One of the most powerful qualities of the human species is our ability to study the contents of the past to improve the quality of our lives in the present. Understanding the past enhances our perspective of the world, improves our ability to predict the future, enables us to learn and repeat the many strategies that have been effective, and encourages us to avoid the strategies that have failed. Although it is often very difficult to understand the experiences and lifestyles of previous societies, archeological and historical scholars are capable of studying the rubble, trash and refuse of older cultures to help accumulate information about those cultures (Baguchinsky). The contents of garbage help indicate what activities the members of a culture consistently engaged in, and thus studying the items of garbage helps us understand the behavioral patterns and dominant values of a given society. Likewise, studying the refuse of an individual can also provide information about that individual’s behavior, lifestyle, and values. An analysis of the food, beverage and domestic items that the following trash collection contained indicates that the individual who the trash belongs to is most likely a male college student who is in his 20s and who values a healthy lifestyle.
The items found in the trash can be organized into four categories, which include food, beverages, domestic and other. Because most people eat approximately three times a day, I expected the majority of the refuse contents to contain food items. This prediction was correct, as the vast majority of the items in the garbage related to food products and the 22 food items in the trash comprised 58 percent of the total trash content. Additionally, with a total weight of 182.6 ounces, the food items represented far more weight than any other category. I also expected to find many beverage items, and this prediction was also accurate, as beverages comprised 13 percent of the total trash contents. Also, the 73.4 ounces in weight made the beverages the second heaviest of the refuse categories. However, I was surprised that almost all of the beverages related to coffee and bottled water and not any other types of popular beverages, such as fruit or soda drinks.
Another expectation that proved correct was that the refuse would contain many domestic items. The trash did contain several domestic items and cleaning supplies, including paper towels, napkins, aluminum foil, ziplock bags, and garbage bags. There was a total of 9 domestic items in the trash, which was 24 percent of the total trash contents, and the total weight of the items was 3.5 ounces. Items that I did not expect to find in the trash collection included one loose piece of printer paper and one magazine about bicycling, which comprised the “other” category and which comprised about 5 percent of the refuse.
Although the many items in this refuse collection may initially seem like standard objects typically found in garbage cans, the items provided me with enough information to form a prediction regarding the general demographic of the individual who dispensed the trash. The food items helped me determine that the individual maintains a healthy lifestyle. The majority of the food contents in the refuse were relatively healthy foods, such as organic eggs, nutrition bars, and multiple yogurt containers. The trash also contained a very high proportion of fruits and vegetables, including bananas, raspberries, spinach, and an onion. Additionally, items that I did not find in the trash further validated the prediction that the individual who provided the trash values his or her health, for the trash contained no fast food items, no unhealthy products, and just one chocolate item. Thus, the healthy food found in the refuse collection indicates that the owner of the trash maintains a healthy diet and consciously values a healthy lifestyle.
The domestic items in the trash were very vague and thus provided little information. For instance, the napkins and paper towels only demonstrate that the individual values maintaining a clean and organized home, and the universally appreciated nature of these domestic items made it difficult to use the items to extract information regarding the demographic of the individual. However, the brand of paper towels being “Bounty” did provide me with a clue about the individual. “Bounty” is one of the most expensive brands of paper towels available in most supermarkets and grocery stores. With the abundance of cheaper paper towel brands available in most stores, people who are struggling financially would most likely purchase a lesser-known and cheaper brand. Thus, the fact that the individual chose to purchase a relatively expensive brand of paper towels indicates to me that the individual is financially comfortable.
I was also able to use the beverages found in the refuse collection to form a prediction about the individual. The one bottle of wine indicates that the individual is a casual or occasional drinker. Multiple alcoholic items might indicate that the individual drinks consistently, but the fact that there was only one bottle of wine suggests that the individual does consume alcohol but that he or she only drinks periodically. Thus, I can predict that the individual who dispensed the trash is a social drinker who only drinks on the weekends or on certain occasions. Coffee is another beverage that provided beneficial information, for the abundance of coffee cups in the trash indicates that the individual is either a student who is currently in school or a worker who is currently employed.
Although identifying the individual as a student or a worker is general, the “other” items category helped me further narrow down and specify my prediction. The loose piece of printer paper helped me determine that the individual is a student in school. Although some jobs might require people to use a printer, most jobs would not require an individual to use a printer at home, and most people generally do not print out information consistently on their own. However, students in college must typically write and print out several essays and papers, and when printing out essays it is very common for the printer to also emit an extra sheet of blank paper that can be thrown away. Thus, the combination of the coffee and the loose piece of printer paper convinces me that the individual is most likely a college student.
The Decline magazine in the refuse collection provided me with the biggest revelation and the most beneficial clue regarding the demographic identity of the individual whom the trash belongs to. Decline is a bicycling magazine for people who are passionate and enthusiastic about the sport of extreme biking, as the magazine contains information about bike trails, biking equipment, and professional bikers. The fact that the trash contained a biking magazine indicates that the individual is physically active, values fitness, is passionate about biking, and most likely rides a bike consistently. The healthy food and the Cliff Bar wrapper in the trash also support the notion that the individual maintains a healthy lifestyle and values physical fitness, for Cliff Bars are designed to give athletes a burst of natural energy and to maximize their performance levels during physical activities or athletic events.
However, the biking magazine also helped me determine a specific demographic for the individual who generated the refuse collection. Although there are some women who are interested in extreme biking, the vast majority of people who are passionate about extreme biking are males. Thus, the magazine helps me predict that the individual is a male. Because the majority of people who passionately bike and follow the sport of extreme biking are young, I also predict that the individual is relatively young and is in his 20s.
Although many people perceive trash as insignificant waste, garbology teaches us that the contents of a garbage collection are very meaningful and important in that the contents can provide us with beneficial knowledge about the values and lifestyles of the people that discarded the refuse (Baguchinsky). Likewise, analyzing the items in this refuse collection provided me with valuable information that enabled me to establish a prediction regarding the demographic of the individual who created the collection. Because of the healthy food, the coffee, the bottled water, the printing paper, and the biking magazine, the person who discarded the trash is most likely a financially comfortable male college student who is in his twenties, values a healthy diet and engages in physical activities.
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Baguchinsky, Jill . "Adventures in Garbology: What Trash Can Tell Us." Florida Gulf Coast University: Academic and Event Technology Services. N.p., 1 Apr. 1999. Web. 25 Oct. 2013. <http://itech.fgcu.edu/&/issues/vol2/issue2/garbology.