An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Detritus Becomes Desirable: MIT Reuse Lists

  • Nancy DuVergne Smith
  • 1

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Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Hardware and software are popular.
Hardware and software are popular.

A kindergartener-sized karate uniform, spider plant clippings, unopened containers of Thai food… Proving that someone’s trash becomes someone else’s treasure, thousands of unwanted items find eager new owners every year through MIT’s reuse email lists. Through the lists, the MIT community can give things away; request items; sell, barter or trade; search for housing and roommates; or discuss the mailing lists and related philosophy.

Everything is free—and alumni are invited to join.

A two-person cow costume, vinyl records, bubble wrap…. Computer equipment (hardware and software) shows up most frequently, followed by office and lab supplies, household goods, and leftover food.

An East Campus floor-to-ceiling wooden obelisk, enough scrap lumber for a small tree house… Donors describe the item, mention how and where to claim it, and the size and weight, if necessary.

Office supplies and equipment make the list.
Office supplies and equipment make the list.

Some donors choose a recipient, while others award it to the first respondent. Some leave the goods in a designated place for everyone to pick over. When items have been claimed, the list hears about it.

To avoid any suspicions as you lug a computer or bagful of items out of an office, rules strongly recommend that you “keep a copy of the reuse message in case you run into the Campus Police.”

Mike Jacknis ’98, MEng ’01 started the email reuse lists in 1994. “The Institute disposes of a large quantity of merchandise of all sorts, which is still usable, either for its original intended purpose or for some other purpose (hacking, parts, education, etc.) There has got to be someone out there interested in your stuff, no matter what it is!” he says.

Terri (Iuzzolino) Matsakis ’93 next took over responsibility for the list. When her thesis work became overwhelming, she posted the list itself on reuse, where Garry Zacheiss ’00, now senior IT manager at MIT Information Services & Technology, and Dan Kamalić ’99 claimed it. Now she largely runs it again, with Zacheiss and Kamalić as backup.

Matsakis noted, “Sometimes pet owners trying to find new homes for gerbils, mice, or hamsters are surprised when they get questions like, ‘Is it tasty and good for eating?’" Now some owners specify that they’re giving away pets, not potential snake food. Basically, though, people are welcome to post anything as long as it's legally transferrable and available in the Greater Boston area, she said.

For more information or to join any of the lists, send mail to or get more information on the mailman listing.

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Dan Greenberg

Tue, 10/22/2013 1:04pm

The same concept has been deployed for communities via Multiple towns in the Boston area have Freecycle lists. It's a great way to reduce waste!

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