University should turn trash into treasure

During finals week, most students spend their time in the solitude of the library or the hum of the computer labs. But there is a fraction of us who prefer the stench of campus trash bins and the treasures they conceal.
Like many schools and businesses, the University has made important efforts to recycle its unneeded products and waste wherever it is convenient. By providing recycling containers for office paper, newspaper, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, the University has recognized the need and benefits of reusing products that would otherwise inhabit landfills.
One important source of reusable products, however, is being neglected. During the last week of each term, many students move out of the dorms and discard prodigious amounts of otherwise reusable products.
Some of these items are inconvenient to move. Others have degraded to a point where the students don’t want them any more. The most convenient alternative is to throw them away in containers provided by the University for moving day. But among what is genuinely trash are items that some want and need.
It is because of the quality of what is being thrown away that many, including myself, go “Dumpster-diving.” Dozens of pieces of furniture, including chairs, sofas, couches, tables and lamps, are abandoned when they could be used by someone else, or donated to charitable organizations.
During this past finals week, my friends and I netted a valuable, but not atypical, bounty. We found a working TV-VCR combo, two leather club chairs with small tears, a 900-MHz cordless phone, a CD boombox, a 35-mm camera and several lamps and fans, all in working condition. We decided against taking several couches, mattresses, chairs, shelves, filing cabinets and a desk.
The availability of contents like these are so well-known that there can be a few teams of Dumpster-divers at each dorm competing for the goods. And the quality is so consistent that some people compile lists of desired items prior to embarking on their excursions. A friend of mine assembled a list of requests, and returned satisfying every one, including the unopened bottles of Nexxus conditioner and shampoo.
By providing waste containers for residence halls during the last week of class, the University demonstrates its knowledge of the amount and types of items that are being discarded. But instead of just providing trash bins, it could request that all usable goods be separated from the trash so that Goodwill, The Salvation Army, the Disabled American Veterans or any other charity could pick it up.
These organizations would likely perform this service without cost to the University, and with great benefits to their patrons. Another plan could have the Minnesota Student Association collect these goods and set up a showroom to sell them to raise money, perhaps for charity.
In addition, departments often throw out keyboards, monitors, office supplies and many other things that someone else could use. The University could encourage its departments and area businesses to be more considerate about their trash disposal.
For example, The State Capitol Credit Union recently moved from its Dinkytown location to Stadium Village, leaving behind office partitions, file cabinets and shelves that students or others could have found useful.
The University is being neglectful of property, charitable organizations and the environment. What is more unfortunate is that this neglect could be positively transformed without additional effort. Few of the University’s problems could be so easily alleviated.
Dan Maruska’s column will appear on Fridays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]