First Annual Free Market Diverts 10,000 lbs from the Landfill

Thursday, May 26, 2022

HELENA – In an effort to reduce, reuse and recycle, Carroll College organized its “First Annual Free Market Swap Meet” during the spring semester May move-out days. The effort encouraged students to donate usable items rather than discard them in dumpsters. This first-year effort diverted approximately 10,000 pounds from the local landfill.

Recognizing that significant amounts of reusable items were being unnecessarily discarded during move-out each year, faculty, staff, and students from the Environmental Science Program, Hunthausen Center for Peace and Justice, and the Anthrozoology Program collaborated with the Campus Facilities and Residential Life and Housing departments to host a first annual trial run of a Free Market Swap Meet to divert furniture, clothing and household goods away from the landfill and back to the community.

“At the end of every school year, students are cramming for finals, packing up their rooms and apartments, and getting ready to graduate or to move home for the summer. Unfortunately, a lot of perfectly good stuff gets sent to the dump because it just won't fit into that last load, or is simply no longer needed or wanted,” said Dr. Patricia Heiser, associate professor of Earth Sciences and one of the main coordinators of the program.

“Our goal was to divert the large stream of usable clothing, books, office supplies, kitchen appliances, furniture and bedding by opening a Free Market 'swap store' where students could drop off all types of usable items. At the same time, students moving off campus or into the apartments were invited to 'shop' for free household goods,” continued Heiser.

Carroll’s new Perkins-Call Canine Center served as a distribution center for items. The spacious and secure building provided an ideal location to stage the Free Market. Throughout the week of the program, a large and steady stream of furniture, clothes, kitchen items and household goods passed through the Free Market. By the final day of the market, the outflow was exceeding the inflow and only a few couches, and a dozen boxes of clothing and other goods remained. Good Samaritan picked up the remaining goods to donate to people in need or sell at their thrift store. Other local support organizations such as the YWCA and Friendship Center also came to shop for their clients in need. Using periodic photos, and a household moving calculator, it was estimated that the Free Market diverted at least 10,000 pounds of usable goods from the landfill.

This event is expected to be included in the soon-to-be-completed City of Helena’s Waste Reduction Strategic Plan as a spotlight example of a diversion and re-cycle/re-use event. As this was the first year for the program, organizers were able to acquire some beneficial insight, as well as valuable data and ideas, and have already started the planning process for next year.

“Students were enthusiastic and participation was high, but we know we can divert and recycle much more,” said Heiser. “For next year, we hope to expand the Free Market with early organizing and planning, better advertising, greater engagement with Student Housing, and especially recruiting more students and staff to help educate, intercept and sort donated goods. We also hope to share the Free Market with the greater Helena community by inviting more agencies and perhaps host a 'shopping spree afternoon' for the general public.”