You might mistake Elizabeth Rowe for a college student even though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, two years ago. Her first job after graduation – sustainability fellow in the college’s Center for Sustainability. At the Center she helps guide the college in their mission “to balance what the college takes from and returns to the world’s natural resources.”

M-PASS has been working in partnership with Agnes Scott since the college’s first audit in 2010.

This summer, while many students and recent graduates were sunning on beaches, Elizabeth and M-PASS’s Chris Witherspoon went “dumpster diving” behind the campus dining hall.

We asked staff writer Frances Kidd to talk to Elizabeth about her afternoon in the trash.

Frances: Well, the first question is WHY?
Elizabeth:  “When I asked a student intern to review their most recent audit report from M-PASS, I was concerned that the estimates were off because they seemed lower than they should have been. When I called Chris to ask about it, his response was “Let’s go look.”

Note: M-PASS does not charge extra for dumpster “dives.” They are part of the company’s regular client services – they  are always willing and able to assess the specific customer situation and evaluate if a new stream is introduced, or if the client can improve their separation process.

FK: And did you immediately agree?
ER: Immediately … but reluctantly. But when Chris said, “Normally we can get most information from the M-PASS audit process so we don’t have to get into the trash frequently. But — if you really want to know, we need to get down and dirty.” And I said, “Okay, let’s dive. If M-PASS is willing to get into the trash with us, I’m willing.”

FK: What happened when you got out there?
ER: Well, fortunately, I didn’t actually have to climb into the dumpster. We picked an afternoon just before a regular pick-up day so the dumpster would be full. Chris rummaged through the top layer to get a sense of what was in there. Then he pulled out a number of garbage bags and we spent the next hour or so pulling stuff out and laying it on a tarpaulin on the ground nearby so we could see what was there.

FK: What did you find?
ER: We did find some non-recyclable, non-compostable things mixed in with the regular trash. If wasn’t overwhelming, but we did learn that we need to continue to work closely with the personnel from our different departments. Often it’s as simple as a reminder to keep an eye on how their trash can be sorted.

FK: Was it just the two of you and that big dumpster?
ER: Actually, a few students and even a professor walked by and helped with the sorting for a while. The staff, faculty and students all support our recycling efforts. But I think they were amazed to see it in action that afternoon.

FK: A couple of final questions before we let you go: Were there any lingering effects from your efforts?
ER: I had food on me for sure. While I didn’t notice any smells, my boss gently suggested that I might want to leave early that day.

FK: And, would you dive in again?
ER: I would. And I probably will a few more times this year if I need to. Even though we have all the right practices in place, we have to continue to be vigilant to ensure we’re doing our best.

Our campus in downtown Decatur is very active – a lot of people live here, work and visit. So we need to make sure that we continue to educate new members of our community, because what we can’t recycle or compost goes to the Seminole Road Landfill in Ellenwood, Georgia. We really appreciate our partnership with M-PASS as they continue to help us keep down our contributions to the landfill.

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