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In a quiet spot in the Wolfson Building on the Weizmann Institute campus, a powerful but disused microscope was slowly gathering dust.
The instrument, which had been used by a researcher who is no longer at the Weizmann Institute of Science, cost tens of thousands of shekels when it was purchased several years ago. But the institute’s Systems Immunology Department was having trouble selling it, even at a fraction of the original cost, because the microscope had been adapted specifically to the research for which it was bought.
Until recently, the only available destination for such equipment was a recycling facility, according to Adi Gottlieb, head of the department’s administration. “It’s a shame, but that’s all we could do with machinery for which there was no demand. We had to send it to be shredded,” she says.
But this is no longer the case at Weizmann thanks to a new initiative that focuses on selling, giving away and reusing equipment. Led by Moshe Buchalter, head of the Surplus Goods Section at Weizmann’s Operations Division, the surplus initiative helped find a buyer for the microscope and additional disused machines belonging to Gottlieb’s department, which saw a NIS 35,000 addition to its budget from the sale. Other departments have also seen tens of thousands of shekels returning to them thanks to the initiative, which was launched last year.
""Weizmann Institute research is at the forefront of the international movement toward sustainability. In parallel, there’s been a longstanding push to make sure that the shoemaker’s children don’t go barefoot"
The initiative is focused on optimizing resource usage according to sustainability principles, and has so far added about NIS 500,000 from the sale of instruments and industrial waste to the institute’s budget. At the same time, the initiative saved various departments many thousands of shekels that would have been spent on new equipment. Instead of buying new, those departments were able, thanks to the initiative, to receive the necessary hardware for free or at a significant discount from other units. Lastly, nonprofits, charities and individuals in need received from the Weizmann Institute goods that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
“Weizmann Institute research is at the forefront of the international movement toward sustainability,” says Shimon Ishai, head of the Operations Division at Weizmann. “In parallel, there’s been a longstanding push to make sure that the shoemaker’s children don’t go barefoot, meaning that the institute itself adheres to principles of sustainability. The surplus initiative is another valuable component of this.” Adds Vice President for Administration and Finance Prof. Alon Harmelin: “This initiative is a welcome combination of sustainability and efficiency, which is not to be taken for granted."
As part of the initiative, the Operations Division has set up a new intranet website called LAB2 – named for Yad2, the popular Israeli secondhand sales service – where various departments advertise the equipment and hardware they’re offering for sale or giving away. The Operations Division has been raising awareness among administrators and researchers about the new website in recent months.
Equipment with no takers at the institute is put up for sale externally through a bidding system. “In recent months, we’ve put together a list of potential buyers: firms that deal in scientific equipment but also counterparts in the scientific community in Israel,” says Buchalter, who negotiates such transactions. “The Weizmann Institute is a leading brand name, in part because the equipment we use is cutting edge. Fortunately, word gets around and our buyers’ list is growing.”
Prior to leading the surplus initiative, Buchalter was part of Weizmann’s moving and transportation detail. In that capacity, he became familiar with some of the issues that the surplus push is meant to address. “As a mover, I observed a pattern: Functioning but obsolete or redundant gear would first be sent for storage in a warehouse, where it would gather dust for a few years. Then it would get moved to a storage shed, to make room in the warehouse. In the shed, it would be exposed to the elements, get damaged – and eventually binned.”
""Instead of having used but working equipment gathering dust and getting damaged in storage, we interest administrators in using it as a cheaper alternative to buying new”
In addition to the sales and donations push, the surplus initiative has upgraded recycling procedures. For example, one concerned the hundreds of wood pallets delivered annually at the institute as part of the packaging that comes with various goods and products. “The pallets are a product, and there’s a market for them. So instead of throwing them away to end up in a landfill, we began collecting the pallets and stacking them up for resale to pallet dealers,” Ishai says.
Furniture, which the institute’s departments replace relatively frequently, especially during moves and renovations, is also part of the surplus initiative. “Instead of having used but working furniture gathering dust and getting damaged in storage, we interest administrators in using it as a cheaper alternative to buying new,” Ishai says. “This helps solve the issue of storage room, saves long hauls and reduces the institute’s environmental footprint.”
Furniture and scientific equipment having no takers within the institute are offered to the Rehovot municipality or donated to charities and nonprofits, upon the approval of the Goods Committee of Weizmann’s Operations Division, which convenes several times a year.
So what about the furniture in Ishai’s and Buchalter’s offices?
“I inherited a fully furnished office from my predecessor, so, by definition, mine is 100 percent second-hand,” Ishai says.
Buchalter seems to have anticipated the question. “Of course, all the furniture in my office is used, taken from storage,” he says with a smile. “We practice what we preach.”