Garbology lab: wherein I reveal my judgmental tendencies

Garbology is the study of modern trash. In my own opinion, archaeology and garbology are basically the same thing; archaeologists look at past material culture (making general statements here) and garbologists look at modern material culture. Much of what archaeologists find is in fact the trash of ancient people.

This week for our lab, my team and I studied two bags of trash from the UW campus. One bag was taken from Denny Hall, and one was taken from the Physics building. While sorting and recording the piles of garbage from each bag, we took a few minutes with every new handful and tried to analyze where it came from, who threw it away, and why they threw it away.  Because it was relatively early in the day (around 10:30am) when we collected the trash, there were several breakfast-related food and drink items, especially in the form of coffee or tea from Starbucks.

At first, I was inclined to make assumptions about those people who had bought Starbucks; they had bought their morning drinks, and brought them to school, finishing as they entered the buildings (both trash bins were located near main entrances to the buildings). I tend to think a certain way about people who bring Starbucks to campus:

1. They are most likely female.

2. They must live near campus, to have to time to wait in a long and slow line just to get coffee. Or they arrive ridiculously early. Or they are late to class (I tend to see that fairly often, students who arrive late just so happen to have Starbucks in their hand).

3. They have money to waste on a 4-6 dollar cup of coffee.

Being the judgmental female that I am, these are the things that I automatically assume when glancing at the large amount of Starbucks cups in the trash (most of which were compostable!) However, I also realize that these assumptions I make are mostly likely wrong (as the popular saying goes, “when you assume, you make an a** out of u and me”). When I sit down and really think about it, I know very well that the coffee in the garbage cans could have come from any person, male or female, young or old, professor or student, and that my other automatic assumptions are likely just as off as the first.

Garbology is a wonderful field, with so much potential and so many real world applications. But it is also important to know that what you see in the garbage, from the past or present, cannot tell you for certain and without a doubt the details of someone’s life, actions, and ideals.

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