The school year is ending, and many students are taking flight. What happens to their stuff?

It’s not only the birds who will be setting out for a new roost as the snow melts and spring takes hold in Finland. Apartments all over will see students ending their studies, and at that time there will be a number of leases that come to an end.

HOAS, the student housing group in the Helsinki area, sees a jump in the amount of people leaving their apartments at the end of the school year. Of those people, a significant portion of them are foreign exchange students.

“At the end of May there are about 1,500 people who move out of HOAS, which is about ten per cent of people who live in our units,” states Liina Länsiluoto, customer relations manager for HOAS. “That’s the scale, and of that ten per cent I would say about half of them are exchange students.”

But students, like birds, tend to collect things to feather their nests with, and it’s more than just a few twigs and some bits of string. Furniture can prove too difficult to bring along when flying, and it’s not cheap stuff, often only used for a year or two. If you don’t mind getting your hands on something ‘near-new’, this is a very real chance to channel your inner magpie and gather a few decorations of your own.

A chance to get a good deal

“I think many people, many students get rid of their things by taking them to a recycling centre, or just sell them,” observes Länsiluoto. “We have a flea market site, but I would say it’s not used as much as other public sites.” Länsiluoto points to sites like Huuto.net, a popular online portal for selling things second hand.

Huuto in particular is a big name as far as reselling goods is concerned in Finland. While in a number of other countries eBay is the go-to site, it doesn’t have a foothold here. There are currently over a million listings on the site, from armoires to video games, and everything in-between.

Netcycler.fi is another site dedicated to trading away your stuff, and even Facebook is a popular social hub that can help you sell and buy things: second hand groups such as ‘Second-Hand Items in Jyväskylä’ is an example of the community taking care of its own recycling needs, offering space for thrifty buyers and sellers to find each other with no middlemen.

It’s not limited to people with a cyber-presence, of course. There’s always old-fashioned flea markets and recycle centres. “When I studied at the University of Helsinki they had a flea market as well, I think the other universities do similar things,” says Länsiluoto.

As long as things get passed on to someone else, they avoid becoming waste, which is the focus of services such as Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre.

“We accept donations. Some we sell, and some we give away for free,” states Päivi Suihkonen, talking about the centre’s four stores around the city. “We do it for the environment, because the longer things last the less of an impact it has. Every year we make sure over two million items are re-used.”

The cost of items in their stores are well below retail, because the centre is a non-profit organisation that seeks only to break even. “We do not make a profit, everything that we sell is used just to make this company run,” says Suihkonen. They also work with the government to hire workers with low employability, which also helps to give much needed work experience. Despite being a low cost operation, it is certainly not low impact.

“Twenty-two thousand tonnes of resources were saved last year,” exclaims Suihkonen, explaining that the group calculates the natural resources saved each time an item is recycled. “When you buy stuff from our shop, you can see your part of that number on the receipt.”

As far as the gaggle of graduates is concerned, the times of the year that they come to the city is when the most people are coming through the door.

“The busiest months we have are August and September,” says Suihkonen. “A lot of students are using our shops to find new stuff and also they are donating when they move out.”

In fact, the biggest problem they have is too many donations. “There is a constant problem of space,” says Suihkonen. “We also take company furniture, and sometimes we have so much being donated at the one time we simply cannot accept it because we do not have enough space. That is only large donations, however, consumers and students should not be worried if we can receive a donation or not.”

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Better looking stuff, better looking environment

Just because people are taking previously enjoyed goods and giving them a new home doesn’t mean they don’t get a facelift. Plan B is a project put on by Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus, giving a new look to things that might go unappreciated otherwise.

“Our Plan B service repairs furniture that is donated, and they also make new clothes out of old ones by combining them. It is possible to order custom made clothing from our Plan B designer Irina Aardemäe,” says Suihkonen. It takes creativity to find a use for things that would otherwise be cast aside. “We have a new product that is made out of VCR tapes, we made bags out of them. It’s really cool - we made computer bags, the fabric is made of the old tape and some cotton. There is an eco-design competition and the VCR bags are our product for it.”

The city is aware that anything that gets reused is diverted from waste management - which essentially means less cost and less impact on the ecosystem. The Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) pays for Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus to teach waste reduction strategies, as well as being partial owners of the non-profit. Anything they handle is one less thing they have to take care of.

“If furniture or electronics are still useable, the first thing to do is to try to reuse it: ask friends, use online services or even second-hand shops who will pick it up for you,” says Nea Teerioja, an environmental specialist with HSY. If not, large items cost money to dispose of, and simply disposing of them improperly will come back to bite you eventually. “The owner of the property will be charged extra for items that do not belong to the normal waste collection. In the long run these fees will be added to the rents or the maintenance charges of the apartments.”

There are plenty of ways you can take advantage of the exodus that’s happening around you right now, there’s no need to put all your eggs in one basket. By giving your old things to new owners you can reduce your environmental footprint, and by snagging the new things you want or need you are the much needed other side of the conservation effort, as well as saving some money at the same time. Who said that saving the environment has to come at a cost?

Adam Faber