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Hey There!

Hi! I’m Samantha. With this research paper, I wanted to give one way to make cities more green or sustainable while also being equitable. I have always been drawn towards the issue of waste, though I’m not quite sure of the reason. Maybe it’s because it is so visible and prominent in our everyday life, or that it’s something that seems fixable. This was for a class called, “Green Cities” at Cornell University that I took to learn more about how to make an urbanized area, somewhere seemingly devoid of nature, sustainable. I found the class so inspiring, and I hope that this paper inspires you as well.

Usable Waste: Research Paper

       Every year, the world generates around 4 billion metric tonnes of waste (Nizar et al., 2018). Waste has become so normalized that we barely notice it on the streets. The steady increase in waste generation is problematic due to the cost of collecting the waste and the environmental issues created by landfills (Esmaeilian et al., 2018). Various communities have encouraged recycling, community garage sales, and private-run thrift stores as avenues for waste diversion. However, the success of the thrift store as a business has forced prices to go up (Machado, 2019), slowly eroding equitable access. We need a better solution. The community Free Surplus Facility would help make a city more sustainable and equitable by diverting waste from landfill, allowing all citizens to freely benefit from each other’s surplus goods, and creating more community connections.

       Finding a new home for usable waste, the facility will help lessen the amount of items ending up in landfills. The community Free Surplus Facility is a warehouse, funded by a private or public partnership, where people donate their unwanted items and where other people would pick up these items for free. Think of it as a thrift store where everything costs $0. People often think of unwanted items as all useless junk, but that is a misconception. Approximately 20% of what we throw away can be recycled or refurbished (Nizar et al., 2018). Creating a way for the city to close the loop with consumption would greatly help reduce waste (Nizar et al., 2018; Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). People are often less critical of items they get for free, and they are more willing to spend more time in search for those free items (Shampanier et al., 2007). Therefore, a community Free Surplus Facility would increase the amount of donated items that people bring home, which would lead to an increase of waste diverted from landfills. Additionally, the facility can also host events or projects related to restoration, upcycling, and general environmental education. The “free” and educational aspects of this facility would help create a closed market and plant the seeds for more conscientious consumption.

       A facility with free items will make all surplus items accessible to anyone at any different income levels. The increased popularity of thrift stores (Darley, 1999) has triggered a substantial increase in prices (Machado, 2019), making them less accessible. When people think of thrift stores, they think of cheap, affordable prices. However, it is not uncommon to see thrift stores scale up a jacket to $66 instead, Machado (2019). Those who relied on buying goods from the thrift store are being priced out. The community Free Surplus Facility would create a place that is accessible to all since “customers” would not have to worry about prices at all. They could then get necessary items for their home without the extra stress on financials, and it would create a more equitable place to get surplus household items.

       Furthermore, by creating a niche, unique place, community members could meet similar, like-minded members to create new friendships with. People could come together to share a common experience of learning to repair or restore items or to build care packages for disaster victims. To build a resilient community, social connections within the community and a sense of belonging are crucial (Berkes, 2013). This environment in the facility would be unique because it is a one-stop shop for picking items up and also restoring them. People could meet similar people and share the experience of repairing. They want to belong to a community, and people are often drawn to like-minded people (Block, 2018). It is a place where people can come and restore an item to bring to their home, or they could bring an item from home to restore. While they do that, they could connect with one another, creating friendships to last.

       However, some may argue that this facility would take business away from other organizations or thrift stores because people would rather pick up free items than purchase. Most thrift stores, like Goodwill, only want gently used items (Acceptable donations, n.d.). Although the facility may take some business away from other organizations, it would mainly appeal to a different audience. Since it would have all usable items, perfect or not, for free, the facility would attract a less particular and more diverse audience. In addition, many people could enjoy the process of fixing old pieces and making them new again at the facility, which would foster community instead of being purely a retail store. It also gives the more worn in items a place besides the trash, and other organizations could continue collecting gently used items, as usual, with their customers, who want an easy, quick alternative to new.

       Because the community Free Surplus Facility allows another outlet for waste, anyone to access, and more community connections, it would make the city more sustainable and equitable. Even if such a facility may not come to your city, advocate for one. Next time, when you have an item that you no longer find use of, think of some ways to repair or give it to someone in need.


  1. Acceptable donations. (n.d.). Goodwill NNE. Retrieved July 1, 2023, from

  2. Berkes, F., & Ross, H. (2013). Community Resilience: Toward an Integrated Approach. Society & Natural Resources, 26(1), 5–20. doi:10.1080/08941920.2012.7366

  3. Block, P. (2018). Community : the structure of belonging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

  4. Darley, W. K., & Lim, J. (1999). Effects of store image and attitude toward secondhand stores on shopping frequency and distance traveled. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 27(8), 311–318. doi:10.1108/09590559910288596

  5. Esmaeilian, B., Wang, B., Lewis, K., Duarte, F., Ratti, C., & Behdad, S. (2018). The future of waste management in smart and sustainable cities: A review and concept paper. Waste Management, 81, 177–195. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2018.09.0

  6. Geissdoerfer, M., Savaget, P., Bocken, N. M. P., & Hultink, E. J. (2017). The Circular Economy – A new sustainability paradigm? Journal of Cleaner Production, 143, 757–768. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.12.

  7. Machado, M. A. D., Almeida, S. O. de, Bollick, L. C., & Bragagnolo, G. (2019). *Second-hand fashion market: consumer role in circular economy. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 23(3), 382–395.* doi:10.1108/jfmm-07-2018-0099

  8. Nizar, M., Munir, E., Munawar, E., & Irvan. (2018). Implementation of zero waste concept in waste management of Banda Aceh City. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1116, 052045. doi:10.1088/1742-6596/1116/5/052045

  9. Shampanier, K., Mazar, N., & Ariely, D. (2007). Zero as a Special Price: The True Value of Free Products. Marketing Science, 26(6), 742–757. doi:10.1287/mksc.1060.0254

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