Dumpster diving in the suburbs


Times are getting tough for some. And that can mean putting off the purchase of a new piece of furniture, or even toys for your kids. Well, here's one way of getting around that problem: Trash picking.

But not just going through someone's litter. I'm talking about checking out the bulky waste pickup schedule for the nearest affluent town and then going for a little drive...in a friend's pickup.

As I related in a recent New York Times article, there are treasures to be had in some of that trash: one woman I know picked up an entire bedroom set, including headboard, frame and dressers. Someone else found a coffee table. I've found numerous kids' toys, including ride-on cars, a beautiful wooden kids' workshop, and a double baby jogger stroller.

Much of the "trash" that people put out is actually in fairly good condition; sometimes it's as simple as cleaning up an old plastic toy, changing a spark plug on a lawnmower or replacing a broken glass door on a cupboard to make something almost as good as new. In fact, lots of people put out perfectly good used items with the hope that someone will pick them up. This assuages some of their guilt about buying something new, says Elizabeth Royte, the author of "Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash," a look at the social, economic and environmental aspects of garbage disposal.

Royte says she has picked up an espresso machine and even some great children's clothes in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Wealthier neighborhoods, of course, have better pickings, especially since those residents tend to do a lot more remodelling. They may change things in their house just to update the style, and not because they need them. People with money may also be more inclined to buy something new instead of taking the trouble to repair an older item, says Royte. She adds that it's becoming more socially acceptable to pick up things from the trash. So don't be embarrassed: go for a drive and you just might find that perfect coffee table you've been looking for.