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Trash picker

Another person's trash becomes my free treasure.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 5:36PM

A few weeks ago I went out to gather blackberries. Something told me to leave by the back door rather than the front. I've learned to listen to these impulses, so into the alley I went.

Half a block away, I found the reason why. 

Someone had put a baby carriage and a personal shopping cart next to a Dumpster. I didn't touch the baby carriage; that ship has sailed, friend. But since I recently gave away my automobile I was delighted to score a wheeled cart in which I can carry home groceries.

It's not the first discard I've retrieved. When I went back to college a few years ago, a rescued halogen lamp helped light my dim apartment so I could do homework. As apartment house manager it's my job to monitor the recycle and trash bins, where I've found things like candles, picture frames, mugs, cleaning supplies, wrapping paper, books and a Seattle-themed Monopoly game. 

Part of me is appalled that people throw away perfectly good things. Part of me is happy to get them. And yeah, a small part of me is somewhat embarrassed to be seen taking things I find near or in the garbage.

When I was a kid, "trash picker" was a rank insult. These days, Dumpster diving is considered eco-friendly. 

As a child I dressed in hand-me-down clothes first worn by cousins and then by two older sisters. As an adult I've been a regular customer at thrift stores and rummage and yard sales. From time to time Freecycle has helped me find items I need and pass along belongings I no longer want.

But once an item something has been thrown away it becomes, well, garbage -- even if it's still in the shrink wrap, even if it's sitting cleanly on a stack of cardboard boxes. Sometimes as I retrieve an item I wonder if anyone is watching from the window, or driving by to stare at the trash picker.

But I have a choice: Do it, or don't. Most of us have that choice. This time, I chose to do it. Taking the cart saved me $20 and kept one more item out of the landfill.

Do what works for you. If even the word "used" makes you queasy, then go ahead and buy retail.

But maybe you'd be glad to get a Dumpster discount. If you're in the market for a rice cooker or a footstool and you see one in the trash, go ahead and pull it out. Never mind if someone is watching. A little hand sanitizer afterward is a good idea, though.

Published Sept. 11, 2009


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