Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a three-part series examining sustainability at Penn State.
On a humid and dry afternoon in early May, weeks before the 13th annual Trash 2 Treasure sale, a sense of uncertainty permeated the air for a split second.
About 10 people, a mix of Trash 2 Treasure committee members and Penn State employees, stared at one another inside Gate C of Beaver Stadium, wondering how they were going to complete this task: setting up a tent seemingly as big as an apartment.
A few weeks later, thousands descended on State College for Trash 2 Treasure, Penn State’s annual move-out sale that combines student philanthropy and community volunteers. A lot of money was raised for Centre County United Way, thanks to volunteer efforts and the philanthropic nature of the Penn State student body.
But weeks beforehand, when committee members tried to set up this tent, it was hot and everyone sweated as metal pipes scraped across the warm asphalt.
This is the Beaver Stadium that few people know and experience. But it’s nothing unusual for the Trash 2 Treasure committee, and the tent eventually goes up. It measured nearly 50 feet long and 20 feet wide, and housed donated furniture for the sale.
The tent was a new addition last year and it’s returned. Before, it was never used, but a flood a few years ago turned furniture donations into a watery mess, so this precaution ensures safety and quality.
Started in 2002 as a response to the challenge of students leaving many items behind during move-out, Trash 2 Treasure combines town and gown relations, wherein community volunteers help prepare donations made by students at the end of every spring semester.
For essentially the entire month of May, volunteers populate the underneath concourse of the stadium, sorting through tons of student donations. Each year, anywhere between 60-80 tons is diverted from the landfill, as students place items in designated areas.
Students can’t simply leave items in their room and have it be collected. Rather, they have to physically move it to a communal area within the dorm. Sometimes, students can’t fit all of their belongings into their car or afford to send it home, but many students make a conscious decision to donate to the sale.
“Trash 2 Treasure depends on the generosity of Penn State students and their belief in doing good for society,” said Paul Ruskin, one of two members of the original planning committee still involved in the sale, though Saturday marked his last day at Penn State; he retired after 38 years at the University.
“The success of the Committee itself is derived from the personal energy and commitment of Housing, Office of Physical Plant, and Centre County United Way employees. United Way and Penn State are bonded together in a great symbiotic relationship that benefits the entire community.”
Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant then transfers the donations from the dorms to Beaver Stadium, stopping at a nearby weigh station to calculate the weight of the donations.
It’s all scientific and planned out, with students donating an average of 68 tons of items every year; nearly 900 tons have been diverted since the beginning of Trash 2 Treasure. Additionally, more than 500 volunteers help coordinate the sale, which helps save Penn State more than $14,000 in labor and equipment costs.
After 12 years, it’d be easy for the planning committee to simply assume everything will go smoothly every year, but nobody takes anything for granted.
The committee members are always thinking ahead, always innovating, and always considering everything in the lead-up to the sale. They’re always eyeing ways to enhance the experience for visitors, which is why they now use a tent to secure the furniture.
“We have had very few years where the circumstances and challenges have been identical,” said David Manos, the assistant director of housing at Penn State who was on the original working committee. He now co-chairs the group.
On May 31, the day of the sale, hundreds of people stood outside, hours before the sale began, an annual tradition in which some people camp overnight and others arrive before sunrise.
Many chose to pay $5 for an early bird admission fee, which gained them entry at 7:30 a.m. Admission is free beginning at 9:00 a.m. Once inside the stadium, attendees swarmed hundreds of tables filled with items, with University and community volunteers having set up everything in the weeks leading up to the sale.
Ruskin and current member and co-chair Al Matyasovsky met with a few other University administrators years ago to discuss how to offset the enormous waste that’s generated when students move out at the end of a semester.
Then, just as now, Trash 2 Treasure is needed. And with the continued running success of the sale, committee members expect the event to continue into the future.
“Any college or university with students living on campus will face the same problem,” Ruskin said. “Penn State and United Way have developed an elegant solution to the problem of student move out and we hope that other institutions around the world copy Trash 2 Treasure. The global potential for good is tremendous. The concept of Trash 2 Treasure has no borders and will work in Denmark or Pakistan just as well as it does in the U.S.A.”
For information on how to become a volunteer at Trash 2 Treasure in the future, click here.
Part two of the sustainability series will spotlight The Sustainability Institute at Penn State.