Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 19:04
Editor's Note: The idea to write a personal account of my experience dumpster diving with Campus Climate Challenge was directly stolen from former Editor in Chief Ryan Taughrin, who did it last year.
Nothing like a warm spring breeze to pick you up after a long winter in Western New York, right? Well, not always. On Monday, April 19, I gave back to the Earth by sorting through the garbage of underclassmen and I could have gone for a little less wind. It just doesn't take much to mobilize the steaming stench of sopping trash.
The event took place on the lawn connecting the Williams Center to Gregory Hall, thankfully under a tent that would keep the garbage shaded from the sun. Before entering the fray, I slipped my slight frame into a jumpsuit made entirely of polyester. The suit covered everything, including my feet. Not since my Robin (of Batman lore) pajama dawning days in the 90s have I felt so protected from the world. I was ready and willing to pick through garbage, hoping to find some of those rare gems known as recyclable goods.
As it turned out, what I was looking for was not rare at all. Sifting through garbage splayed about a table, I soon reared with excitement to find a plethora of bottles of rotting orange juice, unsoiled paper towels and decorative pink paper from Shannon's birthday party.
I found a recyclable Kotex tampon box, a hardly subtle foreshadowing of the non-recyclable materials I would later find. I found a plus-sized tampon box as well. Unfortunately I found no condom boxes, so I had no warning in that department.
My excitement at finding recyclables was shared by all those around me. It was, after all, the purpose of the event to salvage the recyclable items that others had thrown out. Our excitement, of course, was a mere surface expression. For every "gem" found among the heap of trash, there was someone out there who had neglected to recycle. The good news is, the percentage of recyclables found this year pales in comparison to years past, so students' habits appear to be changing.
According to Mark Delcamp, assistant director of Facilities Services, after students in last year's Dumpster Dive combed through two six-yard dumpsters, it was discovered that a heaping 80 percent of what was thrown away could have been recycled. Participants in this year's dive foraged 490.6 pounds of trash from a single dumpster to find 60.2 pounds of recyclables. Improperly discarded recyclables made up just 33 percent of the "waste."
What I learned
The biggest lesson I learned from the Dumpster Dive is that I know far less about recycling than I thought. For example, my opinion of whether the Pepsi cups used at Connections Food Court are recyclable changed twice that day. I initially thought they were, until one student volunteer said they contained plastic and being a mixed material, they could not be recycled. At the sight of me throwing away one of the cups, professor Christina Jarvis convinced me otherwise. She said the cups contained wax, not plastic and could be recycled in the Zero-Sort system.
Similarly conflicting opinions were expressed over what to do with milk cartons. After the Dumpster Dive, I responded to my curiosities by seeking out the truth online. Recycling is supposed to be easy, I figured and any questions I had could surely be answered at Zero-Sort's Web site. This was not nearly the case. After finding the Zero-Sort page at Casella Waste Systems' Web site, www.casella.com, I went first to a list of commonly asked questions before clicking on the link for "What can I put in my recycling bin?" Instead of a quick answer I got this default response: "Recycling varies by region. Please call [your] Casella service provider for details on what is recyclable in your area."
And so I did. The customer service for Casella in Dunkirk was commendable, and after little time I was speaking with Renee Press, a sales representative. She informed me that Dunkirk's Zero-Sort program does not accept milk cartons or Pepsi cups because each are made of wax-based material.
One should not have to call the recycling facility to find out what to do with an unwanted milk carton or Pepsi cup. One should be able to consult a list – if not on the bin, then at the very least online.
While most bins around campus do not provide guidelines, the "Recycling Centers" are accompanied by lists of items that can and cannot be recycled. But even on these lists, milk cartons and Pepsi cups are not addressed.
This ought to be amended; there should be no confusion in the minds of students wishing to recycle. Also, students would benefit from these lists being on all bins and in plain view. They are now posted at the base of the "Recycling Centers," so students looking to become more informed on recycling must first crouch down and put their face right up to the repository. For most students, this is a bizarre act they'd like to avoid.
For now, if you have a question on what goes in the bin, you can consult the list provided to me by Casella Waste Systems. I have amended the list to included milk cartons and Pepsi cups.