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David Siddiqui and his bike trailer of reclaimed treasures David Siddiqui tows this bike trailer (behind his salvaged mountain bike) through campus every Monday, picking up unwanted office supplies for the Reused Stuff Emporium. (Carol Hyman photo)

Students urge reuse over recycling, plan giveaway of used readers and notebooks

– University of California, Berkeley, student David Siddiqui is a man on a mission. His wild black curls flying and his baggy pants in precarious danger of getting caught in the spokes, he sets out across campus on his salvaged 21-speed mountain bike. It tows an eight-foot trailer to collect trash that's destined to become someone's treasure.

In several hours' time, Siddiqui has loaded 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 to the Reused Stuff Emporium, known as REUSE, run by himself and other student employees of UC Berkeley's Campus Recycling and Refuse Services. Siddiqui's Monday morning trips through campus are at the request of offices whose donations to the emporium are too heavy or large to deliver on their own.

REUSE is located in the northeast corner of the Martin Luther King Student Union Garage. It can be reached either by taking an elevator in the student union, driving into the lot via Bancroft Way or going down the stairs to the entrance of the garage outside of Eshelman Hall.

The shop, which will open again the first week in September, hasn't established its fall hours yet, but they soon will be listed on REUSE's website. Staff, students and faculty are welcome to come and "shop" for items, and everything is free for the taking.

Next week, when the fall classes begin, REUSE also will operate a free giveaway on Sproul Plaza of used notebooks and readers, which are specially prepared collections of articles that students purchase from local copy shops.

The center's website details what REUSE 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. Items REUSE will not take include inventoried items, which head to UC Berkeley's Excess Surplus & Salvage.

"We've even gotten stereo receivers and luggage," said Siddiqui, who often works in the store or in the recycling and refuse services office when not out on his bike or in class. His largest load was 400 pounds of paper.

"The bike frame was sagging, and I was really pushing it," he said. "But I probably have the hardest thighs on campus."

Siddiqui loves his job, and not just because it keeps him in great shape.

"Right when I got to UC Berkeley, I contacted Lisa Bauer (manager of UC Berkeley's Campus Recycling and Refuse Services) because that's where my passion lies," he said. In high school in Redlands, Calif., he ran the local chapter of Food not Bombs, and the organization made money through recycling.

At UC Berkeley, he's learned more about reuse and resource conservation.

"It makes sense, but it's something people haven't given much thought to," he said. "We've been working to get the word out that there is a place to take your old stuff, and the program has been growing."

The two-year-old reuse program at UC Berkeley is an outgrowth of a student group, SOURCE-Students Organized for Using Resources Conscientiously and Efficiently.

"The (SOURCE) students are maniacal," said Lisa Bauer, the campus staff member who is considered their mentor. "They are why this program succeeds."

Recent UC 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 said. "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 said. 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 said. Petru also added 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 said. "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 said. 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 just as big of a need from people who wanted those items. With help from the student government auxiliary - support staff for student government -
the Reused Stuff Emporium was born in June 2001.

The history of recycling at UC Berkeley goes back to 1987. At that time, white paper, bottles and cans were recycled.

Currently, the campus daily collects 12 tons of material to recycle, 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 said. "We've got to move toward reuse."

She also advocates reducing the use of throwaway products.

"This campus is caffeinated," she continued. "With 29,000 students, think of the number of paper cups this place goes through every day." Bauer and her cohorts 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 said. "We are a single-use oriented society. Changing perceptions and paradigms is hard, but we've got to do it."

Outside of the refuse and recycling headquarters, buried in a tunnel next to an athletic field, Bauer points out a huge collection of trash bags and bins.

"These bags are what students left in the dorms after they filled bags on their own to have hauled off to charity," she explained. Residence hall staff gathered all of this in a hurry to get dorms ready for the summer. The bags are all labeled - most of them are clothes - but a few are filled with linens, stuffed animals and odds and ends.

"The students are drinking a lot of filtered water," she said, plucking a pitcher from a pile by her feet.

While she is gratified that charities will benefit from what students leave behind, she is busy thinking up other ways to use the castoffs.

One of her ideas is to hold a back-to-school yard sale each fall semester. "I like the idea of students buying back what other students left behind," she said. The funds could go to an ever-shrinking budget for her unit.

Since Bauer has already made plans to give away this year's remnants, she will investigate the possibility of her sale for the fall of 2004.

Lining the walls of the tunnel are 30 96-gallon bins filled with used readers. "Frequently, the profs will use the same articles, so a used reader can come in very handy," she said. "Besides, there is a lot of interesting information in those readers." Bauer and her staff alphabetize the readers, set them out on Sproul Plaza at the beginning of the fall and spring terms, and students are free to pick through them.

Hand-me-down notebooks, minus their used pages, are also there for the taking. "Sometimes a notebook only has a couple of used pages," she said, "so we rip those out, and students get an almost new notebook."

In addition to the big beginning of the semester giveaways, the readers and notebooks are on hand throughout the year at the Reused Stuff Emporium.

Summer tends to be a time for more collecting than distributing because the emporium is open only by appointment until the start of the fall semester.

But until it is open regular hours-about 10 a week-Siddiqui will continue to make his rounds to pick up campus offices' discarded material and take it to the emporium where one day soon, he hopes, it will find a good home.

"I've got the best job on campus," he said with a smile.