Trash or Treasure? Sharing Resources through Campus Swaps

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The Petit Institute atrium will become a treasure trove of lab supplies next week during what Colly Mitchell describes as a big, free yard sale.

The Petit Institute’s Lab Cleanup and Swap-O-Rama started in 2014 as a way to encourage labs to report their annual chemical inventory and clean out supplies. That annual deadline has since changed, but the summer swap continues as a way for researchers to clean out unwanted supplies, get new ones they need, and even pick up other hidden gems that have been tucked away.

“Labs don’t ever slow down, but summer still has been a good time for us to do it,” said Mitchell, events manager in the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “You see all kinds of things show up there, and it’s really fun.”

Though only labs in the Petit Institute can donate to the swap, anyone on campus is welcome to stop by and take from the donations.

“It’s gratifying to see people find something they really need among all these boxes of tubes and pipettes,” Mitchell said.

The swap doesn’t just offer up items for research needs, though. Donations include other supplies and items that might otherwise be discarded. Some past donations have even been repurposed into art by new owners.

All items that are not taken at the end of the swap are recycled, if possible, or go through the process of being surplused for use elsewhere on campus.

This year’s Swap-O-Rama will take place June 18–22 in the Petit Institute Biotechnology Building atrium.

Another unit making use of each other’s unwanted items is the College of Engineering. This summer, the College is hosting its first book swap. The event is being organized by COE Cares, an initiative for faculty and staff to encourage engagement, wellness, volunteerism, and new connections within the College community.

COE Cares is collecting all genres of books that are not textbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. Fiction, non-fiction, general interest, cooking, self-help, and even children’s books are being collected in each school to be shared at the swap on June 21. Books left at the end of the swap will be donated to a local charitable organization.

“We’ve had successful drives for the Atlanta Mission and Buzzin’ Back to School in the past, but this is our first swap,” said Ben Wright, communications officer in the College of Engineering who serves as a co-chair for COE Cares.

While the event lets people free up space in their libraries, it’s also designed to encourage reading for pleasure and getting to know new colleagues. 

“We hope to get more staff members reading for pleasure, and to build a sense of community by coming together to pick out books,” Wright said. The COE Cares team consists of a representative from each school and two co-chairs.

Campus swaps also take place each year at the annual Earth Day festival, where clothes and office supplies are collected for exchange among departments and students.

For those thinking of holding this kind of event in their department, Mitchell said it just takes a few dedicated people to make it happen. She encouraged organizers to work with their building and facilities managers since those staff members help with cleanup following the event.

“It works great to have a common place to host it like our atrium,” Mitchell said. “Have fun with it. Make some signs, tell people it’s coming, and make it a regular thing. It doesn’t take much effort and even becomes a community-building activity. It gets people out of their offices and labs, and into the atrium together and chatting.”


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