what we do with our belongings when we transition between school years. When moving out, don’t get rid of items just because you can afford to buy them later. Take the time to split rental units with your friends and make use of your residential college’s storage system. If you’re driving home, take some of the stuff with you. It might seem silly to transport a microwave home and back, but it’s worse to dispose of it and then buy a new one. Take advantage of off-campus friends who can hold your stuff until you return to campus.
When Spring Salvage is occurring, be mindful of what you take from the bins. Ask yourself if it is something you will really put to good use or if you’re only taking it because it’s free. If you wouldn’t pay for it, you probably shouldn’t take it. If you take something and later don’t want it, donate it to a local charity in New Haven. The Downsizing Donation Guide includes a comprehensive list of different organizations in New Haven that would happily put any of your unwanted items to good use.
There is one more issue with the Spring Salvage that demands our attention. As Yale students, we are members of the New Haven community and we owe it to the city to give back when we can. As you recall, all items from the salvage are donated to a Goodwill distribution center, and most donations go to communities outside of the New Haven area. The University needs to reevaluate Spring Salvage to ensure that it is putting the community first. It should do this by having students sort their salvage into different bins (textiles, furniture, books, etc.), and then following the donation guide above to ensure more equitable donations that benefit the New Haven community.
Systems like the Spring Salvage can be a great way to reduce material waste, especially if students would otherwise throw away the items they are putting in donation bins. However, this program is not as sustainable as it could be as it provides pathways for unsustainable student behavior in donating and salvaging, and doesn’t make New Haven the beneficiary of donations. If students change their behavior, and Yale changes its donation method, the Spring Salvage can evolve to be more sustainable and be a program that directly benefits the New Haven community.
ALEX WYNN is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Environmental Studies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.