Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Campus Activities

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Dump & Run is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and disappointing activities that we have on campus. The event centers around campus move out, during which thousands of students flee the campus to have happy and productive summers back home. The problem is that during their time on campus, these students tend to over consume and then find themselves in the precarious position of having to get rid of their excess stuff in a small window of time. Our office therefore organizes the Dump & Run every spring to try to collect as much of this stuff before it is tossed into the garbage.

So on the one hand the whole thing is very rewarding. We get to collect thousands of items (totally almost four tonnes last year) and then donate them to about a dozen charities around Ottawa. We get the satisfaction of knowing that we have diverted waste and helped out those in need.

On the other hand though, I estimate that we are only able to capture about 20% of all the waste that is disposed of during the event. There are piles of appliances, mountains of food, and rivers of clothing that slip through our fingers (the rivers of clothing things is true - volunteers literally swim through the donations).

May 1st is our D-Day. We collect about 90% of our stuff on that day. The events of the day pretty simple. We start out by forming teams, we have about 30 volunteers who show up for the day of craziness. We separate out into teams and start hitting the residences floor by floor. Every kitchen, every lounge, every laundry room... we try to get to go into every last space to find anything that might get thrown out and that could be better served going to a charity.

That's the front end of what we do. The back-end is much more involved. The days following the primary event include a bunch of begging, bargaining, borrowing, and cheating. Most of what we do centers around trying to keep more stuff out of garbage bins; and this includes a bit of dumpster diving.

So here is the disclaimer part, don't do this at home and especially if you are alone. The kind of dumpster diving we do is very cautious and calculated. First, we never send in students or anyone for that matter unless they are fully equipped. Gloves, old clothes, steel-toe boots, these are the basics. Next, we don't take everything out of the dumpsters, we only take things that can be easily cleaned like dishes, appliances, and cutlery. Clothing and food are a bad idea so we stay away.

Everything we recover from dumpsters is cleaned two, three, sometimes four times (I am a bit of a germaphobe). This also goes for some items that we don't recover from the dumpster; it really depends on the conditions.When you get right down to it, we kind of take the diving out of dumpsters. I mean the risk of jumping into a bin and landing on a rusty nail or swing your arms around and puncturing yourself with a needle are just too high.

The depressing part of this whole adventure is the sheer amount of stuff that we find. Four tonnes doesn't sound like a lot of waste but when you think about it, that's 4000 kilograms or 9000 pounds of stuff. Consider that your typical pair of jeans don't even add up to a a pound and maybe you can start getting an idea of how much stuff we are talking about.

And of course the heartbreaking part about this is the condition that we find this stuff in. I don't mean that most of the stuff if broken, quite the opposite. It tends to be in really good shape. We find bags full of unopened food that could have gone to the food bank. We find perfectly good textbooks that could have been sold back for money or donated to a book program. We find perfectly packaged suitcases of clothing that probably couldn't fit into the car so they were discarded into the trash.

The take home message here, before you toss out your stuff, take a couple of minutes to think about where it could go. If you don't have the time to donate things, give us a call and we'll come grab it for you. Or, if you don't think you even have time for that, leave your donation beside the dumpster instead of inside the dumpster and we'll handle it from there.

Check out our website for more details. Dump and Run webpage

~jon - campus sustainability coordinator
photo credit - memegenerator.com

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