An uninformed passerby might see freshwoman Eiri Oliphant’s room as a developing junkyard, but for the self-described “can-collecting loner,” one person’s trash will soon become her treasure.
Oliphant may finish her shift at the Tea Shop in the evening, but her work does not stop there. Returning to her dorm room, she fulfills her daily routine: stuffing the latest trash bag full of cans in between similar bags around her bed.
Oliphant is a commercial recycler.
Along with her work study income, Oliphant gains cash in exchange for recyclable cans, the proceeds of which she says will fund her dream vacation: a 28-day tour of Europe she and six friends are planning for the summer of 2008.
“You don’t really know Europe until you’ve been there,” Oliphant said. “This is the perfect way to travel and study a country.”
Driven by thoughts of strolling by Big Ben, shopping along the Paris streets and gazing at Italian artistry, Oliphant has gathered five kitchen bags filled with cans. She fished almost all of the goods from campus trashcans. Oliphant is also asking Mills women to donate spare change and cans.
Oliphant has posted flyers and advertised her cause on student-news since Jan. 18, but negative response to donation requests meant little success.
The flyer in an Orchard Meadow bathroom stall was defaced with the words “Get a job,” a sentiment many Mills students share.
“If they were to provide a service to people, that would be one thing,” said sophomore Caitlin Ayers. “But there are women who are struggling to pay their tuition. This is an insult to them.”
Despite such reactions, Oliphant will continue to accept cans dropped off at Room 120 in Orchard Meadow after 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oliphant said that these time restrictions ensure that she is home to receive all donations.
“I’d rather [the cans] not be dropped off . at the door,” Oliphant said. “The cleaning people would probably pick it up if they are sitting there.”
Oliphant is waiting to collect more cans before redeeming any for cash, but she hopes her efforts will eventually raise the $3,000-$6,000 Travel Affare Tours charges for its Case of Europe excursion.
According to Replant USA, the California branch of Tomra’s international recycling centers, aluminum cans are refunded at a rate of $1.55 per pound. If Oliphant were to make her $3,000 minimum, she must recycle 1,935.48 pounds of cans.
Since the Can Manufactur-ers Institute’s website says that 31.92 cans make up one pound of aluminum, Oliphant must recycle approximately 61,781 cans to reach her minimum goal.
Heidi Obermeit, the recycling manager at Mills, said it is unlikely that Oliphant can collect so many cans within a year, but success is still possible.
“She’s going to have to be vigilant, and it’s going to take a while,” Obermeit said.
Recycling cans, however, is not the only source of funding. UC San Bernadino freshman Justine Corrington, whose success as a commercial recycler inspired Oliphant to take up the practice, will also contribute some of her can collection to Oliphant’s campaign.
“Justine was always telling us how much she got from recycling,” Murrieta Valley High senior Sora Reyes said. “Eiri said it was stupid, but now she’s doing it, too.”
As the group leader and only member to have visited Europe before, Reyes will lead the high school participants in traditional fundraising such as car washes, letter-writing and what Reyes calls “the candy black market,” since she cannot officially sell the goods on campus without a school-related cause.
Oliphant said she will join her friends in these methods of fundraising over the summer, but her shyness prevents her from selling at Mills.
“I’m not from the Bay Area, so I’m not comfortable going door to door,” she said, adding that others coming to her with donations felt easier.
As a budding artist with paintings of Harry Potter and other favorite subjects on her wall, Oliphant most wants to visit Venice. She says that this desire is what pushes her to keep the 2008 deadline because she fears that global warming will ruin the city.
“I heard that Venice will be completely underwater soon,” she said. “I want to be able to see it before it goes.”
For now, Oliphant will continue to sift through coffee cups and hamburger residue to get to cans. She will post for donations this semester and all of next year.
She says she knows that others might stumble onto the previously untapped resource of cans, but she feels no pressure about potential competition. In fact, she offers tips for the potential commercial recycler.
“Go for the music building; it’s a gold mine,” she said.