Time to dumpster dive: Discarded home goods pile up as NU student leases end

Louetta R. Clark

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On evenings before trash collection, recent Northwestern University graduates Conor Metz and Geena Vetula go on “dumpster diving dates” in hopes of finding furniture for the Chicago apartment they’re moving into next month.

With leases ending and Northwestern students moving out, discarded home 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 more expensive apartment buildings. 

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

“I feel like there’s a connotation that things you dumpster dive are dirty or broken, but they’re all perfectly good,” said Metz. “We got so much furniture through dumpster diving.”

Some of their most impressive finds include a desk, an air purifier, a chair, a coffee table, several large fake plants and a lamp, all of which they are bringing to their new apartment. Vetula said many Evanston dumpsters boast these kinds of finds around the end of the school year.

Summer means full dumpsters

City data confirms that trash bins are particularly stuffed this time of year.

City staff keep a tally of all the apartment buildings and condos with overflowing trash containers. In 2021, the city noted about 30 overflowing bins per month in the winter. The number jumped up to 80 in the summer months. 

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

“There is a tangible trend that we see when we anticipate move-in and move-out,” said Brian Zimmerman, Solid Waste Coordinator at the City of Evanston. The city typically notes an increase in overflowing dumpsters between May and October, he said. 

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

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