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UW Garbology Project

Spring 2013
Supervisor: Jack Johnson


Trash expresses multiple dimensions of our everyday existence, yet its presence is often willfully ignored by society and its composition rarely examined within academic circles. The UW Garbology Project is the only student-run organization able and willing to have a crucial conversation about current understandings and practices of waste on campus. Joining its troop of volunteers helps me contribute my time and energy to a project that advocates richer understandings of discard habits and more sustainable waste management practices within the UW - beliefs that I hold. I will be sorting and classifying waste as part of a case study that will inform policies encouraging the diverting of UW's compostable waste away from landfills.

Responsibilities and motivations

As a student volunteer, I will be participating in UWGP's Denny Hall case study, a contemporary archaeological research project that aims to measure the composting efficiency of two new solid waste management strategies. Data collected from this study will hopefully facilitate campus-wide implementation of the strategies. My primary responsibilities as a volunteer include sorting, classifying, and analyzing Denny Hall's waste stream before and after the implementation of the two-pronged strategies: providing indoor composting bins throughout the building and introducing the composting of restroom paper towels. I will also be contributing insights gleaned on the job to the student-authored UWGP blog on a weekly basis.

My interest in rubbish was born out of several things: an independent research project on waste-based livelihoods in Mexico City, multiple dumpster-diving outings with friends, my job at the UW Libraries' Facilities Dept. picking/cleaning up after patrons, and the many sitting-up nights I've spent reading the broad constellation of anthropological scholarship on waste. Getting involved in the UWGP is a natural extension of what I'm interested in doing - study trash. This opportunity will continue to enrich my toolbox of knowledge and lived experiences around discard practices, ie. through the learning of methodologies for quantitatively analyzing waste, practices for safe sorting of trash, throwaway habits of specific UW communities, etc. 

What I hope to gain and give

Garbologist extraordinaire Bill Rathje observes that 'to understand garbage, you have to touch it, feel it, sort it, smell it'. Volunteering with UWGP - being in real contact with trash in all its unloveliness and unspeakable glory - allows me to better tend to the praxis part of my learning around the subject of waste. On a broader scale, I believe that exploring new hands-on experiences and new mental environments improves synaptic flexibility and helps me lead a more meaningful and varied student life. Doing my experiential learning project in partnership with the UWGP will assist me in achieving those goals. I also look forward to building close rapport with Jack and other volunteers who share my curiosity and fascination for waste.

Currently, at least 60% of what UW sends to landfills is compostable. Given that composting is cheaper per ton of waste than landfilling, campus-wide initiatives that target more effective composting will help the university save money on waste management. My sustained engagement in this project, alongside that of other volunteers, will support its immediate goal of laying the quantitative groundwork on which UW Recycling policies that make sound economic and environmental sense can be formulated.

Subpages (1): A Place at the Table