One man’s trash

GVL / Kayla Tucker
Surplus store on Thursday June 1, 2017.

GVL / Kayla Tucker Surplus store on Thursday June 1, 2017.

Kayla Tucker

A few years ago, Grand Valley State University opened a surplus store in downtown Grand Rapids in order to reduce waste on campus, recycle, and reuse material and products that weren’t being used anymore.

As of the end of 2016, the GVSU Surplus Store has diverted 205,249 pounds of materials from the landfill, including scrap metal, e-waste, plastic and other materials. This has been done through donations, sales and recycling.

“Our main goals are to bring back in a portion of the original costs of these items as well as to increase Grand Valley’s sustainability efforts,” said Rebecca Ramos, assistant manager at the store. “So majorly and mainly waste minimization as well as educate the GVSU and local community about reusing.”

All products are from the university, and they are tested, cleaned and priced before they are put out to be sold.

The showroom expands to include a large amount of products, such as furniture, exercise machines, electronics, silverware and dishes, office materials, and much more. Ramos said the products come used from many departments across the university and from lost and found all over campus.

While many of the computers are a little aged, Ramos said they will often get newer products that were never picked up in lost and found, including a pair of Beats by Dre headphones that are currently for sale in the store.

“We do wipe and refurbish our computers, and we put a free operating system on them,” Ramos said.

There are some displays around the store that also encourage do-it-yourself projects, where employees provide examples of reusing picture frames and jars for candles.

A space in the back by the employees’ office space is a recycling area where materials can be broken down into 39 categories.

The store receives an annual budget of around $48,000 from GVSU, and whatever is not used is put back in the university’s general fund. Many of the store’s office and back-room materials, including paper, printers, computers and more, are all recycled and reused.

“Everything that we have used for the operation of the store has been picked up from the university, including desks, pens, everything,” Ramos said.

When departments have materials they are getting rid of, they fill out an online pickup form, and then Surplus Store employees schedule a property pickup. Ramos said they are currently in the process of applying for funds for a truck of their own.

This summer, the store will be having Saturday sales, with exact dates still to be determined. Ramos said to follow the Surplus Store’s social media accounts and check in on their website at to stay updated. All shopping is appointment-based, except for open hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parking is available in the GVSU Watson Parking Lot across the street. The store accepts debit, credit and checks, and cash is only exchangeable on Wednesdays.

Ramos said one of her “role models” in the industry is the Michigan State University Surplus Store, which serves the entire East Lansing community and has a much more expansive operation built over time, having been open since World War II.

“(In the future) we would love to have space where we could have customers come and park easily,” Ramos said. “Or even, maybe one day, a bigger facility, somewhere that’s a little more of a store front.”

Ramos hopes to involve more students by bringing in advertising and engineering classes to teach them about the store’s sustainability efforts on campus, as well as encourage more involvement from “green” student clubs on campus. For student workers at the store, it’s an eye-opening and unique experience.

“I felt like this was a great opportunity to learn more about the business field,” said student worker Ty Witucki, a recent transfer student and business major at GVSU. “Really, this is almost like an internship because I’m learning so much. I can dive into so many fields here, from recycling, to Google Analytics, to marketing, to just selling products.”

In addition, Witucki is learning customer service just by working at the store and helping out customers. Witucki encourages students to check out the store for more affordable options.

“I think this is a great opportunity for students to save money and fill their dorms up with stuff they need,” Witucki said. “If you just come down here and visit, you can explore all these new, interesting electronics and stuff. You might be interested in a new hobby.”

Overall, the store’s environment welcomes customers and employees to each share a new learning experience about sustainability.

“It’s a community atmosphere,” Witucki said. “It’s not just a job; we care about what we’re doing. It’s important to us and we like that about it.”