Introduction to Environmental Studies: Waste

Fall 2023
Winter 2024
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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This program is about waste: how waste cycles through environments, who is sickened by it, what is valuable and what is not, and what waste means to those who live with and around it. Our interdisciplinary studies of waste will use approaches in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to understand waste as a complex problem and consider a range of applied solutions. The scientific, social and cultural dimensions of waste as an idea and as a phenomena will be addressed.

In the fall quarter of the program we will focus on the fundamental concepts surrounding biological waste (human and animal) – especially excrement – considering physiology and metabolism at the organism level, to elemental and ecological cycling at the planetary level. We will spend much of the quarter studying biological waste as a problem in public health, urban planning, parasitology, and microbiology, also paying attention to the cultural dimensions of pollution and disgust. Students should be prepared to confront and question their own "yuck" thresholds as we peek into sewers, observe wastewater treatment, and analyze parasites and “germs”. Students successfully completing studies in fall quarter can anticipate earning credits in Environmental Science Laboratory (4), Topics in Public Health: Sanitation (4), Topics in Ecology: Decomposition (4), and Cultural Anthropology (4).

As we broaden our studies in winter quarter, our program will turn our attention to industrial, consumer, and toxic wastes, with particular attention to questions of environmental justice. Topics will span the range of urban vs rural planning in environmental justice; legal and political dimensions of waste; garbage colonialism; and the ecological, chemical and biological imprints of waste from the developed world globally. Washington State, and relevant historical archives, will serve as a focus for attention on the policies and outcomes that have shaped our relationships with waste. Students successfully completing studies in winter quarter can anticipate earning credits in Environmental Science Laboratory (4), Topics in Environmental Science: waste and toxicology (4), Environmental Justice (4), and Social Science Methodology: Archival Research (4).

Throughout the two quarters students can expect to complete approximately 3 hours of labs and 2 hours of seminar per week; write weekly seminar papers and longer interdisciplinary synthesis essays; take occasional quizzes; collaborate on major research projects; and spend substantial time on field trips outside the classroom.


Fall 2023 Registration
Winter 2024 Registration

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

Studies or careers in Environmental Studies, Public Health, Social Sciences

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$280 in fall quarter for overnight field trip. 


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In Person (W)
Time Offered
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