Student culture has somehow become more than complicit, but massively generative of waste.

After the close of each semester at Berkeley, and at universities and colleges across California and across the country, students expel numerous perfectly usable things in campus- or city-sponsored receptacles.

At the close of each term, I like to spend some time taking a look, and recovering usable things. This spring I invited many friends to join me.

  • First, diving is an audit–an examination of the kinds of things many of us write off as “garbage” and throw away without a thought or care.
  • Second, a practice (cultural, social, etc), which includes the production of various skills, lessons, hazards, and benefits.
  • Third, a demystifying performance of visibility as challenge to the notion that a dumpster or waste bin is somehow inherently inaccessible–it’s contents irrecoverable, lost to disgust. Bacterial and vermin concerns are real, but there are ways to operate around these–especially, for example, if the waste is freshly dumped or bagged separately. On the other hand, nothing in one of these dumpsters can be much worse than your average BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) seat.
  • Fourth, a material recovery of large quantities of functional, reusable or edible stuffs. From furniture to electronics, clothing to sealed food, the list goes on of all the things we have recovered in just over a handful of hours on a few days this week. A good number of things were removed from their dumpsters and placed on the street, where they have all been picked up instead of thrown back in.

This foray has not the scope to deal with issues (or contradictions) of recycling–or even responsible disposal of items like batteries, electronics, and other hazardous waste. These issues are all open to be dealt with at the local, state, national, and global level.