Talkin’ trash

Mar 092011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

I walk out of my late morning class and head toward University Avenue right between Clark and the Computer Science building.

I enter the small corral temporarily fenced-off with plastic barriers where trash bags are piled up in a huge, foul-smelling heap. Stepping onto the tarp, I slowly and deliberately pull the blue latex gloves onto my hands.

At first glance, some of the bags seem better than the others. I’ll admit to trying to grab a bag that looks a little less horrifying to go through. Clearly seeing several plastic bottles and aluminum cans in one bag, I tear it open and start sorting through its contents.

No, I wasn’t convicted of a petty offense and sentenced to community service. I, along with about 40 other volunteers, actually chose to be elbow deep in CSU’s garbage for the afternoon.

The reason? The annual trash audit is underway at CSU. The audit, just one part of RecycleMania 2011, includes 630 universities and colleges from 49 states, Canada, the United Kingdom and Qatar competing to see which campus can recycle the highest portion of its waste.

Standing next to the pile of garbage are three rows of large blue containers, each row consisting of separate bins marked for mixed recyclables, food waste and compostable materials, and trash. I’m shocked by how quickly the bins are filled as volunteers scramble to empty their contents in order to start the process all over again.

In one bag, I find two heads of lettuce, half a dozen apples, three oranges and a cucumber, all in pristine condition. In another, there are three, one-gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled to the brim with chocolate chip cookies. The produce and cookies look absolutely flawless and would be tempting had I not just pulled them out of a bag full of garbage.

My empty stomach isn’t aware of the ongoing cognitive dissonance taking place inside my head and stubbornly growls at the sight of much of the perfect-looking food that I tossed in the compost bin.

Then, the inappropriate hunger pangs quickly subside after I open the next bag. Someone –– in my mind I instantly blame a freshman imbibing during an overzealous weekend celebration –– emptied the contents of their stomach into this bag.

Despite gagging a few times from the putrescence of the trash I’m sorting, the end of my volunteer shift comes rather quickly. Tip-toeing around the smattering of used condoms on the ground, I head for the plastic gate and exit the barrier on the way to my next class.

Now that I’m sitting in my classroom, I’m starting to worry that the stench might have followed me. No one seems to notice, and my class is soon over. I head for the exits and watch as a girl in sweat pants drops her plastic bottle into a trash can … right next to a recycle bin.

Should I say something to her? I just spent the last hour digging through garbage with the hopes of salvaging recyclable and compostable waste, and this girl can’t even put forth the modicum of effort it takes to drop her trash in the appropriate place.

Instead of speaking up, I stop and pull the bottle out of the trash while wondering if she can feel the scathing look that my eyes are boring into the back of her head.

What alleviates my annoyance is the realization that, here at CSU, we do a pretty good job of recycling. For example, we recycled 52 percent of our waste on campus during last year’s RecycleMania.

Clearly though, there’s room for improvement. During this year’s audit, 28 percent of the 2,000 pounds of trash we sorted was recyclable material, 33 percent was compostable, and only 39 percent was true trash.

Instead of chastising the girl, I simply drop the bottle into the recycle bin and hope my classmates will practice this simple act along with me. That, and I hope that before they throw away perfectly good cookies in the future, they’ll consider donating them to a hungry journalist.

Joe Vajgrt is a junior journalism major with a delicate gag reflex. His column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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