At the break of dawn, the sun paints streaks of lavender and fluorescent orange along the night sky, illuminating the dark campus sidewalks.
Speckled among the dew-covered grass are remnants of the night before: torn bar wristbands, empty Truly cans, Skyline Chili sauce packets, foam food containers and ripped disposable masks.
Desirae Jordan, a grounds crew member at Miami, drives up and down the sidewalks of Academic Quad, starting and stopping her bright orange buggy whenever she spots a stranded piece of garbage. She pulls over, reaches for her green trash picker and jumps into the frigid early morning air.
At each trash can and recycling bin, she lifts the lid and checks the contents. If the can is halfway full, or close to it, Jordan ties it up, throws it in the back and fetches a new liner. Black for trash. Clear for recycling.
Every morning begins the same: a constant start and stop to empty trash cans and pick up litter scattered around the quad.
Some cans don’t need to be changed everyday. After six years in grounds operations, Jordan knows the hotspots on campus.
Jeremy Davis, senior director of physical operations, said receptacles closer to uptown tend to get hit hardest by pedestrians.
Extra trash cans and recycling bins are placed in these high traffic areas in order to accommodate for the larger trash loads. However, trash doesn’t always make it into a nearby bin.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for [students] to put it into the appropriate receptacle,” Davis said. “Sometimes that just doesn't happen.”
Pizza boxes, wrappers, and food and drink containers are commonly abandoned along Slant Walk and High Street or inside nearby campus buildings, like King Library.
With the Miami and Oxford mask mandates, disposable masks are often seen among the scattered garbage near sidewalks.
“Those are the worst right now because of, obviously, COVID,” Jordan said.
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Every weekday, all 35 grounds crew members begin their days collecting trash during the early morning.
For Jordan, picking up the scattered litter among the grass and flower beds is critical before she starts her other work, like mowing.
“It’s awful when I see litter and I’m on a mower,” Jordan said.
Although only two to three employees are responsible for litter patrol on the weekend, the grounds department monitors the trash more frequently, especially near Uptown.
“Over the weekend, we patrol that area more often than we normally would,” Davis said. “We bring people in just for that.”
Every year, Davis said the department prepares and puts extra effort into its trash collection in these high traffic areas, like Slant Walk and High Street.
“It’s a gateway to the campus, [and] … we want the first impression to be nice and respectful,” Davis said. “So, we put some extra effort into cleaning things up in an appropriate time frame.”
Dean of Students Kimberly Moore doesn’t believe that there is a litter or trash problem on campus. However, she has witnessed scattered garbage following the weekend, especially Uptown around the mile square.
“It’s just disheartening to see the litter and the trash and just the disregard for cleaning up after yourself and respecting a shared space,” Moore said.
As students and visitors return to Uptown businesses, Moore hopes to remind them that they’re living with other members of the Miami and Oxford communities.
“Just throwing trash on the ground is really a sign of disrespect for yourself, others and the community, so do the right thing,” Moore said. “Take care of your trash and clean up after yourself, and remember that you're not the only one living here.”