Editorial Notebook

Finding, collecting treasure

By Lisa Knuckey October 31, 2018

My roommate calls me a hoarder; my parents, a dumpster diver; my friends, a hazard to my own health and safety. All of them believe that I, to some degree, know what I’m doing—that there’s a method to my madness, that I’m collecting parts for some grand design, that I know what I want and take it. In reality, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I simply tour the tech dumps and reach for whatever looks the most interesting.

As a prospective electrical engineer, one of my first actions upon committing to RPI was to search forums for information on the availability of free electronic components. Aside from a few labs—most of which require card access—the most commonly cited resource was the tech dumps. For those of you who don’t know, the tech dumps are a collection of bins where e-waste can be ‘dumped’ for proper disposal. These can be found all around campus: the Darrin Communications Center, Jonsson Engineering Center, Low Center for Industrial Innovation, West Hall, Voorhees Computing Center, and more (a detailed list, including maps, can be found on the RPI subreddit).

Since the start of my first semester, I have been making multiple rounds each week, sometimes each day, to these dusty back corridors and basements all around campus. Finds range from broken circuit boards and printers to fully functional bluetooth speakers and capacitors bigger than my fist. You may need to make more than a few trips before coming across anything of value, but bring your friends and a couple of hammers—fun for the whole family! Of course, the entire concept of dumpster diving is based around the theory that one’s trash is another’s treasure, so if you’re looking for scrap metal, cables, or small electrical parts, the tech dumps are a great option for cheap supplies.

I still have no idea what I’m doing (what do I look like, an electrical engineer?), but my component collection has grown in size and complexity. My arms are bruised from carrying power supplies, monitors, and stacks of circuit boards across campus; small chunks of solder and wire litter my floors, much to my roommate’s annoyance; and on one occasion, I dyed my entire right hand black for several days due to a leaking printer cartridge. I may be a reckless, dumpster diving hoarder, but hey—everyone has their hobbies.