The standard arguments against taking stuff from alleys

Published February 26, 2016 by justicewg

Xmas TrashmanI have some answers from the city on the questions I had about the rules for removing junk that was set out for trash pickup. I’ll get to that in a later post, first some discussion on the whole trash issue.

The three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. It is taught to little kids in school, it is the mantra of anyone who cares about the problems we have in a society that wastes too much, worships new stuff when old versions are still working, and is filling the dump sites to overflowing. All of the R’s are not simple to do, reusing is especially problematic for people who don’t want to use Craigslist, and find it simpler to set still good material out by the trash.

I’ve read a lot of online wrangling over taking discarded stuff, if you want to see some people flipping out, just search for the comments that get posted whenever Freegans are mentioned. The less extreme practices of people who just pick a few choice items sitting out by trash cans can also cause the heebie-jeebies in certain types. In order to preempt some of the arguments that occur over and over when this issue is discussed, I’m going to do a brief summary of the past discussion.

The xenophobe (also known as The Trump)

This person has a fear based response. “The hordes of poor people will come into our little city and strip it bare! We must defend it from all trespassers!”

The xenophobe has an over-developed defense reaction to what is a minor problem. I can’t provide statistics for an issue which occurs out of sight for most people, with no consequences. But I would guess there is only a tiny number of people who do scrapping in alleys who also steal stuff. After all, you are placing a big obvious sign on yourself when you have scrap metals into the back of your truck, the police have no questions about what you are doing. Only the dumbest of thieves would think it was a good plan to steal stuff then continue to drive around with the stolen material in full view.

All the discussion and worries about scrappers are out of date. The prices of scrap metals have bottomed out, there is no money to be made by scrappers anymore. Maybe prices will go back up, but for now this discussion is moot – you will not see scrappers when it costs more in gas than can be earned by scouring alleys.

Bad news for recyclers too, the city’s recycling program cost the city about $20 a ton to have it taken away. Regular trash cost $40 a ton to have it taken to the dump, so it makes financial sense for the city to recycle, it just isn’t putting us in the plus column (these numbers per Director of Administration Patrik Bowman).

The Germaphobe

Some people find the concept of taking stuff that was sitting in the alley near a trash can revolting. They want anything that comes into their home to be new, inside a plastic clamshell, sanitized and spotless.

The germaphobe doesn’t know what the conditions are like inside the average factory in china. Let’s just say that germ free and lowest possible price are not compatible.

The stuff you buy at yard sales is no different than the stuff found in alleys, maybe the discards have a bit more dirt on the bottom. Everything we touch has germs, some quick cleaning can return any discarded item into the normally germ coated condition that we live with everyday in our homes.

If Germaphobes want to know where the real dangers are located, they need to look into the studies of fast food places. Chipotle has made the news, but the bigger issue is diabetes and coronary heart disease caused by unhealthy food.

The trash lawyer

Some people are certain that the city they live in has a iron-clad contract of ownership of the trash in alleys, and anyone who breaks the chain of possession from homeowner to packer truck is stealing. These people are not really lawyers, and don’t know the laws.

You didn’t sign a contract with your city to do trash pickup. There are private collection agencies that have contracts, but contracts are not done by cities.

California v. Greenwood, 486 US 35, is the supreme court decision that is the final word on ownership of trash set out for disposal. Because the police wanted to take evidence out of some guys trash, the high court decided that all trash left for pickup is public domain, and no, you can’t sue the person who takes it.

Bad memories of childhood poverty

One of the most extreme reactions I have seen from anyone in a discussion of trash picking was from a person who grew up in poverty, as a child he saw much of the stuff his parents could provide come from trashcans or charity donations of used toys and clothing. This person fought their way out of the poverty cycle, and had a job and bought everything new from stores. The thought that there were people who were promoting trash picking (like the Freegans) inspired a rage in him. I’m guessing it had to do with how he had to self motivate to change his condition in life, it needed a lot of mental determination and self-reinforcement that judged the old way he was brought up as Bad, and that included any use of old stuff. Maybe the rage also included resentment that Freegans were “playing at being poor”?

I’m not sure of all the issues that formerly poor people have, I didn’t grow up in that condition so I have anecdotal knowledge. One of my data points is a relative who grew up very poor, and had great success in employment. He is a hard core Republican, and holds poor people in contempt.

(The final word on alley trash.)

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