During COVID-19, tools for students to move out with care

two couches and a desk in front of a storage pod

In past year, before the pandemic, students have hosted a swap meet during the last weeks of May when many students move out of their living quarters. (Photo by Ella Smith)

Move-out, that period between the end of finals and the end of May when thousands of UC Berkeley students swap in and out of living quarters in apartments, co-ops, fraternities, sororities and residence halls, is always filled with big questions.

Who wants this old couch? Can unopened jars of peanut butter be donated? What do we do when our apartment complex dumpster is full?

Those questions are even more fraught this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students wonder if they will return to campus in the fall, and this spring’s usual move-out swap meets have been canceled by shelter-in-place orders, said third-year student Julia Sherman, a UC Berkeley Zero Waste Coalition leader.

“It is not really safe to be asking people to be exchanging materials,” said Sherman, adding that she is worried her fellow students might instead dump their old furniture on city streets.

That kind of dumping is never good for the environment or town-gown relations and could be especially difficult this year for city cleanup crews at risk of exposure to COVID-19, Sherman said.

“Students should especially be aware of shifting the burden of their old stuff to people who have to work to clean it up,” the genetics and plant biology major said. “I ask my fellow students to think about that burden; what is easiest for you may actually be creating big problems for someone else.”

Sherman also said she worried discarded furniture could end up being used by Berkeley residents who are experiencing homeless, putting them at risk of picking up the COVID-19 virus from the cushions of old chairs or tops of tables.

“Materials that are out on the street have the potential of being contaminated,” she said.

Sherman, who is also minoring in energy and resources, encouraged students to visit the Cal Move Out website if they have questions, such as what to do with old furniture and other leftover items.

“It is hard to know what to do if you have a big desk or a mattress and you don’t have a place to take it,” she said. “But we hope students and people in the community want to see those materials disposed of properly, or reused in a safe way.”