There is a springtime ritual in Philadelphia, and probably at other urban campuses around the country, I call it the circle of trash. Students at the University of Pennsylvania, have done the math and have determined that instead of packing up their dorm and apartment supplies, and putting them in storage for three months, it is cheaper to toss the stuff and buy all new in the Fall. As a result, hundreds of lamps, sheet sets, microwaves, and office supplies get put curbside every year for trash pick up. In years past, equally astute locals turned into trash-pickers having a field day during the end of May and early June. But now, that tradition of trickle down economics has been thrown out of whack. The University has decided to pick up the trash and sell it itself. Before you get bent out of shape about the Ivy elite taking the trash finds of the under-privileged non-Ivies in the neighborhood, let me tell you the rest of the story.
The school’s leaders believe by taking the trash—they are being environmentally sensitive. After all, not all of the abandoned goods were scooped up by the neighbors. So, literally tons of useable items were going to a landfill. So today and tomorrow the neighbors are doing their picking in the comfort of a giant flea market set up at Penn’s ice rink. The University calls it PennMoves weekend. Everything from refrigerators and microwaves, to lamps beds, clothes, towels and sheets can be found. All of the donated or picked up items are sold to the public for pennies on the dollar. Word of mouth was effective, as you can see from the photo taken this morning, people lined up around the rink to get their hands on the cast-offs. When I stopped by, the crowd was made up of other students (the ones stuck in town for the summer and not so well off) and local residents who are looking for a bargain. My unofficial survey of attitudes revealed that most of the shoppers would rather walk to the rink than dumpster dive for the stuff. Interestingly, there was visible disdain for the benefactors of the event. One woman told me “they are fools throwing stuff away. I don’t care how much money you have, it is a waste.” But she added, “I love it I get stuff cheap and I don’t have time to go through trash.”
The University’s line, “Move-out time at Penn usually means tons of used furniture and household goods thrown in the trash all over campus and the nearby neighborhoods – a lot of it still in usable condition. Wouldn’t it be better for Philadelphia and for the planet if all this useful stuff could make its way to people who could really use it, rather than getting shoveled immediately into landfills?” Money raised will go to United Way programs that help the residents of Penn’s neighborhood, University City.