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RIT students hope to open eyes with mountain of trash

RIT students sort through waste near Gordon Field House
Beth Adams/WXXI News
RIT students sort through waste near Gordon Field House

The sun was shining for the first time in a few days on Wednesday as a small group of students gathered near the athletic field on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta. 

But they weren't socializing.  They were up to their elbows in trash.

"It's not the most flattering task," said Keira Higgins, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student and member of the group Engineers for a Sustainable World.

That organization and members of student government got a head start on Earth Day by launching a waste awareness campaign.

Higgins and about five or six other students wore protective gloves as they weighed and separated trash from around campus that was destined for a landfill: partially empty food containers, a banana peel, paper -- and a lot of plastic.

"This represents about 30 percent of waste on campus," Higgins said. "It's really just a teaser of the amount of waste that we really do produce."

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By late morning, the effort was just underway, so the pile wasn't all that impressive. But Higgins was hoping a mountain of trash would eventually accumulate on the plastic tarps they had set up.

"We did want the wow factor to be blatantly visual," said Higgins, "that students can see this waste that came from campus. They can recognize some of the waste that's showing up here, and start to make connections to what they can do."

Caroline Cody was sorting through some piles of garbage, deciding if it was recyclable, recyclable but contaminated, compostable waste, or actual trash.

She was also hoping to open a few eyes.

"People don't know what they can recycle," she said, "and a lot of places on campus have a lot of plastic that we shouldn't be using as much of."

During Earth Week, which starts Sunday, April 22, students from the two groups will be suggesting ways for others to get involved in reducing waste on campus.  They also planned to create a video of Wednesday's event.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.