Bedbugs are the primary enemy of the garbage picker and they can quickly turn a fun hobby or profitable endeavor into a nightmare. However, they’re fairly easily avoided if you’re careful and you know how to spot them. I suggest anyone interested in trash picking educate themselves by doing some Google research, but I can definitely offer you a few tips specific to the profession:
- Always ask yourself why the items are being thrown out. This takes a certain amount of intuition. People who have bedbugs tend to throw out mattresses, wood furniture, wooden decorations and fabrics. People with bedbugs don’t tend to clean out their pantry or freezer, so if you see that kind of food-related stuff there won’t often be bedbugs. Still, the presence of a mattress doesn’t necessarily mean bedbugs are present, and I once found nearly 50 cans of food at a bedbug infested spot, so it’s important to be vigilant no matter your impressions.
- Inspect what you take, and know the visible signs of a bedbug infestation. You will likely see black spots (poo – above) before you see anything else. Thankfully, the bedbug poo pattern is pretty distinct and you won’t need to see a bug, cast skin, or eggs to identify the problem. You will typically find the poo (and the rest) in the bugs harbourage spots, including but not exclusive to: seams on mattresses, screw-holes, and cracks in wooden furniture. Basically, they hide (and poo) where they don’t think you can find them and where they have easy access to your blood; bugs rarely live further than a few meters from their food source. As a “bonus” of sorts, you can also see bedbug eggs if look closely at the screw in this photo. They look like tiny grains of rice.
- If the pile you’re looking at includes a mattress, box spring or wooden bed frame inspect those items even if you don’t plan on taking them. This type of furniture is a great source of information, as if there is an infestation there is a near guarantee that there will be evidence on or around the bed.
- Be especially cautious with apartment building garbage. Bedbugs easily spread between units and all it takes is one person unaware of their infestation or a bad landlord to cause a huge issue. I’ve seen apartment buildings in Montreal that have had bedbug issues for years.
- Make a habit of being cautious with clothes and other fabrics. Unless you’re certain about them being bedbug-free, I would throw them in a dryer (without washing them first) just to be safe. Bed bugs can’t stand the heat and will die after even just 10 minutes of drying, though I’d probably leave them in there longer just to be safe.
- If you do spot bugs in some stuff on the curb and think that someone less knowledgeable might come along and pick it up, take a bit of time and somehow mark or ruin the items. If I have a sharpie or pen on me I’ll straight-up write “bedbugs” (or punaises, in Montreal) on furniture and the like. Otherwise, I might cut the fabric with a knife so that the furniture is no longer desirable. Bedbugs ruin a lot of great stuff, and it’s in your best interest (and the collective best interest) to reduce their spread as much as possible.