Open Collections

UBC Graduate Research

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure : Reimagining Furniture Use at the University of British Columbia Wong, Brittney; Belotti, Giulia; Oreoluwa, Glory; Phillips, Jaden; Travers, Josh; MacNicol, Rona


The concept of circular economy (CE) is becoming increasingly topical as governments, institutions, and corporations strive to meet environmental goals in an economically appealing way. CE strives to reform the dominant economic practice of producing, using, and disposing of human-made objects by finding ways to reuse and recycle products before they reach landfill. The University of British Columbia (UBC) has a sizable imprint, with 55,000 students and 16,000 staff at its Vancouver campus, and as such, requires a high volume of office furniture. Unofficial furniture exchange and reuse projects at UBC already exist, but the characteristics of what makes some furniture exchanges successful, and others not, has not been studied. Moreover, the barriers that these informal exchanges face, and the opportunities for increased success from overcoming these challenges, have also lacked study. This research seeks to identify these key characteristics and challenges, as well as how these furniture exchanges are valued by different participants. We conducted a thorough literature review, a survey, and semi-structured interviews with key participants, including UBC staff involved in furniture exchanges. The latter methods were intended to understand participants’ perspectives on the obstacles limiting participation in furniture transfers, and to identify potential interventions to increase the efficacy and frequency of furniture transfers at UBC. We found that a lack of standardization of furniture purchasing and the informal nature of the transfer program were key barriers to widespread participation. Participants repeatedly identified low-quality furniture as a barrier to continued reuse, and stated that some standardization of high-quality furniture procurement at UBC would provide opportunities for reuse. Moreover, the formalization of the furniture exchange process was put forth as a potential intervention to improve the participant experience in furniture transfers, making it more similar to the “easy” experience of purchasing new furniture. In order to facilitate standardization and formalization, various resources, such as staff time, money, and leadership support, were identified as required inputs. It was also made apparent that participants value furniture transfers beyond purely economic value. Sustainability and relational values were identified, and an opportunity exists for UBC to recognize these alternative values when considering supporting this program. Economic valuation was still the strongest motivator, but the relational values identified present a potential leverage point to increase interest in furniture exchanges. From this research, it is recommended that a permanent position be created to facilitate and coordinate furniture transfers at UBC. Doing so will require consistent resource provision from UBC, as well as support from leadership. These resources will be instrumental in standardizing furniture transfers, as well as formalizing the system. Doing so is likely to increase the efficacy and frequency of furniture transfers, reducing the amount of furniture waste produced by the university and providing an opportunity for a formalized circular economy at UBC. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International