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October 3, 2003
Volume 41, No. 3


Trash to Cash: UI Surplus serves recyclers, treasure hunters
Campaign funds have direct effect on employees
Pop quiz: How well do you know the UI campus?

Workshop grad helps UI med students polish writing skills

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Trash to cash: UI Surplus serves recyclers, treasure hunters

Recycled dental chairs lined up at Surplus
Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

A pearl-inlaid harpsichord from a few centuries back. A satellite prototype that never made it to space. Half of a Humvee.

These are Joe Hennager’s standard answers to the question: What are the weirdest things you’ve seen pass through your doors in the 28-or-so odd years you’ve worked at UI Surplus?

And odd is right—from centrifuges to toilet paper dispensers, filing boxes to fax machines, he’s seen it all.

Joe Hennegar checks the computer to see if he has what the customer needs
Joe Hennager, UI Surplus manager, helps a customer during a Thursday morning rush to grab the good stuff.

“Oh, people are always asking me about the most unusual items. Sometimes I don’t even know what the stuff is,” says Hennager, UI Surplus manager. “I learn by selling it. I won’t let something go until I find out what it is. Then I’ll know the next time I see one.”

Hennager has become the University’s prince of paraphernalia, its keeper of campus castoffs.

Recently, UI Surplus has attracted the media’s attention, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, for its quirky Thursday ritual—the day each week when the building at 1225 S. Gilbert St. opens for a public sale.

Surplus’s flea-market atmosphere and consignment-store appeal may be entertaining, but the campus department’s goals are serious ones to Hennager and his staff of one full-time and 11 part-time employees.

Their top priority is recycling. University departments contact Surplus when they want to rid their inventory of no-longer-needed supplies. Surplus picks them up and sells them either to other University departments or to the public.

On average, 15 tons of items come in each week. During peak time—just before the end of the fiscal year—it’s more like 30 tons a week.

Between selling items to consumers or to recyclers of scrap metal, wood, glass, and so on, Surplus manages to keep about 95 percent of the items from going to the landfill.

Besides being environmentally conscious, Surplus saves the University money—as much as $1 million a year, campuswide, according to Hennager’s calculations, comparing the cost of new equipment to that purchased through Surplus for a fraction of the price.

Departments buying through Surplus get the items at half what the general public would pay. Also, departments receive half of the money collected on any of their items that sell for more than $50.

“We’re the alternative to buying new, and that’s very important in this budget-crunching time,” Hennager says.

Gary Anderson is a vocal supporter of UI Surplus, in addition to being the associate director of Business Services, which oversees the department.

Several years ago, when General Stores (another of Anderson’s departments) moved to a new building, Surplus helped round up used office dividers.

“It would’ve cost us $18,000 for new ones, but we got perfectly nice ones from Surplus for only $1,000,” Anderson recalls. “It’s a great service for the campus.”

Kevin McGlynn agrees. The accounting clerk for the School of Art and Art History uses Surplus to help his department find an impressive stock of desks, chairs, projectors, blackboards, and other office and classroom furnishings.


Don’t wait—Surplus staff members say that if you haven’t used equipment in at least a year, you probably never will. So recycle it; it’ll probably be worth more now than in five years.

Shop Surplus first and often—New items come in daily, and you never know what you might find. Many items are still in excellent condition, nearly as good as new for a lot less money.

If you need it, ask—Surplus staff members are willing to keep an eye out for particular items you may be searching for and will notify you if they find an item that meets your needs.

Hours—Surplus is open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays (for computers only) and Thursdays (for all items). Other days, Surplus is open to departments by appointment. For more information, call (33)5-5001 or visit

“Surplus is the first place we think of when we need something,” McGlynn says. “It’s very cost effective. Bottom line, everyone’s trying to tighten their belts, and it’s another way to save.”

Chris Coretsopoulos is another of Hennager’s “regulars.” Coretsopoulos, adjunct associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and director of the Microfabrication Lab, says a combination of curiosity and necessity draws him to Surplus.

He and fellow researchers often search for vacuum pumps, furniture, pipettes, heating baths, and other small machinery needed for research projects.

Surplus is particularly helpful, he says, when researchers want to try an experiment but don’t want to invest thousands of dollars in new equipment in case the project fizzles.

And what about that half-a-Humvee that Surplus obtained? Coretsopoulos remembers it well. It sat in an office area on his floor in the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs for a while after the engineers who had been working on military experiments with it moved to another building.

Turns out it was sold in parts—wheels, seats, bumpers, metal, and transmission—to two or three people, Hennager reports.

Among Surplus’s other missions is protecting the public from technological hazards. Equipment is tested for biohazards, such as radioactivity, and is not resold if deemed dangerous. Surplus also must painstakingly “clean” computer hard drives so that there is nothing left in the memory to be used inappropriately.

Finally, Surplus offers its goods to the public; shoppers may delight in adding to unusual collections, furnishing a start-up business, restoring equipment to resell on eBay, or enjoying the thrill of bargain-hunting.

Hennager is one who enjoys a bargain. His office is a testament to his recycling efforts.

“Everything in here is from Surplus,” he says, pointing to each item. “My fan has holes in it. My chair has a wiggle. There are scratches in my desk. My printer only feeds through one sheet of paper at a time. Even the paint on my walls was recycled.

“It’s important to me that this stuff doesn’t get dumped somewhere,” he says. “It all works just fine for me.”

by Amy Schoon



Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright the University of Iowa 2003. All rights reserved.


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