Rummage in the Ramp diverts move-out waste from landfill

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Shoppers peruse used kitchenware, clothing, and furniture during the Rummage in the Ramp pop up thrift store at the Chauncey Swan parking ramp on Wednesday July 26, 2017. Rummage in the Ramp is an event put on annually by the city of Iowa City in order to reduce the amount of belongings abandoned on curbs and to raise money for a variety of charitable organizations. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa City has been accessorizing its streets with couches, tables, chairs, and trash that could furnish an entire colony of collectors. It’s the time of year when rental agreements change hands, and the unwanted contents in these predominantly college-kid-homes are left deserted and destined for eternal erosion in the nearest landfill if no one picks them up.

So for the 12th-consecutive year, Rummage in the Ramp aims to help.

“We buy products, we use them, and then what do we do with them?” Jane Wilch asks her community.

Wilch recently replaced Jennifer Jordan as the Iowa City recycling coordinator, and it will be her first year running the show at Rummage in the Ramp. Not long ago, she was in the same position as the students who are desperately trying to transfer their disheveled lives from one property to the next.

“There’s a large population of people in Iowa City right now who are moving out … and they need an outlet for their stuff,” she said. “It naturally becomes a time when you question, Do I need to bring this with me?’”

Often, the answer is a resounding “No.” Materialists turn minimalists, and efficacy overshadows environmentalism. Why bother bringing your furniture to Goodwill when someone will just grab it from the curb? Wilch reminds us that often, it just becomes garbage.

“There are several tons of material that we sell through Rummage that previously could have end up at the Dumpster,” Wilch said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of waste diversion — and when I say waste diversion, really what I mean is material diversion. Because it’s not waste. It’s stuff that could be used by a second owner.”

Wilch and her cohorts hope that Rummage in the Ramp doesn’t only offer a place for people to drop off unwanted goods but a place for people to shop secondhand.

“I can tell you as a student a few years ago, having something like Rummage was wonderful because it was affordable,” Wilch said. “You’re a poor college student, at least I was.”

Yet as much as the event targets college students, it’s really found footing in the Iowa City residential community.

Marcia Bollinger, the city’s neighborhood outreach coordinator, said she’s watched local kids grow up in the parking garage, used the sale to furnish three of her own kids’ apartments, and resold all those items years later at the same event.

“It’s just become common knowledge,” Bollinger said. “When I bring up Rummage, I’d say that 90 percent of people in Iowa City shake their head, ‘Yeah, I know what you’re talking about.’ ”

Bollinger typically saves the items she wants to get rid of for this time of year and plans her shopping around it, too. She said community members will even drive through the city and collect items to donate, complete with receiving a tax receipt that they can use for a tax write-off.

Not only is it a great place for affordable items, but all purchases go to a nonprofit organization. The volunteers at the event, from the Iowa Youth Writing Project to the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition, and many in between, all get a piece of the profits.

Wilch said for a four-hour shift, an organization will usually walk away with around $400 or $500. During the course of its 11 years, local nonprofits have shared $168,300 in Rummage proceeds.

So why are students not taking as much of an advantage as locals, on both ends of the spectrum, both donating and buying secondhand?

“It’s very sad. It really is pathetically sad,” Bollinger said. “There are so many other opportunities. If they can get it to Rummage, or if they want to pay the 11 bucks and have them come pick the stuff up, it’s just so much more practical than pitching it.”

Organic materials such as food and cotton T-shirts produce methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas exponentially worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. And taking up landfill space with recliners and retro sweaters also takes valuable space away from things that have nowhere else to go.

Donation pickup forms are available online for anyone interested in donating without the ability to get the items to the Chauncey Swan ranp themselves.

Bollinger said Rummage will accept “just about everything,” from food and furniture to houseware and yard tools. Food items with a decent shelf life can also be donated to the Crisis Center Food Bank by visiting the drop-off bin in the City Hall main lobby, which is open 24/7.

Brenda Nations, the city sustainability coordinator, said the success of Rummage in the Ramp gives her hope for a much more conscientious community.

Consignment culture provides an easy way for people to sustain an affordable lifestyle and help the environment while they’re at it. Whether donating or buying, Rummage in the Ramp is an event that is meant to make people question the role of materials in their lives, and Nations hopes that it helps people realize that buying brand-new retail isn’t good for our pockets or our planet.

“Not buying something [new] in the beginning is 10 times more impactful than buying it, then recycling it,” she said.