It’s Christmas for some as residence-dwellers move out but their garbage piles up |
April isn’t a month for snowmen, carollers, or reindeer, but many people have been exclaiming “Merry Christmas!” over the past two weeks at UVic.
It is a lesser-known holiday, but the weeks during spring exam period are known by many as “Hippie Christmas.”
This is the time of year when UVic students living in residence move back home for the summer. Much of their old, unwanted stuff gets swung over their shoulders in garbage bags and, like an army of Kris Kringles, they march from the residence buildings in the direction of the waste compounds.
These sacks of landfill-bound gifts end up overflowing from the garbage bins, becoming a treasure pile for those who see an extended lifespan in the dumped detritus.
Kaia Bryce, a recent UVic graduate in Geography and Environmental Studies, has been celebrating this holiday for three years and has come to know more of the Hippie Christmas community.
“Last spring when I was living in Cadboro Bay,” Bryce said, “we noticed that all these boats were coming, flocking into the bay at this time of year. And when we started chatting with them it turned out they were actually coming specifically for this. It was like a seasonal migration route, specifically for Hippie Christmas.”
The waste, if not rescued by seasonal migrants and resident dumpster divers, will end up contributing to landfill volumes. It is a problem for the university and for environmentally conscious students, but for those who are willing to dig through the rubbish, it’s a Christmas miracle.
Visiting the ten or so waste compounds among the university residence buildings during Hippie Christmas is also a component of Bryce’s own seasonal migrations. As she leaned into one of the garbage bins, her voice echoed off the hot black plastic.
“I usually go away for the summer, she said, “and I end up going travelling and this is kind of a way of getting a bunch of dry food beforehand. You get a lot of cereal. Whoa! Whoa!”
Bryce couldn’t tear the garbage-bag wrapping paper off quickly enough.
“What is that? Organic Quick Oats! This is exactly the kind of thing that is great on a sailboat. This is ideal.”
“I’m preparing for a road trip,” she continued, “and so I’m actually hoping to find some mattresses that I can use in a car — whoa! Unopened rosé? No. Pasta sauce! This is perfect.”
In mere minutes, Bryce’s cardboard-box stocking was filling to the brim.
There was no gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but the mounds of matter came close in terms of value. “Argan oil luxurious shampoo. I also get shampoo for the year. You want peanut butter?” Bryce reached in and offered me a jar of natural smooth.
I thanked Bryce, took my newfound jar of peanut butter and walked over to the next compound, where I met Justin Ming, who is taking premedical studies at UVic.
“I call this time of year the best time of the year, the most wonderful time of the year,” he said.
“Hippie Christmas,” Ming continued. “You never know what you can find. I’m standing right here in the furniture bin and about maybe a third of it is not furniture.”
Ming was especially excited for the big bag of organic hemp seeds he had found under a futon couch — or was it a manger?
“A lot of it seems like useful stuff that could have been redirected, diverted for other uses,” said Ming, picking up a fold-up chair. “Like this lawn chair for example, but yeah, I might actually, yeah, I think I’m going to take that lawn chair.”
“I’m preparing for a road trip, and so I’m actually hoping to find some mattresses that I can use in a car — whoa! Unopened rosé? No. Pasta sauce! This is perfect.”
The furniture bin rattled as someone threw in a mattress topper on the far end. I chased him down.
The guy’s name was Colin O’Fee, a first-year UVic student. O’Fee was the first “Santa Claus” I had run into and, like Santa, he only had one night to dispose of all of his “presents.” I asked him if the mattress topper had to go in the trash bin.
“Just yeah, stuff, it’s hard,” O’Fee said. “And there’s a lot of time pressure.”
“Maybe if we had more time we could arrange to put our stuff not in the trash,” he continued, looking at his watch. All residence students have to be completely moved out the day after their last exam by 11 a.m., he said.
Nadia Ariff, UVic’s Waste Reduction Coordinator, noted a similar source to the problem.
“I think the crux of the issue is the mass exodus of students over the course of a few days,” Ariff said. “This overloads the area and all the recycling compounds, giving less opportunity to recycle and more opportunity to just ‘dump.’”
If the university is aware of the problem, O’Fee expected it should have measures in place to deal with this.
“Rather than just trashing everything we need to have a better solution to this for sure,” he said. “I don’t really know what that would be. There’s probably someone smarter who’s going to work on that.”
“Our department doesn’t have the funding to do that education because they haven’t been able to convince the higher-ups that that’s a good priority.”
