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Annual Trash to Treasure Sale Set for Saturday

by and on May 31, 2014 6:00 AM

As one of the founders of the annual Trash to Treasure sale, Al Matyasovsky has seen a lot of waste that comes out of student dorm rooms.

He has also played an integral role in putting it to beneficial use and has high hopes for the university’s waste management program.

Born in a coal-mining town south of Pittsburgh, Matyasovsky formerly owned a construction company and worked as a coal miner and a teacher before coming to Penn State 30 years ago. He credits his passion for recycling and reuse to the support of his parents, hard work, and the desire to do the right thing.

“Whatever I’m asked to do at Penn State, I’m pleased to do it and I’m very fortunate to have this job,” he says. Matyasovsky is currently the Supervisor of Central Support Services in the Office of Physical Plant.

Over the course of 13 years, Trash to Treasure has diverted more than 750 tons of waste from landfills and generated $600,000. All of the “trash” is castaway items donated by students during campus move-out weekend, and all of the proceeds from the sale are donated to the Centre County United Way.

This year’s sale will take place on Saturday, May 31 at Gate B of Beaver Stadium. Early-bird hours are from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and costs $5 to get in. After 9 a.m. there's no charge to enter the sale which will continue until 2 p.m.

Trash to Treasure is an annual event that community members have come to look forward to. “People start lining up at Gate B at Beaver Stadium at midnight,” Matyasovsky says.

About 13 years ago, Ford Stryker, who was then the chair of an environmental strategy committee on campus, approached Matyasovsky about improving Penn State’s waste management. Matyasovsky responded with four areas: student move-out, post-consumer food waste, construction and demolition debris capture and newspaper and mixed office debris capture.

Before Trash to Treasure, about 200 tons of waste from student move-out was being sent to a landfill at the end of each spring semester.

From there, Fraser Gregor, a committee member and former assistant director of Penn State, put together a team to investigate student move-out and how it could be improved. Gregor put collection bins in residence halls where students could donate clothes, which went to local churches.

“Fraser would tell you that it failed under its own weight of success,” Matyasovsky says. “There was way too much stuff for one person to manage, so he stopped doing that.”

But something needed to be done with the 200 tons that were being shipped to a landfill 72 miles from campus. Matyasovsky knew that waste could somehow be put to beneficial use.

“We all come together around the idea of taking something that would’ve went to the landfill ... selling it and donating (the money) to the United Way,” he says.

With Trash to Treasure, students who live in the residence halls on campus can donate their items, which are sorted by volunteers and sold at the stadium at a discounted price.

“It falls right in tune with the sustainability initiatives on campus to manage our waste,” Matyasovsky says. “If people put it in the bin, we promise we’ll get it to beneficial use.”

“There are so many benefits of this event. There is virtually no downside,” says David Manos, Trash to Treasure co-chair and assistant director of housing.

In its first year, Trash to Treasure brought in 82 tons of sellable items, about 72 tons more than Matyasovsky predicted. The sale took place in the Ag Arena, but Matyasovsky knew they needed more room.

Stryker, Matyasovsky said, got them into Beaver Stadium, where Trash to Treasure has taken place almost every year since then.

From the beginning, Centre County United Way has been the benefactor for Trash to Treasure. The program, Matyasovsky says, was designed around Penn State and United Way’s partnership.

“They support us and are necessary to the process,” he says. United Way provides many of the volunteers who donate countless hours sorting and selling the items.

“The people at United Way are wonderful to work with,” Manos says.

Tammy Gentzel, executive director of Centre County United Way, describes Trash to Treasure as “absolutely huge” in the scheme of United Way’s fundraising.

“Without this event, we wouldn’t have the ability to give that money to our agencies.”

United Way’s pledge to Trash to Treasure, Gentzel says, is that they’ll help recruit and manage volunteers. And do they deliver. Every year, about 200 to 250 community members volunteer to help with the various aspects that make Trash to Treasure possible.

“We absolutely couldn’t do this without them,” she says. “They are critical to the event.”

“Our students and their generosity of giving quality materials to the sale and our volunteers giving their time to set it all up, that’s why it works,” Matyasovsky says. “If we didn’t have those two groups, one, we wouldn’t have anything to put in the sale. Then it would just be a huge pile of stuff that we wouldn’t be able to sell or manage.”

To get the items ready, Trash to Treasure co-chair Dave Manos prepares a pick-up schedule for Jim Brown, Labor and Equipment lead man at the Office of the Power Plant, and his 12-member team to collect the items.

On move-out weekend, “we make our initial blast through those collection points and the dorms for donated items,” Brown says. “There’s about 60 collection points throughout campus.”

Before Trash to Treasure, move-out cleanup would take almost two weeks, Brown says. Now, a majority of everything is picked up and transported to the appropriate area the same weekend.

In Trash to Treasure’s tenure, Matyasovsky says that it hasn’t changed very much.

“We kind of got it right from the very beginning,” he says. One of the additions, however, is a student-run Trash to Treasure.

In between the fall and spring semesters, students can donate items. The donations are then sold at the beginning of the spring semester.

The spring sale is run by the Student United Way group, which is now used by United Way of America “to advise other universities on how to start student United Way programs,” Matyasovsky says.

In addition to his work with Trash to Treasure and at the Office of the Power Plant, Matyasovsky has also traveled the country to inform other universities and organizations about Penn State’s waste management program.

“I’ve been very fortunate to represent Penn State,” he says. “We have a very powerful program. We’ve identified 105 things in the waste stream that we divert from the landfill.”

While Matyasovsky isn’t ready to retire from the university or step down as co-chair of Trash to Treasure, he plans to transition off as co-chair but stay on the committee. “What I didn’t want to do is chair right up to the end and then step away, which will be years from now.”

While Trash to Treasure helps keep waste management costs for the university to a minimum for move-out weekend, Matyasovsky says that’s not the main motivation.

“Everyone will be quick to tell you we do it because it’s the right thing, the environmentally responsible thing to do,” he says. “It’s really not hard to be passionate about something that positively affects the university and the community.”

This event, Manos points out, is also made possible by the Penn State Athletic Department and Lion Surplus for use of their facilities as well as the Office of Residence Life for helping to spread the word to students about Trash to Treasure.

“We are pleased but never satisfied,” Matyasovsky says of Penn State’s waste management, which is headed in the right direction. Within two years, he would like to see the landfill diversion rate reach 85 percent. “That’s a significant attack on that stream going to the landfills,” he says.


WHAT: Trash to Treasure

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, May 31 

WHERE: Beaver Stadium, Gate B

COST: $5 before 9 a.m.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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