by Tara S. Donahue
When the school year winds down and students face the daunting task of cleaning out their dormitories, they often must decide what to do with old sofas, tables, carpets and other possessions they'd prefer not to store for the summer.
Each spring, the Goodwill Mobile Recycling Program offers Vanderbilt students the opportunity to discard items they no longer want in trucks located outside their residence halls. The goods are then distributed throughout the Nashville community by Goodwill Industries, whose mission is to help people with disabilities or other barriers to employment prepare for and find jobs in the community. Goods are also distributed to the Mission and Catholic Charities, a refugee resettlement program.
According to Brenda Gilmore, director of mail services and coordinator of the Mobile Recycling Program, the seeds of the program were planted in 1992 when several students voiced concern about the "embarrassing" quantity of recyclable and reusable items discarded in trash dumpsters around campus at the end of the school year. The students were encouraged to volunteer and to urge other students to donate items at the annual flea market sponsored by the Staff Council. After conducting a content analysis of dumpsters on campus, however, the students still felt there was a waste problem and again appealed to the administration to take a proactive stance, said Gilmore.
In 1994, William Jenkins, then-vice chancellor for administration, asked Gilmore to develop a plan to reduce the amount of trash.
"The plan involved stationing vans throughout the campus during the 10-day moving period," Gilmore said. "The trucks then [would] transport the items to charitable organizations in the city."
Over the past six years, Vanderbilt students have donated 10 to 16 vans of material to Goodwill Industries throughout each move-out period, Gilmore said.
"Based on an estimated value of $5,700 per van, some year's donations have totaled upward to $91,200. Minimally, the donations are around $57,000 each year," she said.
Vanderbilt also supplies the manpower to operate the program. As many as 11 people are hired as recycling attendants to staff the vans during the move-out period from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When the van becomes full, the attendant takes it to Goodwill Industries, which distributes about 95 percent of the donations through its 18 Middle Tennessee stores. The remaining items are donated to Mission and Catholic Charities. Karl Houston, director of donations at Goodwill Industries, appreciates the company's relationship with Vanderbilt.
"We are extremely excited about the relationship we have developed with Vanderbilt over the past several years," he said. "We are most grateful for the support the staff and the students have given to Goodwill."
According to Houston, Goodwill Industries is hopeful that it can set up similar programs at other area colleges and universities through its special projects division.
Common items that are recycled through the program include textbooks and school supplies, small appliances, dishes, canned goods, computers, radios and clothes. Gilmore said the most unusual item discarded into the vans has been a jar of money.
Despite the success of the program, Gilmore would like to increase student involvement.
"We still lose a significant amount to the trash cans," she said. "Programs like this teach our young people how to be better stewards, how to be concerned about those who need help and how to be more caring. The program also strengthens our continuous message about Vanderbilt's role in community service."