While Dumpster Diving may sound like the next best thing in extreme sports, it is actually a wake-up call for all consumers. It's also scary - not because of the risk involved in the "dive" but because of the fact that a majority of what is found in a typical trash bin can and should be recycled.
On Thursday, the SUNY Fredonia campus concluded its Earth Week celebration with several events including the Dumpster Dive outside of the Williams Center. Dozens of students who looked like they just left a Gallagher routine worked to sort through bag after bag of dorm room garbage in hopes of sorting trash from recyclable material.
"The first year 90 percent of what we sorted through was actually recyclable; the next year it was down to 80 percent; last year we were at 33 percent. ... I however do not believe it," Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry Sherri Mason said. "It seemed too dramatic one year and I expect this year's numbers to be higher because last year maybe we weren't sorting as well as we should have."
Chances are, last year's sorting wasn't as thorough as in years past because, Mason said, the event doubles as an educational opportunity for the students involved.
"My class, I teach Environmental Chemistry class for non-majors, and they have to do some type of service-learning project and this is one of the options," she said. "So it becomes a teaching tool for us as well."
The students didn't waver as they stared down uncertainty while tearing open trash bags filled with garbage from their fellow students.
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
(From left) SUNY Fredonia freshman Sarah Wilczek, junior Lash Mayes, and sophomore Lavie Donnell help to sort out trash from recyclable material along with more than a dozen fellow students on Thursday.
"The garbage is very disrespectful," sophomore Lavie Donnell said. "It is surprising. ... We hope to see an improvement next year, please!"
"A lot of cups and bags, a lot of food too," junior Jeremiah Blundon said as to what he was finding. "I bet 90 percent of it is probably all recyclable. It's actually pretty shocking; I'm not going to lie. Picking through it, it's kind of hard not to notice it now, but yeah it would be hard not to recycle at all."
Mason said once a semester she will actually collect the garbage cans from the back of her room and sort them in front of her class.
"After their initial look of shock, and it's disgusting because you'll find a lot of food and coffee so it gets dirty, but then I show them the amazing ability I have to wash my hands," she joked. "But what we find in doing that is most people aren't aware of everything they possibly can recycle. They know the obvious things, they know paper, but I don't people realize even their junk mail is recyclable."
For example, junk mail is an item that is recyclable, along with old milk cartons, juice containers, aluminum foil, and almost anything plastic; even fast-food cups can be recycled.
"I don't think people are aware of how much can be recycled," Mason said. "And I tend to err on the side of 'if you don't know just put it in the recycling bin.' It's better to try than to say 'well I don't know therefore I'm going to put it in the trash.'"
Mason gave a few interesting notes such as, from the amount of energy you save in recycling an aluminum can you can run your television for three hours; and that the United States alone throws out enough coffee cups every year to circle the entire globe eight times.
On Wednesday, a Dumpster Dive also took place in the Barker Common in downtown Fredonia. Eighty percent of what was found in the trash cans around Barker Common could be recycled, Mason said.
"It's why my daughter (Fran) and I are trying to get recycling containers in downtown. Over the summer businesses are going to start getting solicited from cute little 11-year-old girls so that we can get recycling containers," Mason said. "And then next year hopefully we go back, there's recycling bins there, and we see that the numbers decreased as a result."
Thursday was the last day of events on campus before students left for Good Friday. Events concluded in the evening with the last of Annie Leonard's films, "The Story of Bottled Water," which was followed by a panel discussion on a variety of water issues, including the controversial hydrofracking process.
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