Should You Participate in an Office Supply Swap?

Office supplies are expensive. Some estimates say that the average office worker consumes $500 worth of office supplies in a year. Multiply that times the number of employees at your business, and you’ll see why supplies are such a big expense even for small businesses. To combat this, some organizations are having office supply swaps, where departments make their surplus supplies available to other parts of the company or outside organizations. For example, Temple University’s College of Education recently began offering surplus office supplies free of charge to recent graduates working in undersupplied school systems.

But is an office supply swap right for you? Here’s what to consider.

Pros:

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1. Office supply swaps are free. The biggest pro, of course, is that it doesn’t cost anything. In addition to getting (and providing) free supplies for people who need it, office supply swaps are easy to administer. Temple University, for example, picked one day a week when they would make supplies available to teachers.

2. Office supply swaps reduce waste. The inspiration for Temple’s swap was cutting back on the amount of supplies the university threw away. The landfill is full of cast-off office supplies. (How bad is it? In 2005, 50 percent of our toner cartridges went to the landfill, as well as 50 percent of our paper.) Donating them through a swap can help minimize the amount of product that goes to the dump.

Cons:

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1. Someone has to organize it. While there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of time it takes to administer an office supply swap, such as picking one day a week, or making it self-serve, someone still needs to put together the initial plan and contact other parts of the company or outside organizations to make everything happen.

2. You probably won’t find every single supply you need. Office supply swaps aren’t a substitute for ordering from your friendly neighborhood retailer. Even if you develop a swapping relationship with a company with lots of leftover goods, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to rely solely on swaps to stock your supply closet. At best, it’s a way to reduce your office supply bill, not a way to skip shopping altogether.

Used correctly, however, office supply swaps can help reduce waste, cut your bills, and maybe even develop cooperative relationships between different departments in your company. All you need is a little time and planning — and realistic expectations of what the swap can bring to your organization.

Images: CO-PhotoGuy/Flickr, ginnerobot/Flickr

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