The summer of garbage

Good news: spring is here!

Warming temperatures means more trash. People emerge from their winter hibernation and decide to clean out their basements and attics. More people move and leave things behind. It also helps that the warm air makes my biking around much more pleasant and casual.

The onset of spring is the perfect time to announce my plan to devote my coming spring and summer to searching for trash and writing this blog.

Doing this involves treating trash picking like a full-time job. I don’t intend on working any other jobs (outside of a short temp job around the end of April) so that I can devote my days to “the hunt.”

I have a small amount of money saved up but I’ll definitely have to be very frugal. I’ll try to eat mostly from “dumpster diving” but I’ll definitely spend some money ensuring that I have the essentials. I don’t want living off trash to be a practice of asceticism. I like my free-range eggs and sunflower oil, and it isn’t too often you find good microbrewed beer in the garbage.

I have enough money to pay the bills and make sure I don’t starve for a few months, but I’ll definitely have to find some good trash to sell so that I won’t be dead broke by the end. Ideally I’d like to break even and prove that I can survive and have a decent life based completely on recovering trash.

However, that’s all secondary to my real purpose. I want to change the way people look at the “things” in their life and get them thinking about how to reduce waste. I hope to raise awareness about the value that even broken possessions may still have and show that there are people out there who can make good use of “garbage.” This increased awareness serves to reduce the amount of waste our society creates, which has many different benefits.

Reducing waste is great for the environment. It means we have to mine less, manufacture less, grow less, and put less in landfills, all of which help to make the world more pleasant for us, future generations, the planet and all forms of life. It also makes countries less dependent on foreign resources and manufacturing, which promotes a more domestic, self-reliant and self-sustainable economy.

I think taking action to reduce waste also has the potential to build a greater sense of community in our individualistic society. Putting something up for free on Craigslist, for example, connects you to a group of people you may have never interacted with otherwise. Waste reduction, especially in the forms that I hope to encourage, is linked closely to the ideas of sharing and collaboration. These acts of benevolence help to strengthen social bonds and bring people closer together.

The “Repair Café” is another great example of how a focus on reducing waste can promote a sense of community and interconnectedness. The social value of repairing things and the knowledge of how to do so has declined since planned obsolescence and disposability became common. However, repair is one of the most important skills in the reduction of waste, and I’ve love to see it become a bigger priority going into the future. The Repair Café helps to build this knowledge and brings about greater connectivity.

These are just two examples. There are tons of ideas that haven’t been thought of or acted upon or exploited to their potentiality. Any action, even the smallest one, is hugely important. I hope that this blog inspires thought and action in all sorts of ways.

However, after everything is said and done I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love doing it. It can be a lot of work with no payoff, and it’s definitely not a way to get rich. Sometimes there’s stuff that smells bad and I get kitty litter on my hands. Sometimes I have to carry really awkward and heavy stuff on a long journey home.

That’s all fine with me. I have a pretty strong stomach and enjoy the easter egg hunt, even when it’s more like finding a needle in a haystack. I love finding cool things and the exhilaration that comes with finding something especially awesome. I also enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors. Finally, setting all humility aside I’m pretty good at what I do. I have an eye for value, even if it’s just for something to give away on Craigslist, and my technique has been fine-tuned over years of experience.

I plan on going out more often once it gets a little warmer out. This week looks a bit chilly, but the temperatures should be nice and mild by next weekend. I’ll be able to do two “runs” a day in the morning and early evening on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in the Plateau, Mile End, Villeray, and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. I’ll also make a point of checking out trash days in other neighborhoods further from home. There should be no shortage of trash!

I think that this will be a fun experience that I’ll look fondly upon when I’m an old man. I hope you enjoy it as well and that we all learn a bit along the way!

-Martin

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13 thoughts on “The summer of garbage

  1. Ivan Rozkoff says:

    I speak five languages,am educated,work on the computer and still quite often recycle bottles and cans that others throw out on the street near where I live.I do not think only the poor recycle bottles and cans.You should also recycle cans and bottles because you get a fixed rate from the machine for returning that.No haggling or selling involved.In the Plateau,people throw out beer cans on the street all the time,unlike the West Island or NDG.

    • martng says:

      I may start picking up bottles. I want to buy a bike trailer so I’d have more room for that sort of stuff. Right now space is a bit of a luxury.

  2. Jay Lanza says:

    You must have biked up and down all the streets of the Plateau by now.Which street in the Plateau do you find the most beautiful aesthetically?And which street in the Plateau do you find the ugliest?Curious to know what you think.

    • martng says:

      Interesting question. Most beautiful is probably the part of Esplanade next to the park. It’s got some nice, big old houses there too.

      Ugliest has got to be Papineau. There’s always lots of cars and big trucks. There’s also a few car dealerships and rental places which aren’t much to look at. Not too many people seem to care about the space.

  3. Kevin says:

    You mentioned Villeray as a neighborhood whose trash you will check regularly.Why not Outremont also?Outremont is close to the Plateau and full of wealthy French Canadians and some rich artists as well.Outremont should be a very interesting neighborhood for you –with some apartment complexes and many palatial homes.

  4. JJ karl says:

    The most remarkable thing about you is that you scavenge alone.I have seen a few scavengers and scrap metal collectors who work in pairs

  5. Wishing you all the best in your summer endeavour. I look forward to reading your posts, seeing your finds and learning how it all works out on the financial side. For sure it’ll be an interesting experience … and who knows where it’ll lead, right? 🙂

  6. Hi Martin, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and you ha e inspired me to look at things differently. I also have to live on a very basic income. So I’ve enjoyed learning ad being encouraged from you blog. I recently moved and needed a peg bucket so I but a d hole in a 4 lt water bottle. It also has a hanging hook which has bee. Handy. It thought of it as temporary when I did it but I. So happy I shall use if till it breaks

    • martng says:

      Glad to hear it! Sounds like that would work pretty well. Ideas like this add up and save us money and help the environment.

  7. Rob says:

    More garbage? More posts? Excited for this!Godspeed, Martin.

  8. […] that the winter has been all but banished from our island city, Martin has decided to dedicate an entire spring and summer to his project. The point being to provide proof of concept […]

  9. […] Excerpt from Things I Find in the Garbage. Full article here. […]

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