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Repurpose, Refurbish, Recycle, Resell

Treasures await at the UC San Diego Surplus Store, the end-of-life destination for excess university materials.

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A headstone. A used airplane propeller. The dashboard of a Lincoln Navigator. A pristine, mint-green filing cabinet from 1963. The common link binding this motley collection together? They all found their home at the Surplus Store, UC San Diego’s end-of-life destination for excess university materials.

Surplus Sales is the campus’ one-stop-shop for transforming trash into treasure and waste into value. The extensive operation collects excess materials, property and waste from around campus and refurbishes and resells it to the university and broader community. As one of UC San Diego’s largest sustainability programs, Surplus diverts nearly two million pounds of waste from landfills every year — a far cry from its humble beginnings in 1983.

“I started as a part-time student worker when we were averaging $1,500 in sales a month,” said UC San Diego alum Steve Van Duine, the retired Surplus Store manager. Surplus began in a 1,500 square foot building with a single pick-up truck and single full-time employee who processed about 12 pick-up requests a month. Now, Surplus lives just off of Miramar Road and encompasses two large warehouses, a sales showroom and an expansive processing yard that collectively span 39,000 square feet. The organization recently hit its 30-year anniversary. “We grew that business to encompass an operation that sells over a million dollars a year and employs six full-time workers, two temporary employees and a part-time student worker.”

“There is still a population of campus that doesn’t know about Surplus Sales” explained Robbie Jacob, the director of logistics at UC San Diego’s Integrated Procure-to-Pay Solutions (IPPS) “Our goal is to provide the utmost value to campus by streamlining the disposition of excess material, delivering maximum returns and supporting our campus clients as consultative partners. Just about every project on campus, small to large, has a Surplus element in some capacity and having a one stop shop for the totality of a project instead of multiple vendors for different elements or equipment type, combined with our intimate knowledge of campus, projects, and clients I truly believe is a benefit to our campus community”

UC San Diego's Surplus Sales provides valuable services and offers quality items at affordable prices. Whether you’re looking to save, earn, or recycle. Think Surplus first!

How it works

Anyone on campus can put in a pick-up request to Surplus. Requests can be as small as picking up an old printer to cleaning out a retired professor’s office in a few days or as large as clearing material from an entire building. Surplus services — on average — between 7 and 20 labs every week, as well as pick-ups from various other parts of campus; Surplus often receives up to 50 requests a day.

After picking up excess materials and bringing them to the warehouse, each item is categorized, catalogued and examined for quality and functionality. Items in working condition are fixed if needed then photographed and prepared for sale; more defunct items are liquidated into smaller, working parts and/or are recycled. Of the items available for sale, departments on campus get first pick. Materials that aren’t needed by one lab or office can often be used by another, decreasing the consumption of brand-new items and reusing items in good quality. 

And, when items sent to Surplus are sold, Surplus returns a good amount of the sale back to the department. Jacobs explained that the campus is “basically a small city — there’s a lot that can be reused and resold;” annually, Surplus returns  $700,000 - $1,000,000 to campus.

Surplus also sells to organizations beyond campus. David Gomez, the Surplus Sales and Moving Services Coordinator, noted that many biotech startups, local labs and veterinary schools patronize Surplus to purchase still-usable products at a cheaper price point than they could find new. Other items are donated to American Veterans, a nonprofit dedicated to  enhancing the quality of life for all veterans, their families and survivors.

David Gomez, the Surplus Sales and Moving Services Coordinator, highlights items found in the Surplus Store

David Gomez, the Surplus Sales and Moving Services Coordinator, highlights items found in the Surplus Store

Building sustainability through surplus

What’s key to the sustainability of their operation, however, is that they “don’t cherry pick” — they take everything, bring it in-house and then decide what’s useful, what can be repaired and resold, and what needs to be broken down and recycled. By taking a more holistic approach, Surplus is able to divert enormous amounts of waste from landfills; over 1.7 million pounds of waste was saved through resale during the 2022-23 fiscal year. 

That’s also how the store ends up with such a wide variety of items. Recently, a kegerator, a vintage sewing machine from La Jolla Playhouse and used jet skis from Scripps all passed through Surplus’ operations. First editions of Dr. Seuss books like “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” and a baby grand piano from Audrey Geisel’s estate were auctioned off to the public through Surplus. And, when Netflix was creating Selena: The Series, prop masters stopped by the store to gather set dressings. It’s a treasure trove — you just need to know where to look.  

One lesser-known gem? The “custom build program” that’s now run by Aiki Atkinson. The project was started by Van Duine in 2018 that utilizes excess materials to create one-of-a-kind, personalized office spaces for individuals and departments on campus at one-third of the price offered by other parties. With an average turnaround time of two to three weeks from contact to measurement to construction to deployment, the program processes two to four orders a week.

Surplus also collects two truckloads of campus e-waste twice monthly, which is then filtered and broken down into more easily recyclable parts. The store partners with outside recyclers to ensure that each part is recycled sustainably and safely. While setting up the program was an upfront investment, Gomez explained that “the money back from the e-waste recycling really pays for itself and enables us to improve our operations and help our campus become a more closed-loop system.”

He added, “Many people know about our service, but not the value we bring. As the campus continues to grow, our sustainability efforts need to grow as well, and Surplus is a valuable way to keep building our overall sustainability.”

Treasure hunting awaits! Starting in July, Surplus Sales will move from appointment-only access to regular walk-in hours five days a week, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Everything from a vintage sewing machine from La Jolla Playhouse to a baby grand piano that once belonged to Audrey Geisel can be found at the Surplus Store. 
Everything from a vintage sewing machine from La Jolla Playhouse to a baby grand piano that once belonged to Audrey Geisel can be found at the Surplus Store.  

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