Extreme Jobs: One Woman’s Trash

Rotting food, old toilets, and remnants of residence hall move-out are treasures to Tara Pike-Nordstrom.

Keeping the planet clean can be pretty grubby work for Tara Pike-Nordstrom. Occasionally, a less-than-courteous person will toss something nasty into one of those blue recycling bins all around campus. Moldy food. A dirty diaper. Even a molar with a gold filling once was found in a jewelry box.

The worst though was someone's catheter bag. Pike lowers her voice and crinkles her nose as she retells the story: "The bag was full."

She shrugs. Such inconveniences come with the territory as UNLV's Rebel Recycling coordinator. The operation grew out of Pike's undergraduate thesis ('95 BS Environmental Studies). She started small with all the expected discards -- paper, plastic, and glass -- and built a model program that collects 719 tons of materials a year.

Food waste is now composted, and a community garden is in the works. She coordinates with local nonprofits to pick up the clothing and perfectly good housewares left behind in the residence halls. When some perennially clogged toilets on campus were replaced this year with more efficient models, she salvaged them; they'll likely be crushed to create a decorative element in landscaping. Her latest target is the 80,000 water bottles sold on campus each year. This fall, UNLV installed filtered water stations around campus to make it easy to refill your own containers.

"It's all about small steps," she says. "We're making progress every day."

Pike-Nordstrom, '95 BS Environmental Studies, is the College of Urban Affairs 2012 Alumna of the Year.

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