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Rushing to reclaim, repurpose, and Re-USE
Campus recyclers — including some ‘maniacal’ students — find a market for castoffs

| 27 August 2003


David Siddiqui and his pedal-powered trailer haul another load of reusable discards across campus.

David Siddiqui is a man on a mission as he sets out across campus on his salvaged 21-speed mountain bike, his wild black curls flying and his baggy pants in danger of getting caught in the spokes. Behind him is an eight-foot trailer he uses to collect trash that’s destined to become someone’s treasure.

In several hours’ time, Siddiqui loads the trailer with computer paper, kitchen supplies, staplers and paper clips, and, he says, “just about anything else” from offices all over campus. He then hauls it all to the Reused Stuff Emporium (Re-USE), which he runs with other student employees of Berkeley’s Campus Recycling and Refuse Services. Siddiqui’s Mon-day-morning trips through campus are made at the request of offices whose donations to the emporium are too heavy or large for them to deliver on their own.

The Re-USE shop, located in the northeast corner of the Martin Luther King Student Union garage, will open again the first week in September. Fall hours haven’t been established yet, but they soon will be listed at recycle.berkeley.edu. Staff, students, and faculty are welcome to come and “shop” for items, and everything is free for the taking.

The website details what Re-USE will and will not take. Acceptable items include office supplies such as pens, pencils, scissors, binders, and bulletin boards. It also takes non-office items such as clothing and moving boxes. “We’ve even gotten stereo receivers and luggage,” says Siddiqui.

The two-year-old campus reuse program is an outgrowth of a student group called Students Organized for Using Resources Conscientiously and Efficiently (SOURCE). “The [SOURCE] students are maniacal,” says Lisa Bauer, the campus staff member who is considered their mentor. “They are why this program succeeds.”

Little things add up
Recent Berkeley graduate and SOURCE employee Alexis Petru hopes reuse and conservation will be her life’s work. “When I got to Berkeley as a freshman, I went looking for an activity,” she recalls. “I went to a SOURCE meeting, and it really struck a chord. I’ve always been interested in the environment, but here I could see the direct effect.”

Petru carries a reusable water bottle with her wherever she goes, and totes a sturdy coffee mug in her backpack. “These are little things, but they add up,” she says. She has become encouraged over her years on campus as she has seen more and more people adopt ways to conserve and reuse.

“The dorms and co-op houses have great reuse programs,” she says. Petru also adds that the distressed economy has had an effect on students who live in apartments. “They pass beds, living room furniture and kitchen supplies on to their friends, rather than throwing them away,” Petru says. “That is very encouraging.”

Petru was in on the planning for the Reused Stuff Emporium, run solely by student workers and volunteers. It started when the group decided to hold a sort of “swap meet” over a three-day period on campus in October 2000.

“There were used typewriters, file cabinets, roller blades, you name it,” she says. The event made the student organizers realize that there was an ongoing need to have a place for students and staff to take used items — and a sizeable potential market of people who wanted those items. With help from the ASUC Auxiliary, the Reused Stuff Emporium was born in June 2001.

Moving toward reuse
The history of recycling at Berkeley goes back to 1987. At that time, white paper, bottles, and cans were recycled. Currently, the campus collects 12 tons of material to recycle daily, including five to seven tons of paper. Some of that paper, Siddiqui believes, could be reused.

“Everybody feels good about recycling, but it’s not the real solution,” Bauer says. “We’ve got to move toward reuse.”

She also advocates reducing the use of throwaway products.

“This campus is caffeinated,” she continues. “With 29,000 students, think of the number of paper cups this place goes through every day.” Bauer and her colleagues have given out mugs in the hopes of reducing the waste, and she’s pleased to say the dining hall is looking into getting mugs to replace disposable cups.

“So much is convenience,” she says. “We are a single-use-oriented society. Changing perceptions and paradigms is hard, but we’ve got to do it.”

Campus Recycling and Refuse Services staff will conduct a giveaway of previously owned notebooks and readers on Sproul Plaza during the first two weeks of the semester, between 12:45 and 2:45 p.m. daily. The Re-USE emporium opens for the semester on Monday, Sept. 8; hours are 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. daily.