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University's of Akron's 'Trash Class' has students dumpster diving to learn about sustainability

Trash Class
Posted at 5:41 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 18:30:43-05

AKRON, Ohio — The unassuming brick building on the edge of the University of Akron's campus is home to the newest class at the school.

"When you're sorting the bags, sometimes there's a bunch of water and nonsense collected up on here," said Katy Walker.

Four students layered up and started digging - through two huge dumpsters full of student sludge. They looked through trash in the student dining hall from just one 24-hour period.

"That's our biggest hope is, find methods for some of this material not to end up filling up landfills," said Lisa Beiswenger.

The visiting anthropology professor focuses on food insecurity and food waste. She sees the class as a way for students to get down and dirty with learning.

"It gives the students the opportunity to really see the scope of waste here at the University of Akron and, really, across the country," she said.

For these students, the class offers something non-traditional. Not held in a normal classroom, the credit is a flexible general education credit. Any major can take these "unclasses" offered at the university.

And students in this class aren't just looking at what other people toss.

"I've been trying to figure out how to compost," said Walker. "One of our first assignments we did in the class was take pictures of our own garbage over a long weekend and analyze it."

Walker said she was interested in this class because she is trying to live as waste-free as possible.

The university's website shows other "unclasses" available that may not be as messy. Students can explore classes ranging from a documentary class to an urban bio-justice focus.

"This is just a snapshot of everything that is happening everywhere," Beiswenger said. "It gives them an opportunity to see it in action and come up with ideas for how things can change for the future."

When the semester is over, what the students learned will be presented in an effort to improve things on campus.

Right now, all university residence halls have recycling bins and, the school said, when students move out, they are encouraged to recycle.

The school has been recognized for being zero waste during its game days.

For Beiswenger, the one word to describe the piles of trash may be used a lot, but she wants it to drive home a point.

"We keep using the word 'waste' because we keep seeing things that could have ended up, in an ideal world, feeding people who need it," she said.