Garbage Scavengers: Finding Treasure in Other People's Trash

Garbage scavengers, also known as trashmongers or garbage diggers, find treasures to recycle from other people's trash.

  • Trashmongering
    Lack talks about the art of trashmongering and scavenging at Baltimore County Sanitary Landfill.

  • Trashmongering

This past week I've been semiconsciously assisting in the organic debourgeoistification of two city kids (ages 4 and 8) who've been trying out the wild life in Heathcote's moors and woods. I'd noticed that whenever we went into stores they asked mommy to purchase the entire stock, naming off one item at a time. They were well conditioned to the prime value of the American system—the sweet buy and buy and buy—and often they drove everyone around them to distraction with demands that "mommy buy this" and "mommy buy that". And then, yesterday, the mommy and I happened to pass by the Baltimore County Sanitary Landfill. We decided to look it over.

It was past closing time, so we had to squeeze by the gate on foot. No dump personnel were present. Two fellow garbage scavengers joined us presently; otherwise we were alone in the vast and brooding silence and aroma of the surrealistic dump dunes. Incidentally, those dunes were overgrown with raspberries, milkweed and other wild delicacies.

Dumps and garbage routes are better stocked, naturally, in high income areas and from the looks of things Baltimore County folks are generally pretty well off. The dozers had been at work and nearly everything was covered with sand, so as garbage scavengers we were limited in our shopping to the odds and ends that remained unburied. Nevertheless we found a lot of useful stuff in about a half-hour of leisurely strolling. There follows an inventory of our plunder:

1. An elegant and durable stuffed lion, intact but for one eye and needing only the washing machine to be like new.
2. An almost full bottle of oil of citronella, a mosquito repellent, carrying the original "discount" price—54 cents.
3. Three serviceable, soft paintbrushes, readily reconditioned.
4. Eight large bulbs, probably gladiolas. They're getting planted, so we shall see.
5. The paperback edition of Tom Chautard's treatise, The Soul of The Apostolate, in good condition.
6. A two-gallon gas can, slightly dented.
7. A fine grey washbasin, in almost new condition.
8. A terrycloth notion bag, sandy but in otherwise good shape.
9. A pair and a spare of woolen footmittens, like new.
10. One third of a bottle of silicone waterproofing compound.
11. An "approved pet brush", in good shape and bearing a pricemark—59 cents.
12. A toy ferryboat about two feet long and missing nothing essential.
13. About 20 wooden barrels of the type carried on flatcars in model train sets.
14. A stop sign, also from a toy train set.
15. A Frito Bandito pencil.
16. A toy watering can, new condition.
17. A small boy's blue blazer, nearly new condition and emblazoned with the words "College Bound", which we removed.
18. Seventy dollars in play money.
19. A pair of child's paper cutting scissors, perfect condition.
20. A small wooden plaque, featuring a stylized sun.

The Heathcote gang, when we got back, were unimpressed with what we'd got. And not without reason, given the big league trashpicking that some Heathcoters have pulled off in the past. When the redoubtable Pasquale Giuseppe Giovanni Valenziano lived here he routinely performed incredible feats of virtuoso trashmongering, frequently and without apparent effort. He found his lady an elegant fur coat, and once brought home some plastic wastes that looked a psychedelic blend of entrails and cowpiles and were the object of considerable ridicule until he unloaded two of them at an artsy Baltimore fleamarket for a cool $30 each.

But if our take yesterday was unspectacular by comparison, its effect upon the aforementioned two kids was not. When we distributed the childrens' portion of our modest treasure trove between them the older commenced to wail, "mommy, can we go to the dump tomorrow?" Progress. Her head had been turned by the bounty of the Wasteland Free Store, and brother's too. We'll try to take them back next week. They'll make good gypsies one day.

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