Does Garbology have the ability to capture the activities that people were doing, even if those activities are less than half a mile away from each other? To see if garbolog-ical methods have a fine enough resolution to distinguish between activities in different areas of the University of Washington campus, a group of us (Roger, Jacob, and myself) did a little dumpster diving (sort of).
We collected two different sets of trash from standalone (non-sorting) trash bins located at the southeast corner of the Burke Museum, and at the west facing edge of Thompson Hall. Both collections were in high pedestrian traffic areas and were not in close proximity to any sorting trash bins. Theoretically, that means the entirety of activities that were going on in the areas adjacent to the bins should be represented in the trash collections, and there should be no bias towards compostable, organics, or recyclable materials in either the Burke of Thompson trash sets.
The result of our snooping in other peoples trash paid off (but we thought it would, we had expectations after all that trash has no secrets). It turns out that garbology has a fine enough resolution to differentiate between activities that produce trash, even though the activities are occurring on the same campus. In the Burke collection there is clear evidence of off-campus food sources and café-related items being consumed, which is consistent with our expectation that the Burke trash bin will represent lunch-time activities from both the academic (students, faculty, staff) and general public (school and tour groups, museum visitors). The Thompson collection also demonstrated a reliance on portable food items and evidence of scholarly activities (book packaging), although the scholarly activities were in lower abundance than we expected. Illicit activities like alcohol consumption and smoking in a non-designated zone were clear in the Thompson collection, and this is probably because that trash bin faces a wooded garden where such activities could go on unnoticed. Interestingly, both bins had roughly equal amounts of organics, compostable and recyclable materials, suggesting that people use these specific trash bins out of convenience. The results tell us that people tend to misbehave near Thompson hall, and that putting sorting bins in these high traffic areas has the potential to divert a great deal of the trash that were observed in the two collections.