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Tales of a dumpster diver

Think before you throw away, think before you buy

By Lisa Nims
On April 18, 2013

After the final move-out at the end of last spring, I engaged in an activity that some people might find a bit radical. An unnamed accomplice and I jumped into the dumpsters between the Haggerty and Tyson buildings and rummaged through to find salvageable items. Much to my shock, we did not find ourselves waste deep in old salsa and yogurt containers. Instead we were cushioned and comfortable, surrounded by the castoffs of University of Portland students moving out in a hurry. I perched myself comfortably on a very clean mattress and rifled through the DVD players, mini fridges and bags of discarded papers from the previous term. Though I entered into this activity thinking I might find a few things to repurpose and keep from the landfill, I walked away disgusted, not by the trash in which I swam, but by the complete and utter lack of effort to keep ourselves from being a part of our throw away culture.

I always defend UP to my peers and dismiss the rumors that we are a rich and ignorant bunch. I brag of the different initiatives that we have in place to make our campus more environmentally conscious. I participate with pride in the different ways that we bring environmental issues to the forefront of conversations at our university. So where did we go wrong here? When did we drop our consciences and decide to chuck every perfectly usable item we own? When did we decide that we need to be a cog in the corporate machine that is the Targets and Wal-Marts of the world? The University of Portland that I have come to know and love over the past four years did not teach me this.

As you approach finals and the stressful process of moving out of the dorms or your off-campus houses, I urge you to brainstorm ways that you can keep from filling dumpsters and, eventually, landfills, with your unwanted goods. Remember that you have the power to decide where your stuff will end up. A few suggestions: have a yard sale, facilitate a "stuff swap" with your friends, donate to the Nicaragua Immersion Rummage Sale happening on Saturday, April 27, and most importantly, and a bit proactively, when you return to school next fall, don't buy things that you will end up throwing away at the end of the year. Our planet doesn't deserve to be treated with such disrespect.

Please know that this is coming from a person that considers herself a recovered part of this throwaway culture. I went to Target, I bought too many plastic tubs thinking I would need them in my dorm room, and I certainly envied those who had their own couches from Ikea. The thing that makes me the saddest is that I attribute much of my own reform to the University of Portland and the education that I have received here, not just in my classes, but from professors, peers, and people who constantly lead by example. So let's be that example and stop being part of this throwaway culture.

Lisa Nims is a senior social work major. She can be reached at

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