Rhia Ironside, an employee of UVic’s Facilities Management Waste Reduction team who was driving around with her colleague doing what they could to correct wrongly categorized recycling, pointed O’Fee’s “someone smarter” finger right back in the direction of students.
“They’re like, ‘Oh glass only? Let’s throw our clothing in there,'” Ironside said.
“There was the two full bins of bottles of piss,” she continued, “which is not the first time this has happened, when someone pisses in bottles all year and then they stash them here.”
Perhaps this is the equivalent of coal in your Hippie Christmas stocking.
“It’s kind of astounding,” Ironside continued. “It’s like wow, people are here to learn, and what are they learning?”
Ariff said the university is taking measures to educate students.
“Waste Reduction Services, in conjunction with Residence Services send out ‘Move Out’ brochures and posters a week or two before move out happens. There are also additional bins for furniture recycling, cardboard recycling and electronics recycling.”
Ironside said that there is also a brief talk about waste disposal at the beginning of the year, yet she doesn’t think this is enough.
“They’re in this whirlwind of frosh week and [the residence orientation guides] spend like five minutes. They’re just like, ‘Oh, and we recycle. Well, ok, next!’ They don’t have the time, and our department doesn’t have the funding to do that education because they haven’t been able to convince the higher-ups that that’s a good priority.”
While waiting for the “higher-ups” to wake up to the presents piling up under the Christmas tree, student groups on campus have been attempting bottom-up solutions to curb the move-out refuse. Ariff noted that the UVSS Free Store and Food Bank coordinated with various UVic offices to organize a “Dump and Run” event, where students were encouraged to donate their old items with supervision.
Josie Simpson, assistant coordinator at the Food Bank and Free Store, said the difficulty was only having a one-day event and spreading the word about it to students.
“I’d love to eventually switch to a model where we have collection tables at the entrances to residence buildings over a multi-week period,” Simpson said, “so that it becomes even easier for students to donate rather than throwing things away.”
With the pressure described by O’Fee to move fast, students do need it to be as simple as they can get it.
“Time. Time,” Ming mused earlier that day with his bag of hemp seeds in the furniture bin. “Everything else we feel like we can divide our time for — a Netflix series is much more valuable than recycling for a lot of people.”
“Every university campus across the country. Can you imagine how many fridges have been dumped off somewhere, just abandoned?”
Furniture bins with hemp seeds and urine bottles aside, Ariff is proud of the university’s progress on waste diversion.
“On a plus side, we are recycling and composting more than we ever had,” she said. “Our landfill diversion rate is now sitting at 71 per cent. Our goal is 75 per cent by 2019, which is really great and something to be proud of.”
Yet, Ironside had doubts about increasing the diversion rate.
“It was getting better,” she said, referring to the diversion rate, “and then we’ve plateaued and it’s been just holding steady for years now and it’s not improving.”
“People have this idea that they need new stuff,” said Ironside. “‘I need a new mattress, I need my own mini fridge, I need a microwave, I need a ‘perfect cooker,’ whatever that is,” Ironside said as she pointed to a little rice maker-esque piece of equipment someone had dumped on the ground outside the compound. “And you know they’re here for a few months.”
Geoff Mandel, Riley Cameron, and Andrea Janse van Rensburg are three first year UVic students who are profiting off of the ‘need of new stuff’ during this year’s Hippie Christmas.
They’ve found twelve or so mini fridges, selling them for fifty dollars each.
“I just figured it was easy cash,” Mandel said, “so I picked them up, brought them back to my room, and had a buyer the next day.”
“They just kept popping up and I just kept picking them up,” he said.
Together the three friends made about $450 selling mini fridges, while keeping a couple for themselves.
Although excited about their new enterprise, it has made Mandel consider the scale of the issue.
“Think about it,” Mandel said. “Every university campus across the country. Can you imagine how many fridges have been dumped off somewhere, just abandoned?”
Mandel expressed his surprise that the university didn’t have its own “fridge program,” a buy-back system or a fridge rental outfit, so that new students wouldn’t feel forced to go buy new ones every year.
Bryce shared similar sentiments to Mandel.
“I think it is in part the responsibility of the university to help address this problem,” Bryce said, “because this is so predictable. Like every year this happens, and it’s such a freaking waste. And the funny thing is that a lot of these items are things that students will come to university and buy every year, like whiteboards and notebooks and bedding, clothing. All these things that we find every year.”
“It also speaks to the more-fundamental problem of rampant consumerism,” Bryce said, as she picked up a glittery silver handbag. “Buying needless, needless shit.”
All photos by Mike Graeme.