Gray clouds blanketed the sky and pelted the campus of the University of Puget Sound with rain. The grass of Todd Field was totally saturated.
Sounds like a perfect time and place to dig through the garbage.
James Vance, a facilities services manager, picked through eight large bags full of trash from one of the Tacoma school’s residence halls Thursday morning. He stood over a blue tarp and separated all the refuse into two piles – the kind that’s recyclable but wound up in the regular trash can and the kind that is destined for the landfill.
"We’re trying to bring attention to what can be recycled," he said. "I mean, there’s almost always a recycle bin right next to the trash can. Just throw it in there. Make that choice."
The “garbology” event is part of UPS’ Live Green Challenge, in which the entire student body is being asked to focus on sustainability. Vance will be back at Todd Field again at the end of the month with garbage bags from the same residence hall. Organizers hope to find fewer recyclables.
But Thursday’s exercise showed that they’ve got some work ahead of them. At times, it seemed about a third or more of the volume of trash could have been recycled: newspapers, beer cans, plastic containers.
The location of the display – Todd Field is located at the heart of campus and surrounded by the school’s residence halls – was meant to raise awareness as students walked past.
Katie McMillan, a 20-year-old junior, hadn’t heard about the exhibit. But she believes UPS is proactive about recycling – much more so than people in her home state, Minnesota.
"A lot of people think garbage is garbage, so they just throw everything in the trash," she said. "But there’s a green culture here. The sustainability program is huge. Every dorm room has a recycling bin. There are recycling bins all over campus and at big events."
Kristen Delwiche, an 18-year-old freshman, believes the display should encourage more to sort their trash properly.
"We need more education about what’s recyclable and what’s not," she said. "I’ve talked to a lot of people on my floor, and many are confused. I’m confused myself sometimes about what’s recyclable."
"But," she said as Vance moved a stack of newspapers to the recyclable pile, "papers seem pretty obvious."