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Talking Trash in class

December 1, 2008

Students talk trash in recycling class

It was all trash talk last month in Claire Todd’s natural resources class. In two rounds of classes last month, Todd, a visiting assistant geosciences professor, had her students sort through a mound of trash laid out on the table in the Rieke Science Center. Generally, the pile represented about six hours of trash that had been collected at the center that day. In this case, Nov. 17 and 19.The students’ mission: sort the trash, talk about the trash and figure out how much of it could have been recycled or composted. They also had to figure out the latent energy content of the trash, say if it were burned.

The goal of the trash sort, which has been a regular feature of this class for about a decade, is to put the students on notice on just how much trash doesn’t need to end up at the landfill, said Barbara McConathy, PLU’s environmental services coordinator.

“I think I want students to know that every bottle helps,” McConathy said of what she hopes students will take away from the class. “Everything you put in the recycling bin will help PLU reach its 80 percent recycling goal. (Set for 2010).”

Currently, the campus recycles 70 percent of its trash.

If the major buildings on campus would reduce the amount of trash thrown in the dumpster by just three totes a week (each tote represents about 90 gallons of trash), the university could save $6,000.

But the students seemed less interested in what they could save the university and much more interested in getting down and dirty in the trash (after donning thick leather gloves of course). Comments before the sort ranged from “I don’t like the looks of this lab,” to “eew,” to “Oh great, this is one of my favorites.”

The students even learned a few things during the sort. Yes, paper that has been stained by food can be composted. You can recycle milk cartons and potato chip bags. You can’t recycle plastic bottle caps or plastic forks. McConathy also reminded students to think about donating or recycling their food to food banks before they leave for the holidays. And before they leave the school entirely, think about recycling clothes or furniture they don’t want or need.

Afterward, McConathy said this was one of the best classes she’d ever had. They didn’t seem to mind getting their hands dirty, she said.

And the students seemed to connect with the sort.

Connie Braun, a sophomore and geosciences major, said she was surprised by “all the stuff that is recyclable.”

Branden Tipton, a freshman who lives in Pflueger Hall, thought there would be more glass in the sort (there were no bottles in his batch.) Tipton said he never recycled at home, but since he’s arrived at PLU, it’s become a habit.

Although oddly enough, he’s heard stories that his grandparents did recycle, quite a lot.

“They had seven kids and they were dirt poor,” he said. “They had to find aluminum cans to recycle so they could have money for food.”

Trash by the numbers at PLU

Goal: The university has a goal to recycle 80 percent of its waste by 2010. Currently, the university recycles 70 percent of its trash.

Paper: From June through October, the university recycled 104,980 lbs of paper.

All garbage, everywhere: Between June and October of this year, the total trash output was 169,837 lbs. The total weight of all recyclables diverted from the landfill was 117,407 lbs.