Friday, June 1, 2012

How an influx of college students can change a neighborhood

by Karin Winegar

Ah, spring, when parents arrive to pick up their college children and decide which IKEA pieces to keep and which to toss in the trash.

I cruise down alleys this time of year, swerving to peek — almost but not quite without embarrassment — into dumpsters, poke into trash cans and prod boxes overflowing with what's being jettisoned. It could furnish a village, many villages, this torrent of unwanted student stuff.

Here are area rugs, futons and sofas, tables and bookcases, TVs large and small, bags and boxes of kitchen supplies (largely untouched) from spices to pasta. Here are bottles of shampoo and cleaning supplies (again, largely unused). Here I find usable furniture, bike helmets, oven mitts, kitchen knives, perfectly good pens, reams of paper that should at least be recycled if not used.



  1. I've heard reports of efforts at furniture recycling/collecting for donation to charity at some schools, some student-instituted, some institutional, most in the name of being "green" (rather than not acting like a poster child for everything that's wrong with the 1%, or maybe it's more like the 20% -- a more unsettling rationale).

    In my day, entrepreneurial students made a business of salvaging, storing, and reselling. But I don't think the volume of waste was quite so great then (the couch from home on which the college grad had once been nursed was probably genuinely readier for the landfill than the one bought from IKEA 2-4 years ago).

    And I really, really hope that any police force that uses public urination laws to control the homeless enforces them just as strictly against partying college students and young professionals. Mind you, I'm heartily in favor of all such enforcement (and become even more so as I navigate public spaces in hot, humid weather. Phew!)

  2. While in grad school, I learned that the best time to go dumpster diving in Chicago was just after spring finals. Luckily, I had a car, so I was able to score some pretty great stuff that rich kids just threw away.

    To quote my favorite comedian, the late Bill Hicks: "People suck, and that's my contention. I can prove it on scratch paper and a pen. Give me a fucking Etch-A-Sketch, I’ll do it in three minutes-- the proof, the fact, the factorum, I’ll show my work, case closed. I’m tired of all this backslapping, 'Aren’t humanity neat?' bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, OK? That's all we are."

  3. Most of my belongings have been taken from end-of-year abandonment piles. It started when I was piss poor my first year of grad school. Even now that I can afford nicer, cleaner things, I always get excited when I see a piece of furniture sitting on the curb.

    Of course, always keep in mind that every single tossed out couch or mattress is covered in the juices of one-night stands. A touch of vinegar or lemon juice and you're good.

    1. In recent years, bedbugs, which hide in the cracks of hard furniture as well as in upholstery, have become a significant concern. They're hard to eradicate, but I believe heat does them in. At this time of year, those with access to a sunny outdoor space might be able to bring small objects to the necessary temperature using clear plastic and solar energy. If I actually saw any bugs or traces thereof, I'd simply leave the piece, but the solar treatment might work as a precaution against eggs or hidden critters.

      Of course, a pile of furniture that appears at this time of year is less likely to be infested than one that appears at a time of year when fewer people are making long-distance moves (or simply trying to consolidate their lives back into childhood bedrooms and/or parents' basements).

      Still, I'd exercise caution. Bedbug eradication is difficult, and expensive.

  4. I'd have any graduate who threw away good food or furniture shot.

    In the head.

    At point-blank range.

    How you leave college counts as much as how you entered and what you did there.

  5. I actually got a lecture from the police for dumpster diving (really just perusing the dumpsters), as they are on private property and not meant for me to take from- even though I lived there at the time.

  6. This conversation reminds me of agricultural gleaners


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