Don't Trash That Old Office Chair — Freecycle It!

Once, when I was a facilities coordinator, I had to clear out half of a floor which had been vacated by a business unit several months before. The cubicles were still full of stuff. Files that needed to be destroyed. Random personal belongings. And what ended up being piles and piles of barely used and often brand new office supplies.

I set up an empty conference room in the unused section of the floor as a supply depot, and encouraged the remaining business units to take what they wanted. But eventually, the unused section of the floor was leased back to the building and I had to throw everything that was left out. As I filled up gondola after gondola with perfectly good stuff, I knew the landfill was not where it should be going, but I didn't know what else to do. That was over ten years ago, and I still feel guilty over the waste. 

Over the years, I’ve become aware of a couple organizations that might have been able to direct me on how to keep those materials out of the landfill. Here are some of the organizations I know are working to help facility managers upcycle or freecycle materials from their facility.

  • Scarce in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, does a ton of great work around recycling materials from the residential sector. But they also accept books, office supplies, office furniture, even pianos (!) and make them available for free to local schools.
  • DeliverGood in Calgary (Canada), accepts office furniture and office supplies and makes them available for free to non-profits. I’m talking conference tables, workstations, paper towel dispensers, and other goods.
  • repurposedMATERIALS is more in the upcycling arena. They have locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia, and they get in all manner of materials, from the industrial like big storage tanks, to things like old sports flooring. Did you know you can recycle flooring of all varieties? One of their slogans is, “If you don’t want it, we might!!”

I hope there are many more such organizations, and I'm hoping you can help educate me. If you know of one, give them a shoutout here with a link to their website (if it’s handy), their service area, and the kinds of items they accept.

What are the kinds of challenges you're facing regarding the mountain of supplies, furniture, and other still-usable materials that are in facilities? What do you do with it when you don't need it anymore? 

6 Replies

  • Hi, Naomi. Thanks for the article on this important topic. Here at NOLS, we donate surplus furniture, odd bits of lumber and old paints to non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity who happen to have one of their Restores nearby. Check out habitat.org/restores. I also just found about the Freecycle Network (freecycle.org), though I haven't used it yet. One more thing to share: As a public agency, NOLS must take care to only donate surplus to legitimate non-profits and to make a record of the disposal. If you also work for a public agency, it's a good idea to make sure you are correctly following your organizations disposal policy! Thanks, again.

  • In reply to Brian Phillips:

    Hi Brian. That's fantastic. Thanks for shouting out the Restore. Looks like they accept a very wide range of materials: "appliances, furniture, building materials, household goods and more." And thank you for the point about following the organization's disposal policy. Does needing to find that that disposal documentation create any challenges for you? If so, how have you solved for that?
  • In reply to Naomi Millán:

    Sorry for the delayed response! We are a very small organization and so don't have to handle tons of surplus. Accordingly, our documentation process is very simple. Once we determine an item is no longer needed, we put it on a list of things to be disposed. Our Executive Board eventually passes a resolution declaring the list of items surplus and then we are free to dispose of it. I update my list of disposed items showing the surplus resolution number, the date of disposal and where the items went to. If anyone should want to know, as a state auditor recently did, I can account for our surplus. Any documentation I create can be done in Microsoft Word or Excel. We don't manage enough surplus to warrant any special inventory tracking software. Hope that answers your question(?). Thanks, again!
  • In reply to Brian Phillips:

    Hi Brian — Thank you for the detail. I think it will be helpful for others who are considering their process!
  • Hi Naomi. Another alternative is to consider refurbishing, which I've been told saves over 90% vs. buying new. If what you have is generally damaged or just LOOKS old, worn, scratched, or discolored, etc., in most cases, you can make your old look like new. Not only will you save $$$, you will keep from adding to overall waste...especially when you realize the huge amount of ADDITIONAL WASTE generated every time you BUY NEW, which includes waste from manufacturing --> packaging --> shipping, etc. Oh, and don't forget to add the waste from the energy required at each step! Your thoughts?

  • In reply to Dave Ableman:

    Hi Dave — I think refurbishing is a front-line strategy. There's no sense in throwing out a perfectly functional office chair if all it needs is a serious deep clean or maybe swapping out the chair pad. Systems furniture panels can also be swapped out for a refreshed look.
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