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Dumpster Diving 101

SLIM’s pickin’s turn trash into treasure.

August 4, 2011
Melanie Stephens

Maui’s first dumpster dive was held on the morning of July 13. Despite heat, sun and smells, eight volunteers, including myself, arrived to tear into 4.5 yards, or approximately 400 pounds, of accumulated trash from the UHMC campus. Our goal was to determine how much of what was disposed of as waste could actually be recycled, composted or reused. The material would no longer be discarded as waste, but instead classified as a resource, magically transforming trash to treasure.

First, Starcher set up containers for recyclables on a tarp, so the mysterious contents of the black trash bags could be sorted.

Maui Disposal Company kindly provided some of the containers and overturned the dumpster to save us from having to actually dive into the receptacles.

Article Photos

SLIM Executive Director Jennifer Chirico and SLIM intern Brenda Starcher (not pictured) are helping to begin the Zero Waste initiative recently adopted by UH Maui College.

Starcher instructed us to sort into the categories that are presently possible to recycle on Maui—HI5 cans and bottles, plastic bottles and jars with necks, glass, newspaper, mixed paper, magazines, cardboard, pressed board and bi-metal cans. She also told us to separate out food scraps, paper and cardboard that could be composted, such as napkins, paper towels, and compostable food and beverage containers.

Finally, we sorted out Styrofoam and any plastics stamped with the recycling triangle, which indicates they are recyclable (in some U.S. municipalities). If the trash looked like it came from a bathroom, it was automatically discarded as trash.

After sorting, every category was weighed.

Chirico’s first venture into a plastic bag prompted an “Ew, we have our work cut out for us!” But by the end of the three hours, everyone stopped noticing the smell of fermented garbage.

Rhonda Barut, an instructor in the UHMC Business Department, laughed at the first occurrence of what she called “wild rice”—little, wiggly, rice-shaped maggots. Even these didn’t stop us from completing our task.

UHMC student Marvin Laurel found the actual process of recycling easy. “Why wouldn’t anybody recycle?” he asked.

Kamehameha Schools junior Stephen Barut said this event made him “way more aware. If you sort ahead of time, instead of what we’re doing, it’s not even hard. I could show my classmates how to do it, no problem.”

Starcher’s final breakdown of the 400 pounds of original ‘trash’ was a shocker. Fifty-nine percent was actually materials that could be recycled, 26 percent was compostable and only 15 percent was actual trash.

In poundage, the 59 percent, or approximately 236 pounds, of recyclable “resources” were comprised of 181 pounds of mixed paper; 9 pounds of magazines; 7 pounds of newspaper, paperboard and paper bags; 20 pounds of cardboard; 2 pounds of bi-metal; 3 pounds of HI5 containers; and finally, 7 pounds of plastics with a recycle triangle that could be recycled elsewhere.

Compostable materials weighed in at a bit over 100 pounds.

Of the 15 percent of trash weighing nearly 60 pounds, Styrofoam weighed 3 pounds, random plastic came to 18 pounds, hazardous waste weighed in at 13 pounds, and plain old trash, 21 pounds.

Not only is UHMC Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto a staunch supporter of the Zero Waste effort, UHMC Physical Plant Manager Robert Burton is an important member of the Zero Waste team.

“Maintenance personnel must be on board to make this happen,” said Chirico. “Robert has been behind this from the start, and he’s great to be in partnership with for this challenge.”

Marjorie Bonar, perhaps the most enthusiastic volunteer, is a member of the Outdoor Circle and a “waste junkie,” as were several of the others in attendance. Bonar was a prime mover and shaker for the plastic bag ban. Her next target is Styrofoam, so she took particular interest in the two bags of food containers that were discarded.

After pulling out a fourth giant Jamba Juice cup, Bonar wondered whether people were aware of the steady increase in ocean debris swirling in our Pacific Ocean and the bird kills and dangerous bacteria that rise along with it.

“In the end, it’s not the big pieces of plastic and Styrofoam that will kill you, it’s the tiny bits,” Bonar explained.

Chirico added that marine debris do break down, “and when it does, it releases all those toxins into the ocean.”

Both Bonar and Chirico warned of cholera and other diseases, as well as bacteria harmful to living creatures. They and others in the group expressed concerns about future generations.

“We have to be respectful and responsible to our island,” said Rhonda. “We’ve got to model recycling and composting for the keiki to prepare them for a better future.”



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