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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Don’t throw out that TV!

    One starry night almost exactly a year ago, three hooded college students tiptoed into the night, clutching large black garbage bags in their hands.

    But these garbage bags were not to be thrown into the trash; they were to be filled with it.

    While for many students the final days of the semester mark the onset of testing season, for dozens of entrepreneurial trash-sifters, finals are prime time for dumpster-diving. Each year, at semester’s closing, dozens of dumpster-divers meet in muted silence inside the green bins outside of UA residence halls to glean valuable goods from students’ waste. The practice is illegal, punishable as a misdemeanor, but the bountiful trash-heap harvest is a luring incentive.

    Hearing about the glorious finds of semesters past, a friend of mine ventured out last year during the wee hours of the morning on a sojourn for stuff. The bounty was incredible: three microwaves, two color TVs, a Playstation 2, a stereo with speakers, three desk lamps, a telephone, filing cabinets, backpacks, a futon … the list goes on and on.

    Waste of dorm wares is not surprising. Because on-campus housing requires students to move out immediately after finals, most students throw out their goods rather than pay fees to transport or store them until the next year. The combined value of the discarded lamps, furniture and other dorm stuff is enormous, but the marginal return to students renders selling dorm wares an unprofitable option. Even donating goods can be too much of a hassle for students, as untold numbers of trashed treasures indicate.

    This is not because of a lack of recycling options. According to Liz Zavodsky, Coordinator of Sustainability Education at the UA, Residence Life “”offers donation bins in the lobby of each hall for … clothes, shoes, books, food, furniture, electronics, school/office supplies.”” These bins benefit local charities such as Salvation Army and WorldCare. In 2006, students donated 16.315 tons of goods. In 2007, the amount increased to 20.081 tons, including over 100 microwaves. Yet despite donation options, Zavodsky admits that there is still a lot of waste at the end of each year.

    The UA is certainly not alone, though, in its dorm detritus. According to a study at Tufts University, solid waste in April and May spiked by more than 50 tons above the average. Waste and its accompanying harvesters at New York University were chronicled last year in a New York Times article (“”Not Buying It””).

    The amount of discarded goods at the end of the year is unusual given the thriving recycling community at the UA and in Tucson. Our university has an award-winning recycling program, diverting over 14.4 percent of recyclable waste. While this is lower than the 22 percent national collegiate average, the number has been growing over the last three years, thanks to a concerted effort by Campus Sustainability and Residence Life to provide widespread access to recycling bins.

    Our old Pueblo is also a hotbed of recycling activity. One example is Freecycle.org, a Tucson-born organization dedicated to promoting the free exchange of unwanted goods. The organization allows members to post unwanted goods online with listings similar to Craigslist, and other members can freely pick them up. Freecycle has grown into a global network with groups in over 80 countries and over 5 million members.

    But donation bins and recycling efforts still fail to solve an underlying problem in campus consumption: a disconnect between springtime supply of unwanted dorm goods and fall demand. To try to meet this problem,

    Residence Life is partnering with the UofA Bookstore to collect and sell furniture and electronics at the end of May. These efforts, however, will not eliminate the unnecessary and redundant consumption that takes place after each summer. Each fall, thousands of new residents buy nearly identical shelves, lamps and cabinets to replace the ones that sat in the dorms just three months before. The recycling challenge is to connect the supply of these unwanted goods in May with August demand.

    A program could be implemented that offered incentives to students who recycle. Students could “”sell”” or donate goods to a UA organization for credit points. The organization could arrange a drop-off point or pick up goods throughout campus. The goods could be stored over the summer and sold in a “”rummage sale”” type of event at the beginning of the school year to new residents. Students could redeem credit points or use cash to buy the used goods.

    Programs similar to this have been implemented across the country. Colby College in Maine runs a program called RESCUE, Vassar College in New York offers SWAPR and the University of Richmond partners with Dump & Run, a nonprofit promoting university recycling, to run a similar move-out program.

    The message in all of these programs is the same: Student waste and consumption can be reduced by a bit of student concern and administrative coordination. Even though a program doesn’t yet exist to help reduce dorm consumption, students must still take the initiative to keep re-usable goods out of the trash. Do your part: Don’t throw out your TV! Donate it.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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