Digging through household trash is usually the province of cheap private eyes and tabloid reporters.
But for 70 UCLA Extension students, it's a summer job unlike any other.
The students for the last three weeks have been pawing through truckloads of garbage--in 90-degree-plus heat, for no pay--at the Azusa Land Reclamation Co. dump.
Wearing protective jumpsuits, face masks and double layers of gloves, the students are working to answer a question of increasing importance to California cities:
What exactly is in all those garbage bags?
The students are enrolled in UCLA's Extension Program in municipal solid waste management, a first of its kind project to train people to start city recycling programs.
The students are sorting, weighing and recording the makeup of residential waste samples. By figuring out what goes into the city's garbage stream, they will better know how to get recyclable materials out, program director Eugene Tseng said.
When they finish with the residential waste, students will attack truckloads of commercial and industrial garbage to get an overall city "waste characterization." In all, they will sort through three tons of garbage. Project planners expect to be done by December.
Most participants in the extension program are local waste management industry workers.
"It's very wacky, but it's for a good cause. People are very wasteful and recycling is something we're going to have to do. It's great, I love trash," said Cristin Brame, 22, a landfill employee enrolled in the course.
Boxing Cheng, of the People's Republic of China, is director of solid waste research at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences. Cheng said he will take the technical and practical information he gets from the program back to China to deal with his country's garbage dilemma.
"We have no landfills now, so you can imagine how serious a problem it is," he said.
California is facing a shortage of landfill space. Gov. George Deukmejian signed a law last September requiring cities to cut their landfill-bound waste by 25% by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000.
To accomplish this, cities will have to establish municipal recycling programs, but there is a "critical shortfall of qualified, trained people in the field" to help them, Tseng said. The UCLA program will help provide the needed people, he said.
Because of the classroom the dump provides, Azusa will get a tailor-made design for its recycling program. But "other cities are just kind of wondering how they're going to do it," said Ann Baba, project manager for the UCLA-Azusa study.
Azusa currently has no municipal recycling program.