Inventory: trash is the window into another man’s life

All items found in a student’s trash can at 11:38pm on March 3, 2014 in a Princeton dorm hallway.

Thankfully no one saw me pull up the trash bag from the can as it sat in front of the student’s door. A few hallmates did look, however, at me strangely as I walked towards and into my room with an irregular-shaped, non-empty bag of trash. It was not a rainy day so it was clear that I wasn’t using the trash bag as a cover for whatever I was carrying inside the lumpy bag.

In my room, I used a new trash bag as a glove as I pulled out each item from the trash and placed it on a white sheet of paper. I placed the items in groups to create some sort of order in the trash (below), but can there be order in trash? I unfortunately did not think about recording the order of the items in the trash (from top to bottom) to determine some sort of chronology for the trash.

From the trash, I could gather much information about what the individual had eaten (from the wrappers, peels, and receipts), worn (contacts), and used (napkins, Q-tips, floss) recently. I could also gather a few places where the individual had gone in the past week (from the receipts). But really trying to determine more information about the individual and his/her habits was pure speculation. Was this even all his/her trash? Maybe a friend had visited the individual’s room and this friend left some trash in the individual’s room. This event would be recorded by the trash contents. The trash does provide a record but unless the individual can shed light on the contents, my knowledge of the individual is relatively limited. I gathered so much information but also so little at the same time. Who can know? Who wants to know? Why am I even looking through someone’s trash? But, to be honest, it was interesting…at least the trash was relatively simple without any scandalous or creepy contents that I did not want to touch or have knowledge of.

  • 3 receipts: Panera Bread (1 Breakfast Power Sandwich + 1 Steel Cut Oatmeal; total $8.97), Shake Shack (Concrete Single MInT Chocolate; total $4.55), McDonald’s (1 Grilled Chicken Southwest Salad + 1 ChpBQ Snack Wrap; total $8.75)
  • 4 empty contact lens cases: 2 cases of -8.0 prescription. 2 cases of -8.5 prescription.
  • 1 dried up contact lens
  • 2 used Q-tips
  • 1 string of floss
  • 6 empty packs of Emergen-C: 3 Orange flavor, 2 Raspberry flavor, 1 Tropical flavor
  • 2 empty cereal bowls: 1 Frosted Mini Wheats (with some leftovers inside), 1 Kashi GOLEAN Crunch!
  • 1 empty Rold Gold Pretzel bag
  • 2 empty Balance Cookie Dough bar wrappers
  • 2 banana peels: 1 dried and hard (with brown napkin stuck to it), 1 soft
  • Approximately 1 orange peel (dried, hard) 
  • 10 brown napkins: 1 had a dark red stain on it
  • 6 white napkins
  • 2 empty packs of Emergen-C Immune+:  1 Blueberry Acai flavor, 1 Citrus flavor

WP_20140304_002 Trash Collage