Resource Recovery ‘upcycles’ Princeton University office furniture to the public

Sept. 18, 2018 11:31 a.m.

Denise Daniels of the United Way of Greater Mercer County looks for bookshelves at Princeton University’s Resource Recovery warehouse (previously known as University Surplus). When a University department no longer needs furniture, electronics or other large office supplies, they turn it over to Resource Recovery. The items may then be sold to the public at a deep discount, and are available to nonprofits for free.

Denise Daniels of the United Way of Greater Mercer County knows exactly what she’s looking for. And in less than a minute, she finds it at Princeton University’s Resource Recovery. 

The small metal bookshelf is perfect for the United Way’s Reading Oasis program, which transforms empty classrooms into lively library spaces at elementary schools in Hightstown and Trenton, New Jersey. It’s the fifth bookshelf Daniels has picked up from the University warehouse at 755 Alexander Road in West Windsor. 

Aside from the convenience and ease, Daniels said the best part of Resource Recovery is it’s free for nonprofits like United Way.

“We have limited funds so having this free resource through Princeton University is so wonderful!” she said. “I was researching new bookshelves and they could cost almost $600. I’d prefer to spend that on books for the kids rather than on furniture.”

Resource Recovery, previously known as University Surplus, is run by Facilities Organization. The program aims to divert University waste from landfills as part of the University’s overall sustainability goals

When a University department no longer needs furniture, electronics or other large office supplies, they turn it over to Resource Recovery so the items can be redistributed to other departments, sold, donated or recycled. The items are sold to the public at a deep discount, and are available to nonprofits for free. 

"There is a great deal of interest [on campus] in recycling and reuse, and in doing it better,” said David Oettinger, recycling and solid waste manager in Facilities Building Services. “Our name change from Surplus to Resource Recovery reflects a new, broader approach. We have expanded what we take into the program, allowing departments to surplus more kinds of items. For example, we helped surplus two deli cases from Campus Dining.” 

The program also has partnered with the Office of Community and Regional Affairs to increase its outreach to nonprofits. The warehouse hosts an open house exclusively for nonprofits every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

“Nonprofits are given access to the warehouse and can take items that are useful to the organization for free,” said Kristin Appelget, director of community and regional affairs. “This is a win-win. We divert waste from the waste stream and support area nonprofits upcycling at its best! And the additional outreach has proven to be successful as we have many more nonprofits benefiting from this opportunity.”

Nonprofits including the Princeton Regional School District, Mercer Street Friends, Habitat for Humanity and the Arts Council of Princeton have used Resource Recovery. To gain free access, nonprofits should contact Jessica Talarick in the Office of Community and Regional Affairs for a letter for approval.

“Princeton is already a big supporter of United Way, so this is a nice little added perk for the United Way and other nonprofits,” Daniels said.

Resource Recovery also hosts public open houses on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can buy tables from $10 to $50, desks for up to $100, computer equipment from $10 to $100, file cabinets for $10 per drawer and projectors for $50.

Denise Wagner said she often stops by Resource Recovery because it’s next to the McCarter Theatre costume and prop shop, where she works as a draper.

“I bought an old library card catalog that is made of sturdy oak for $150. It is totally beautiful and I didn’t need to fix it up,” Wagner said. “Now I use it to store my kids’ school supplies. It’s nicer and much less expensive than I could find anywhere else.”

In addition to recycling furniture through their warehouse, Resource Recovery has launched new initiatives to collect textbooks, clothes and shoes, and mattresses from students. The items are then recycled by the online bookseller Better World Books and the clothing reuse company Helpsy.