Queen’s cleanout: the good, the bad, and the creative

Kan Management comes across both the trash and treasures of student living. Photo via Kan Management on Facebook.

What do 300 computer chairs, 500 bags of non-perishable food items, and a brand new Canada Goose jacket have in common? You might be shocked to learn they are all things thrown out last week by students departing Kingston for the summer.

“The last couple of weeks it’s been crazy,” says Kan Nguyen, owner/operator of Kan Management.

The property management company she owns with her husband Ryan Dennee has collected 20 tonnes of waste from outgoing students in just the last seven days. Fortunately, they do their best to help reusable items find a new home.  

“Over the last two years we’ve noticed a lot of weight is food. People, when they’re leaving, they’ll just clean out their cupboards, clean out their fridges: at least half of it or two thirds of it is garbage because it’s been in the fridge, stuff that they’ve used. But there’s so much food from the cabinets that could easily be donated,” says Dennee.

“We try to donate as much as we can to the food bank, but a lot of food that could have been donated is mixed in with other crap and then it ends up sitting outside,” and so it can’t be donated, he explains.

Nguyen says, “A lot of the international students, it costs them to put extra baggage on a plane, as much as hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So they end up leaving a lot of nice clothes and a lot of nice almost new things, like their pots and pans. So we ended up recycling a lot of that.”

Kan Management manages around 30 properties for different owners of student rentals and does waste removal for several other property management businesses in Kingston that each have 70 or 80 properties. They also do waste management for 50 bars and restaurants downtown, explains Dennee,  “We do a lot of clean-outs, we do commercial and residential garbage, and  we also do junk removal. It ended up just snowballing the last couple of years.” 

This Canada Goose Bomber Jacket was found under cans in a recycle bin. Retail price about $1,000 new and $500 used. Photo by Kan Nguyen.

Dennee and Nguyen see a great need for Queen’s students to be better organized when moving out.

“We bring tons of stuff to the food bank from our clean-outs anyway. But if somehow Queen’s would work with us, we could do so much more. We were trying to talk to someone at Queen’s (to discuss the problem of wasteful move-outs), but it’s so hard to actually talk to someone or to find somebody that wants to help us coordinate.”

If a department or club at Queen’s could help coordinate and advertise, “they could have the students put out their non-perishable, non-expired food for us to collect in an organized fashion — we’d even rent a cube van.  And if they would just separate the stuff, you could keep so much of it out of the landfill and then at the same time beef up the Kingston Food Bank. It sucks to throw out so much food. There’s so, so much food,” Dennee laments. 

One problem they see is that much of the nonperishable food that could be donated gets mixed in with garbage, making it impossible to salvage.

Dennee is quick to point out that this is a common problem in other cities when a university term ends and doesn’t blame the students. “People kind of crap on the students for the stuff they leave, but it puts food on our table, so it’s kind of hard to hate on.” 

And, “if there was a better system in place, it would be cool for Kingston to be the pioneer of that. We lived in Waterloo and Guelph, it’s the same thing there, too.”

“There should be a better system, not just for the food,” but also, he explained, many items of clothing and furniture that could be donated get ruined because they are left outside, leaving them exposed to the elements and scavengers.

“Kan’s idea is that there could be a big tented area on campus to store items over summer and help exchange them. Because then there’s new students coming in, and new international students,” he notes.

“It would be more beneficial. Instead of just going to Staples and buying more computer chairs and desks you are only going to use for seven months, you could just take somebody else’s used items, pay what you can and then donate it back after you’re done. It would be cool to do something like that. I know of several businesses that would volunteer and lend them cube trucks or whatever and then just to just bring it to an area for storage.  It would be so cool if Kingston could do that,” says Dennee.

Dennee says he can’t blame the students themselves for a lot of the way move-out week works, since no one has come up with a better solution and the University seems resistant to outside help.

“We’d definitely help out, it just makes sense. But it’s so hard to speak to anybody in Queens, that has any pull, has a voice, you know what I mean? And, if you’re not part of Queen’s, they don’t let you post anywhere,” he expresses. “We kind of feel like the door gets shut pretty quick on us.”

It’s disappointing, says Dennee, but they hope it will improve in the future if they can get the University on board. “We are in our fourth year of business and we work really hard. We’re fully licensed and registered with the government.”  

Kan Management has collected some pretty weird, gross and even dangerous items in their four years of waste management, from aquatic creatures like piranhas, and a dead giant eel, to nasty pails of human waste and drug paraphernalia.  However, Dennee points out that those are discoveries not made in student homes, noting “the townies are way dirtier than students, for sure.”

“For students, it’s more just like gross stuff. If they leave all their furniture you’ll find plates under the bed that have some extremely interesting fuzz and creatures living on them; who knows how long they’ve been there?” he marvels.

Another treasure Dennee finds in and under furniture is empty bottles, “We just took back $36 in empties yesterday and last week we were like 27 bucks in empties, so we don’t mind that” 

Also, students can be pretty creative with their junk. “I found a giant wooden sign, it was homemade but it completely mimics the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Yeah, somebody’s done a really good job on that,” Dennee shares.

Wooden Las Vegas Sign found in a student home. Photo by Ryan Dennee.

And he goes on, “Last year, they pulled down pieces of their fence and nailed them to the top railing of their deck and built a snowboard ramp. That was pretty interesting.”

He’s found a lot of mannequins up to no good, sometimes with signs or writing to convey a message. “You’ll go in and they’ll have the things set up or they’ll say weird things,” Dennee says of the ‘scenes’ the company has encountered.

Mostly though, Dennee says, “They’re just kids having fun.”

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