What and where(and when?) we consume

As archaeology students it should be of little or no surprise that what is thrown away can say more about how people live than the objects that are kept and used, and that is even more true in our current consumerist culture. These disposable objects help highlight how certain categories of food and drink items are consumed depending on the activities that are occurring in the area where they are disposed.

Our group, consisting of Roger, Lauryl and myself, decided to look at two high traffic areas with what we believed to be vastly different use profiles. The first, Thompson Hall is located on a prime thoroughfare with the HUB on one end, and the Quad on the other. The second location, the Burke Museum Café is also a high traffic area due simply to it being at the museum as well as the easy access to the Ave. Each receptacle location, at least theoretically, would have different types of users due to their locations on campus: Thompson Hall would receive more ‘mobile’ food packaging, snack food and coffee, as well as some more illicit materials, while the Burke Café would see a wider spectrum of trash with evidence of tour groups and families. Not surprisingly this was exactly what our group found during the investigation, as our samples were chosen due to our knowledge of the campus and general use patterns.

As with all research there is one caveat. Our trash was collected in the late morning and early afternoon, meaning there would be a bias towards breakfast and lunch activities. Without knowing the emptying schedules of the bins, it is impossible to determine if there is activity from later in the day and evening that is not represented in the samples we collected. Along this same line of reasoning, there may also be a visible difference in the types and amounts of trash disposed of in outdoor and indoor receptacles depending on the season in which a sample was collected.

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