I am on the faculty of a large American university, and I have bought a lot of equipment (laptops, tablets, batteries, etc.) for research purposes using a startup package. I will be leaving for a new university in September, and I am wondering what, in practice, will happen to this equipment. Obviously, it is the property of the university and I'm going to leave it all there, but is someone going to come through with a clipboard and make sure it's all there? Do these kinds of things usually just get sent off to surplus sales? How about the students of mine who will still be at the old university?
What happens to your stuff depends on how your university classifies it. Inventoried material—more expensive items that a university keeps track of—will almost certainly need to be accounted for. So that probably includes laptops and tablets, unless they're so old they've been removed from inventory (as not having any significant value anymore). Major laboratory equipment and furniture also fall into this category. Such materials will probably be held as "surplus," and made available to other groups or departments.
In contrast, small-ticket items—such as stationery and miscellaneous office supplies—are not normally tracked. You won't be asked to reimburse the university for a missing stapler.
In my alma mater, a public university in Spain, all expensive material is inventoried, and as it belongs to a public entity, cannot be sold when used up. Also, to get rid of an old computer (to get an idea: some are using floppy disks) requires a lot of bureaucracy. You need to prove that it is not useful anymore, and blah blah blah.
So, what they do is just drop the material in a given corridor, and wait for it to be stolen. If anyone -ever- comes asking for it, they will just check the corridor "ah, it got stolen". Lots of trees saved.
For other equipment not suitable for this scheme, well, we have a wide terrace with lots of space.
In my old group, what we did was that every lab member could, when (s)he is leaving the group, "buy" their own hardware for a symbolic price if it was older than 3 years (3 years, because after this time span the hardware was considered without significant worth by the university). So basically, everybody usually kept all their equipment after e.g., graduation. Our lab head considered this as sort of his "graduation gift" to the student / ex-lab member - I am not convinced that the entire process was entirely legal, but apparently (as the equipment is formally without worth to the university) nobody ever actually complained (so far). In the rare cases where this was not possible (e.g., a laptop younger than 3 years), we simply kept the equipment back for emergencies (such as when the laptop of one of the lab members breaks and he needs a replacement while it is being repaired).
In my new group, hardware is simply returned, put onto a big pile, and in most cases, forgotten. Every now and then the big pile of old hardware gets thrown away. I am sort of assuming that this is how most universities handle old hardware, as silly / wasteful as it is.