Time to Dive in the Trash: Discarded household goods pile up as NU student leases end


In the evenings leading up to garbage collection, Northwestern University graduates Conor Metz and Geena Vetula go on “dumpster dive dates” in hopes of finding furniture for the Chicago apartment they will be moving into next month. .

With contracts ending and Northwestern students moving out, discarded household goods pile up near off-campus housing. With a keen eye for abandoned furniture, Metz and Vetula explore alleys and side streets, particularly near Evanston’s most expensive apartment buildings.

A chair awaits the garbage collection on Foster Street. Credit: Adina Keeling

“I feel like there’s a connotation that the stuff you dump in the trash is dirty or broken, but it’s all perfectly fine,” Metz said. “We get so much furniture diving in the trash.”

Some of their most impressive finds include a desk, an air freshener, a chair, a coffee table, several large fake plants, and a lamp, which they are bringing to their new apartment. Vetula said that many Evanston dumpsters present this type of finding at the end of the school year.

Summer means full bins

City data confirms that dumpsters are particularly full at this time of year.

City officials keep a record of all apartment buildings and condominiums with overflowing garbage containers. In 2021, the city recorded about 30 dumpsters overflowing per month in winter. The number jumped to 80 in the summer months.

Part of a bed frame emerges from a dumpster. Credit: Adina Keeling

“There’s a tangible trend that we see when we anticipate entry and exit,” said Brian Zimmerman, Solid Waste Coordinator for the City of Evanston. The city typically sees an increase in dumpsters overflowing between May and October, he said.

When dumpsters overflow, or when furniture is left on the curb as garbage, the city sends workers on a designated route to collect the bulky garbage, Zimmerman said. “It’s an increase in service,” he added.

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