The dozen or so bags looked lonely and adrift in the vast space, and dirt and ash coated most of them. But this was prime Dumpster-diving territory: a huge bin by an upper-class dorm at Carnegie Mellon University, just days before the term's end and graduation.
"People throw out really good stuff," says Lisa Ann Pinkerton, freelance radio reporter for WYEP's environmental show, Allegheny Front and a CMU alum. She's been gleaning graduates' garbage for several years. If the pickings in 2005 are a true economic indicator, the country isn't doing too badly. Not as well as the year Pinkerton and companions found an unopened Palm Pilot and a 35 mm camera, but OK.
"This is the score, this is the best place," she says, boosting herself over the Dumpster's side with a gymnast's grace.
"Go for the clear bags first," she explains; it's less likely you'll be surprised by rancid yogurt. Pinching a bag also helps. If it's soft, there may be washable clothes. It might also be used napkins or worse, but the experienced squeezer can tell the difference. You can also simply rip a small hole in a bag to get a view inside.
One bag holds pages torn from a porn magazine and empty soft packs of Virginia Slims. Pinkerton keeps digging. Organic chemistry notes, back copies of Wired magazine, a St. Patrick's Day card from grandma ...
Pinkerton holds up a set of poker chips, still wrapped in their holder, then two decks of cards -- one made of clear plastic, the other oval.
One young man's trash gleams in the grime. He's left plenty of clues about himself: unopened prescriptions with his name and home address. Black dress shoes with almost no wear on the thick, sturdy soles, and worn-out black Converse All-Star high tops. She calls out her profligate benefactor by name -- the "greedy brat" -- and some passing students look a little alarmed. Nearby, the discarded manga magazines in Japanese must be from someone else.
"I love college kids and their wastefulness," Pinkerton says.