Mountains of microwaves: Chuck it for Charity seeks to stem the waste

Chuck it for Charity Volunteers

At the end of each academic year, the FSU campus is a flurry of activity with students wrapping up finals and moving out of the residence halls. The 6,500 students who live on campus pack up their rooms and try to figure how to fit all the stuff they came to school with back into the car, and sometimes, there isn’t enough space.

Dumpsters used to be filled to the brim with items that were left behind – carpets, storage bins, school supplies, you name it! This created a litter and safety issue for campus as people would recover the items from the dumpsters, but that wasn’t really the best (or safest) solution to the problem.

Ten years ago, a group of us came together to brainstorm how to better address the issue of move out and Chuck it for Charity was born. The first year, without knowing what to expect, we captured 6 tons of stuff. We knew there would be a lot of material, but we had no idea how to collect it, how many trucks we would need, and how many volunteers it would take to tackle the beast.

In the years since then, Chuck It has grown tremendously – in how much we collect, in how much better and more efficient our process has become, and most importantly, in our impact on campus and in the Tallahassee community.

Some numbers to share: in 10 years we have collected a total of 139 tons of perfectly reusable material; hundreds of faculty, staff, student, community members, and friends have lifted and sorted all that stuff (thank you! love you!); and over 30 different community organizations have been able to supplement their program needs with the items they received. We’ve only ever had one rained out day.

Our biggest collection day ever was the Saturday collection this year, May 5 to be exact, where we collected over eight tons of stuff in four short hours; and this year’s collection topped out at 20.5 tons.

Looking back over the past decade of Chuck it, I am amazed at the sheer volume of what has been collected — and humbled by the thought that none of this could have ever happened without the partnerships and support it takes to pull it off year after year.

University Housing, FSU PD, Athletics, Student Affairs, Finance & Administration, University Communications – each unit has supported this effort in so many ways from the very beginning. I must offer a special shout out to the crews that make up FSU Waste Management, our unsung Chuck it heroes with their expert truck navigating, driving, and parking in awkward locations and for their willingness to shift their entire operation for a week to help us out while still fulfilling their daily operational responsibilities.

But… as much as I am brought to tears (good tears) every time I think about Chuck it and the positive impact the program has, I also think about how we must also change our message.

Our success can no longer be measured in tons collected, but needs to shift towards tons not collected. Tons packed away and reused next year. Tons never even brought to campus.

We need to do a better job at helping incoming students understand what items they really need, what items can be shared or borrowed, and that most items can be reused in years to come.

That toaster will still toast bread next year; those notebooks and packs of pens will still be needed for next year’s classes; those rugs and chairs will look great in your next room or apartment.

While our community organizations will always be in need of the very same items and we will always support some version of our Chuck it program, the amount we collect has become overwhelming and unsustainable.

Parents of high school students preparing for college, this is my direct plea to you: students don’t need so much stuff to be successful, or at least they don’t need so much stuff that will be tossed away in less than a year.

Please save your money, pare down the shopping list, and encourage your kid to bring it all home at the end of the year for a good cleaning.