UVa Dumpster Dive

What is especially satisfying it to bump into an organizer who has complimentary skill sets with another organizer.  So it is with Irena at Acorn.  She is good at staying on task, definitely one of my weaknesses.  We work together on several things, the Communities Conference, the mechanics of the Seed business and most recently on the UVa dumpster dive.

Irena kept pushing me to work with the gal who runs the sustainability program for UVa, and thus got us pre-qualified for Chuck It for Charity, which is UVa’s answer to the growing dumpster diving “problem” that they face at the end of the academic year.  But to understand this “problem” you need some back ground.

All the attire, courtesy of UVa dumpsters.

All the attire, courtesy of UVa dumpsters.

UVa is a large affluent school in Charlottesville, the nearest big city to Twin Oaks and Acorn.  The academic calendar is design so that the last day of exams is the day before all the students need to be out of their dorm rooms.  So of course all of the students carefully manage their time so that they get their studying done for their exams early enough so they can pack all their stuff in time for the move out deadline.  And if you believe this, you apparently never went to college.

Instead the students study non-stop right up until the exam, take the test and then try to pack everything in their dorm room in less than 24 hours.  This results in them simply throwing out a tremendous number of valuable things, from furniture to food to computer to my big find a couple years back, an entire unopened case of beer.  And with this wealth going into the dumpster it attracted a significant number of dumpster divers trying to salvage this stuff before it goes to the landfill.

We found no shirts with this emblem

We found no shirts with this emblem

For a few years (say 5 years back and earlier) things were pretty okay.  Students threw stuff out, dumpster divers rescued huge quantities of stuff and it was still wasteful, but on some level it worked.  For many years Twin Oaks would send several vans and a dozen members in to scavenge and rescue for the entire day.  We would then display them up at emerald city (our “industrial park”)  and dozens of members, many whom would not be comfortable jumping into a dumpster, would come and free shop the rescued treasure.

But then things shifted.  My story, which i have no evidence for, is someone in the legal department at UVa decided that some dumpster diver was going to get hurt and then sue the university and thus part of the campus housing division and campus safety’s responsibility should be stopping dumpster divers from getting stuff to protect the university from this liability.  As far as i know, no dumpster diver has ever sued a corporation, and certainly no judge has ever ruled in favor of a dumpster diver over the corporation which owned the dumpster.  But reality and logic are not driving forces in liability issues.

So Twin Oaks a few years back basically stopped doing the UVa dumpster dive after getting a crews stopped in the act too many times.  I was banned for UVa for a year at one point as part of one of the last runs.  But not to be scared off, Acorn (in large part because of Irena’s persistence and initiative) went this year as part of the Chuck it for Charity initiative.


It was fun and slightly surreal.  We went and signed up, and were told that what they did not want was for people sorting through bags of clothes and cherry picking what they wanted and leaving the rest behind.  Of course this is exactly what we wanted to do.  So we had part of our group working behind the building sorting the clothes we wanted to keep (which was a surprisingly large fraction) and then re-bundling them.  Then we returned the clothes we did not want to one of the approved Chuck it for Charity sites, with markings on the bags so we would not pick them again.

Turns out no one wants rugs, so we got a lot of them for the rave.  And micro wave ovens and full length mirrors and cubbies and lots of clothes.  It seemed to me like we were more interested in the stuff than any of the other charities, but perhaps they came after we left.

dumpster and bike

And some from our party were not going to be satisfied without getting into a real dumpster, so we went to one of the large dorm complexes.  Immediately got told we could not be in the dumpsters by someone from student housing, but lingered around more discreetly (much of our group looks like college students, especially after they have donned the clothes they were leaving behind) and got lots of food, including a number of cans of corn, which i was excited about.

In the end, it was a long, exhausting and quite rewarding day.