By Anastasia Blosser
Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) free store returned to the Victoria Building for the first week of classes of the Winter 2024 semester. The store is part of a larger plan to reduce carbon emissions and assist financially disadvantaged students, according to the Sustainability Office’s website.
The free store began as a pop-up during the Fall 2022 orientation and typically occurs for one week each semester. Students can drop off their gently used items and pick up objects that catch their eye. From second-hand books to electronic devices, donations included office supplies, clothing, decor and homeware.
Sharmilla Raj, the manager of the Sustainability Office, said the free store is an integral part of reducing TMU’s waste while building a “reuse” culture. She said it contributes to the university’s efforts to ensure the institution operates in a sustainable way.
“I think consistently we see more and more students coming in which tells us that this is something that they’re really interested in and that they want to see on our campus,” Raj told The Eyeopener.
According to the Sustainability Office, nearly 1,700 students visited the free store between Jan. 15 and Jan. 19. Over 47,000 items were rehomed, totaling over 2,200 pounds of material diverted from landfills.
“We’ve received so much positive feedback from students,” Raj said. “Everything is extremely expensive and to be able to provide a channel for students to get the things that they need so that they can focus on important things like their schooling is something that’s really rewarding to us.”
The free store is partnered with Housing and Residence Life as part of their Eco Move Out program, where items left behind by students moving out of residence are donated and re-circulated in the TMU community.
“There’s a lot of value in the things that we already have,” she said. “If we are going to achieve our goal of shifting us towards a zero waste campus, the reduce and reuse culture is really where we need to be moving towards.”
Raj said there are also a lot of items no longer needed by the university, that are then provided to students, staff or faculty members, like furniture.
The Sustainability Office is also exploring different ways to reuse materials branded with TMU’s former name, Ryerson University. Raj said a lot of the textiles were donated to a local charity and repurposed, while other materials will be reused on campus.
“[For] some of the items, we are actually looking at how we can simply remove the name through nail polish remover,” she said. “We’re hoping that we could run events where students can come in and actually decorate a notebook to repurpose it.”
Mona Hafez is a fourth-year engineering student, working with the Sustainability Office for her second year in a row.
She said that the amount of people bringing furniture items home is incredible.
“If it doesn’t get a new home then it will end up in the landfill,” she explained. “It’s been amazing just to give these pieces a new life.”
Hafez said she hopes people will spread the word about the free store after they acquire their new items.
“It’s the second year that we’ve had the free stores so there’s still more work to be done,” she said.
Andrew Arizaga, a first-year electrical engineering student, said he found out about the free store through his friends and decided to see what there was at the pop-up. He ended up finding a hard hat that he plans to wear around or add onto a future Halloween costume.
“There’s like a good variety of stuff,” Arizaga said. “Maybe some more furniture would be nice.”
Shamim Cheraqi, a first-year masters of management student, said she was attending the free store for the second time.
“I got some pretty good things the first time and that’s why I’m here,” she explained. “There’s no limit [on items] this time which is good,” she said, in reference to the previous years’ pop-ups where students had a three item limit.
Cheraqi said that she really likes how the free store encourages the TMU community to share with each other while promoting sustainability. “It’s a really good thing to have at any university.”