From the nation that brought you consumerism comes campus programs to recycle all that junk
Picture Pennsylvania State University's cavernous Beaver Stadium filled, not with screaming fans, but with nearly 90 tons of student junk - and 10,000 people pawing through it.
Rugs, sneakers, lamps, refrigerators, jackets, half-full bottles of shampoo, televisions, toaster ovens, notebooks, fans, pens, posters, computers - all the once-vital trappings of 16,000 students' lives suddenly deemed expendable when the school year ends.
And it all used to be the bane of Albert Matyasovsky's existence. As Penn State's chief junk buster, he deals with the mounds of stuff left behind when students leave in May.
But the resourceful Mr. Matya- sovsky turned his one-time bane into a boon by creating the mother of all yard sales - and opened it to the entire University Park community.
The end-of-year junk problem grew enormously on most campuses during the 1990s as students increasingly brought with them all the comforts of home. The result today is that nearly every residential campus is floundering beneath the load.
Many campuses just toss everything into a dumpster. That's what Penn State did - until last year. But Matyasovsky didn't like sending all that good furniture and serviceable wares into a landfill. So last year, he enlisted support on campus to hold a monster flea market - the school's first "trash-to-treasure" event. It's a recycling-for-charity idea that is growing on campuses that want a green alternative to the dump.
A dollar buys a rug, two dollars a jacket, five a couch. There will be the ubiquitous Christmas sweaters with the price tags still on them. A good-stuff-cheap extravaganza unlike anything the University Park campus has seen: 300 eight-foot tables piled with the detritus of student life.
Standing recently under the stadium bleachers, Matyasovsky describes by cellphone the sale's centerpiece: a 96-foot-long line of tables piled three feet high with used blue jeans of every size and maker. Just blue jeans - for two dollars a pair - or less as the sale winds down.