The Trash Blog

Campus Move-Out Waste

May 3, 2014 was the last day of finals for undergraduates at Duke University. The students leave for the summer to pursue internships, summer jobs, and travel. But before they go, everyone has to move out of their dorm room. Parents, siblings and friends descend on the campus to help pack. It is a frenzied period of time.

These dumpsters were filled almost daily with a mix of garbage and perfectly useful furniture and other dorm-life accessories.

These dumpsters were filled almost daily with a mix of garbage and perfectly useful furniture and other dorm-life accessories.

I decided to pay campus a visit to see what was going on. Without putting too much effort into digging through the mountains of black bags Duke students had piled into and around the dumpsters, I was able to find several small refrigerators, countless floor and desk lamps, unused notebooks, a coffee table, a wholesale-sized package of q-tips, a small couch, two microwaves, a printer, an endless supply of hangers, more than forty waste baskets, a coffeemaker, and enough unopened food packages to feed a nice crowd. This was on one visit.

I visited four different dumpsters that were close to overflowing. When I came back the next day, they had all been emptied and were on their way to being full again.

I visited four different dumpsters that were close to overflowing. When I came back the next day, they had all been emptied and were on their way to being full again.

I am stumbling over my own words as I try to describe the pointless waste of useful things. Perhaps theĀ  items that spoke most profoundly from their undeserving place in the garbage were the unopened bottles of beer I found beneath an ironing board. Where else in the world could you find unopened bottles of alcohol thrown into the trash?

I met two ladies who were looking for useable stuff. This lucky lady is holding up twelve unopened boxes of matches.

I met two ladies who were looking for useable stuff. This lucky lady is holding up twelve unopened boxes of matches.

As I was documenting this tragedy (and rescuing the beer), a nice security guard told me that I could not remove anything from the dumpsters. When I told him that I just wanted to take pictures, he said that was also unacceptable and that I would need to leave immediately.

This luckier lady found a bottle of wine.

This luckier lady found a bottle of wine.

In explaining why I wanted to take pictures, we got to talking about the waste that was occurring. The guard informed me that all Duke staff were strictly forbidden from collecting any of the useful items being thrown into the dumpsters. Indeed, he thought that one staff member may have lost their job that very day for putting a lamp he found in his car.

If my interests were more anthropological

This pile was rescued from the dumpster by the two ladies pictured above: they found a great orange laundry bag, several waste baskets, a metal water bottle, lots of mostly full shampoos and other hygiene products, several lamps, an unopened box of Kleenex, a wholesale-sized package of Ramen, several towels, a shower curtain, and an unopened box of condemns, among many other things. If my interests were more anthropological, I bet I could create a pretty accurate study of student life.

The guard also explained to me that Duke hired extra security guards during move-out to make sure that nobody dug through the dumpsters and took the useful items. He surmised that Duke was concerned about their liability should someone get hurt digging through the trash.

There was a very large sign on this dumpster that said "No Cardboard." This can only lead me to believe that the caliber of Duke's education has gone down some: apparently the student body has trouble with literacy.

There was a very large sign on this dumpster that said “No Cardboard.” This can only lead me to believe that the caliber of Duke’s education has gone down: apparently the student body has trouble with literacy.

Duke’s Sustainability Office had a Twitter post that linked to an article in Duke Today about ways students could donate their unwanted items. They listed more than ten locations across campus where students could drop-off unwanted items. My best guesses here are that not very many Duke students use Twitter or that the student-body simply doesn’t give a shit.

I called Arwen Buchholtz, the staff contact listed on the article, to ask why students would be so wasteful when there are classes being taught at Duke with titles like The Theory and Practice of Sustainability (ENV 245) and Denial, Faith and Reason: Sustainability and Survival (ECON 285).

This seemed to be something that confused many students: just because it's called a trash can, doesn't mean you actually put the can in the trash. I found at least forty or fifty plastic waste bins like this one.

This seemed to be something that confused many students: just because it’s called a trash can, doesn’t mean you actually put the can in the trash. I found at least forty or fifty plastic waste bins like this one.

Arwen told me that Duke’s administration has been working to address the waste that occurs around move-out for some time. She thinks they are making progress. Duke even pays a local charity to collect the unwanted items Duke students dump in hallways and common areas (to avoid fees for leaving things in their rooms).

This is a case where I think the administration has done a lot to avoid waste. It couldn’t be much easier for students to avoid garbaging so much perfectly good stuff, no matter how frantic they are. The blame (and shame) belongs with the students. So, dear Dukies, while you are busy saving the world this summer, don’t rest too easily on your laurels–you left a mess back home.

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This entry was written by Philip and published on May 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm. It’s filed under Materialism, Re-Use and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Campus Move-Out Waste

  1. Ouch. Now that ought to generate a bit of feedback. I think you got it right with regard to where the fault lies.

  2. cjwild2014 on said:

    so maddening! What the hell is wrong with these people?

  3. cjwild2014 on said:

    I think you should put a link to this post on Duke’s FB page…shame them a little bit.

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