Project rescues good stuff from garbage bins
Published: May 21, 2007 | 6257th good news item since 2003
An old saying claims one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Years ago residence hall officials at Chico State University recognized a lot of what students threw away absolutely was treasure.
Before 2000, university staff working in the campus dorms discovered students leaving for home at the end of spring semester were dumping an astonishing array of useful and even valuable items in the trash.
Luisa Garza, lead groundsworker in the Chico State residence halls, said her staff was seeing “good computers, working stereos, working televisions” as well as clothing, bedding, nonperishable food, and a host of toys, stuffed animals and other electronic gadgets, end up in garbage bins at the end of the semester.
The students were dumping the stuff, not because they thought it was worthless, but because they were headed home, often several in a single car, and there was just no room for all their possessions, she explained.
In 2000, the residence halls staff and the Chico State Associated Students Recycling launched a joint project dubbed the “Diversion Excursion.”
The goal, according to AS Recycling Director Robin DiFalco, was to divert as much as possible of this “mountain of stuff” away from the Neal Road Landfill and into the hands of people who can use it.
The phrase “mountain of stuff” is no exaggeration. Up to 2005, according to DiFalco, she and Garza were estimating the annual collection at about 10,000 pounds.
However, last year Garza arranged with a local business to have the truckloads accurately weighed. The total came to an astonishing 15,145 pounds.
The collected items are sorted and then distributed to five different charities. Computers, for example, are handed off to Computers in the Classroom, which refurbishes or recycles the machines for parts, and then the computers are placed in local schools.
Nonperishable foods, as well as household cleaning products, bottles of shampoo and other such items, are made available to homeless shelters.
Garza said about 100 student volunteers work collection tables at 13 different locations at the various residence halls.
The real value of the electronics, computers, televisions and other items is a powerful temptation for the volunteers.
However, it is a temptation they have to overcome, at least mostly.
“They take a small percentage, a little bit of food, or some soap, or a little trinket,” explained Garza.
“We do have limits on it,” she continued.
Nobody can take anything with a value of $20 or more, but a backpack full of food, a small toy or electronic gadget is allowed.
Despite the success of the program and the much increased awareness of the need to reuse and recycle, Garza said there are still students who will carry things right by the collection tables, to chuck the valuables into the trash.
DiFalco said the recognition of what is being dumped has an impact on the student volunteers.
“It hits home. This stuff is good. Why throw it away?” she said.
Not everything that is turned in leaves campus.
Binders and partially used notebooks are collected, according DiFalco. Then a group of developmentally disabled high school kids rip out the used pages. The notebooks and binders are then made available in the fall on a “free stuff” table outside of the AS Recycling Office in the basement of the Bell Memorial Union.
Bikes that come in during the Diversion Excursion are collected by the Associated Students Adventure Outings.
Adventure Outings runs and organizes outdoor of trips and activities for students. The organization refurbishes the collected bicycles, which it then auctions, and proceeds are used to cover the costs of trips for Chico State students who couldn’t otherwise afford to take part.
Garza expects this year’s installment of the collection, which began Thursday and will run through today will be the biggest ever.
She said the advertising for Diversion Excursion has been so effective this year that, “I’m reaching for 20,000 (pounds).”
Besides the benefit of collecting reusable items for charity, the annual campus project also helps the university conform to a state mandate to reduce its total trash output. Each pound of items that is recovered is deducted from the rest of the campus waste stream total, according to DiFalco.