Abandoned Furniture — One Man’s Trash, is Another Woman’s Treasure

On a sandy patch in Isla Vista, a red couch is sitting all alone. You can almost feel the memories that have been attached to the worn out cushions. (1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 400, AWB, HH, Balance)

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.

During May and June every year, large amounts of furniture are put up for sale - but also given away - when students leave Santa Barbara and move out from their places. Unfortunately not many are interested in buying furniture, and students therefore have to give it away or put it out on the street.(1/6, f/4, ISO 800, MWB, HH, Color)

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 sight of mattresses along the streets of Santa Barbara and Isla Vista is common, especially around graduation times when students simply don’t know where to dispose of them properly. (1/125, f/7.1, ISO 100, AWB, HH, Rule Of Thirds)

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.
A result of the dumping of mattresses and other furniture is that perfectly usable items are transported to the local landfill, where they most likely won’t be recycled. (1/500, f/4, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Foreground Out of Focus), (1/180, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Color)
Not only mattresses are left on the streets. Tables, drawers, and chairs are also victims of abandonment. These last two blue ones were adopted by yours truly this day.(1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Scale), (1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Balance), (1/25, f/22, ISO 320, MWB, HH, Frame Within Frame)

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…”
Marta tries out the abandoned sofa in Isla Vista to see if it is comfortable enough to adopt. Unfortunately, it is dirty, worn out, and complicated to bring back to downtown Santa Barbara. “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…” Says Marta(1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Rule Of Thirds), (1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Rule Of Thirds), (1/640, f/5.6, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Leaving Space)

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
Isla Vista is a gold mine for the furniture seeker. 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. (1/1250, f/5, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Background Out of Focus)

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. (1/800, f/4.5, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Leading Lines), (1/400, f/5, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Background Out of Focus)
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.
According to Marta, a lot of the things can be fixed with some TLC — Tender, Love, and Care. Some paint, some extra screws, and it’s all taken care of. (1/2500, f/4.5, ISO 200, MWB, HH, Foreground Out Of Focus)

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.

After a long search, Marta finally found a small table that she needed for one of her many plants. “Going shopping” she calls it. It’s cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than going to a store to buy what she needs. (1/5, f/4.5, ISO 800, MWB, HH, Movement), (1/8, f/4.5, ISO 800, AWB, HH, Rule of Thirds)

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.

Marta has also found small trinkets to decorate her room with, such as her favorite yellow giraff in the window. She has a sentimental kind of attachments to things that other people no longer want. She is the perfect scavenger hunter. “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.”(1/15, f/4.5, ISO 800, MWB, HH, Rule Of Thirds)
“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.”

Sources:

http://www.pbd.org/our_green_story.html
http://www.sbcc.edu/about/collegefacts.php

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