Abandoned Furniture — One Man’s Trash, is Another Woman’s Treasure
Every year, an estimated 8.8 million tons of furniture ends up in the landfill. One of the many factors that contribute to this issue is the arrival and departure of short-term international students in Santa Barbara. With thousands of international students coming to the city every year, it is a great opportunity for economic growth to the community. Yet, the environmental footprint from the student invasion is currently not sustainable.
Before school starts, the students are forced to buy new furniture at places like IKEA all the way down in Burbank, Los Angeles, due to the lack of other affordable options — although they only need temporary furnishing for during their stay in Santa Barbara. When the school year ends, all international students leave at the same time, and everyone are tries to sell of their used furniture. The problem is that the demand is non-existing, and therefore a lot of furniture end up on the street.
The behavior of abandoning furniture on the streets occur all year around, but particularly when students graduate and leave Santa Barbara. Although some furniture eventually find a new home, a large amount end up in the landfill — or in best case, being recycled or adopted by another student.
There more than 3,000 international students enrolled at Santa Barbara City College and University California, Santa Barbara combined — In other words tons of furniture that is bought before school starts, and for sale when school ends.
Of course, not all students are being negatively impacted by furniture ending up on the street. For instance, I met up with Marta, 24 — An international student origin from Sweden who has lived in Santa Barbara for three years. Limited budget and rising currency exchange rate have forced Marta to look for other options than buying new furniture — like collecting unwanted furniture right from the street.
“It’s sometime heartbreaking to see perfectly fine furniture that you just can’t take in, but then some things are just in too bad of a shape…”
Although it is completely free she need to be careful, because you never know about the quality and condition of abandoned furniture left outside. For example, mattresses have big chance of containing bed bugs or pests and it could end up being an expensive liability, if the pests are brought into your apartment.
Due to the low demand for furniture, a lot of high quality items are just put out on the side of the street, in the hopes that someone will adopt them
The ideal would be if someone could maintain and keep the furniture protected during the summer, and later on distribute them to incoming student the upcoming school year. Unfortunately, such a service does not exist, and as a result, furniture instead end up in the local landfill.
Some things are not in great conditions however, but the lack of knowledge of how to dispose of old furniture mostly mean that they meet the same destiny as the usable ones — ending up on the street, heading for the landfill.
During my meeting with Marta, we went out on a scavenger hunt, looking for abandoned furniture. She was searching for a pedestal for her apartment. After a long time searching, rejecting many different kinds of furniture, Marta finally found what she was looking for.
Despite the fact that Marta actually enjoys finding unwanted furniture for her apartment, she still thinks that the situation occuring is unsustainable for international students´ wallets, but more importantly, it has a negative impact on the environment. Marta, like many other international students, would defintiely support a organization or business that could help prevent this problem from happening.
The need and interest for used furniture is probably bigger than many would imagine — especially for international students coming for a short-term to study. Until then, Marta will still go on her scavenger hunts, looking for interesting furniture for her apartment.
“It was just sitting there in a box, ready to be thrown away. That was two years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite things. Not everything that gets thrown away is trash.”