Friday, October 02, 2009

There's gold in them there dumpsters...

... Well, not really, but there is copper, brass, and ton upon ton of aluminum.

I once groused that DeKalb does not have a vigorous recycling program. This was back in late 2006 when I was given the runaround requesting a recycling bin from Waste Management. Three phone calls and months later, I was never supplied one until I confronted the recycling truck in the alley. He had an extra one and gave it to me on the spot. A lesson on the power of direct confrontation.

But now I'm benefitting from the lack of recycling. I live on the far east side of downtown, where the buildings date back to the early 20th century and the neighborhood is mostly single family dwellings. The alleyways close to home are great to glean from before trash pickup because eco-minded residents put their aluminum cans in recycling bins for me. I like to go can picking in daylight because I make a ruckus crushing the cans and don't want to wake anybody up.

What has surprised me most is how kind people are to me, going out of their way to give me cans and giving me verbal support. This one old lady even grabbed me by the elbow, looked me in the eyes and said, "You know you're really doing a great thing, young man." Not really. I'm just getting some exercise and trying to make a little extra money.

But the real paydirt isn't in my neighborhood, but the huge apartment complexes on the northwest side of town. As John Hoffman notes in his classic tome, The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving, college students are "wastoid pukes." And this is so true. I've already gleaned an almost brand new Cannondale bike, fresh fruit by the bagload, a nice fleece jacket, and bag after bag after bag of aluminum cans.

I've been trying to figure out why I like dumpster diving so much. I think it is because it appeals to my outsider sensibilities. The wastoid pukes ignore me and, so far, from that little old lady who grabbed my arm to the young guy who ran back into his place to grab me a bag of cans, and the garbage man who told me where to find brass, all of my encounters while diving have been positive.

I also like dumpster diving because it is a form of urban exploration. You never know what you're going to find. And it is kind of like shopping because I always, without fail, return home loaded with as much as I can carry.

I've only got a few minutes left at the library, so I'm going to dispel a few myths about dumpster diving. First of all, I don't actually get into the dumpster. I may have to at some point, but so far I haven't done it. Everything I've grabbed so far has been in reach. Now, I've leaned over the edge in classic dumpster diving pose many times... Also, I do not get that dirty from diving. My hands get a little sticky from spilled soda and beer, but I just wipe them on the grass and go about my business. I have yet to see a rat, but did encounter a family of three raccoons huddling together asleep in one dumpster.

The good dumpster provides.

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