Column: Recycling as a hobby

Outside student residences is a place were bulky waste can be deposited.

Text: Vincent Oostvogels

Outside most Wageningen student residences is a designated place where bulky waste items can be deposited. These spots are full of laminate, mattresses and Ikea furniture, often things that are only a year or two old. I once even saw a fridge that was still full of food. It’s a sorry sight, and it doesn’t go with the image of the sustainability-minded Wageningen student. Nor indeed with the image of the hard-up student.

Thanks to these scrapheaps, some items get a second lease of life — fortunately. People rummage around and pick out all sorts of things, including things you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find at a student residence, from chicken wire to horse saddles. But you do need to strike lucky. Your chances of finding a nice piece of trash are not the same at all the student residences. In that sense, it’s very like beachcombing.

Your chances of finding a nice piece of trash are not the same at all student residences. It’s like beachcombing

And beachcombing is none too simple an activity. A couple of years ago, I set off from Wageningen early in the morning with some of my course mates. We were heading for the Wadden Sea, where the container ship MSC Zoe had lost part of its cargo. There were car parts and flat screens floating in the sea, but we managed to drive to a deserted beach where nothing whatsoever had washed up. That wouldn’t happen to real beachcombers, because they know what they are doing.

There’s a professional in Wageningen too. He drives between the student residences nearly every day in his grey delivery van, and fishes stuff out of the trash: things that still look in good condition, old iron, deposit bottles, you name it… Most of it goes into the van, which is usually stuffed to the roof. While he’s at it, he cleans up rubbish that’s been dumped around the bins. I reckon he’s been doing this for years.

‘That junk, what do you do with it all?’ I asked him recently. He explained how he sorts the various materials and repairs items. And he stressed that I mustn’t worry about him because recycling was just his hobby. If only we all had that as a hobby, I thought.

Vincent Oostvogels (25) is in the first year of a PhD on biodiversity recovery in dairy farming. His dream is to be able to keep a few cows of his own one day.

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