Special edition! The McGill move-out day examined

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I didn’t work the end of April for the first time in a few years. I previously held a regular temp job – basically doing small moves in the McGill area – that used to keep me very busy the second half of April and first few days of May.

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The job helped me make a bit of extra cash, but it also meant I didn’t get to fully experience the phenomenon that is the McGill University move-out day. I’m glad I was able to go this time around, if only so that I could capture the experience as best I could and share it with you!

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Many students move away from the Milton Parc area (more commonly known as the McGill ghetto) when school ends for the summer. Some go back home for the summer, while others just upgrade to nicer apartments. Regardless of why they leave, the exodus results in massive amounts of trash.

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From what I hear this situation isn’t unique to McGill, and occurs in university towns all across the world.

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Move-out day one the most well-known trash days in Montreal, second only to Moving Day (July 1st) which often receives international media attention. There’s a lot more competition due to the day’s somewhat underground fame, and various types of scavengers descend upon the area.

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I saw a couple people, including a woman probably in her 60s, picking for cans. One man who I remembered from previous years walked around with a bag that held some wires, a modem, and a few other things I couldn’t make out. He asked what I was looking for. “I don’t know… iPhones!” I said after thinking about it for a second. He was looking for electronics.

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There was a guy a few years younger than me stuffing things in a large hiking backpack. Another person peered at the huge trash piles while carrying a painting and a little Ikea push cart. I saw someone else put a bag of clothes in their car.

A man came by and threw this wheelchair into his pickup truck not long after I snapped this photo. I imagine he wanted it mostly for the scrap metal. I saw another scrap metal collector working the area with both a pickup and a trailer.

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I also saw my first wasp of the year. It’s a scavenger too, I guess. Squirrels, cats, and raccoons (closer to the mountain) also enjoy the spoils.

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While there’s definitely a lot of good stuff to be found, I personally don’t take move-out day too seriously. The increased competition makes it harder to find anything that’s really worth the effort, and it’s definitely true that a lot of what the students throw out is pure junk. From a business perspective, I’m better off continuing on my usual routes. Lots of other people move at the end of the month too.

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Still, move-out day is a fun experience. There’s just so much going on. There are parents packing their cars full of their kids things, students walking pieces of furniture down the street, moving companies doing their thing, janitors and other workers trying their best to maintain order, and scavengers searching for whatever it is they’re most keen for. The ghetto becomes uniquely vibrant, and you kind of feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It’s nice too that garbage picking is totally normalized, if only for a day or two.

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The garbage truck apparently got a flat tire, which I’d never seen before. That almost certainly contributed to the high level of chaos, but likely helped the scavengers save more than they would have been able to otherwise.

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Move-out day has its own particular brand of garbage. It’s similar to the kind of stuff people leave behind when they move far away, but different because there are thousands of almost exclusively 18-20 years old students moving at the same time. There’s a lot of Ikea furniture, as you can imagine. So many bags are filled with whatever was left in the refrigerator and pantry.

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Binders make a regular appearance …

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… as do course packs and books. The concept of recycling seems to take a back seat on move-out day, though I can’t say this tendency is unique to McGill students.

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Many bags are stuffed with seemingly perfectly fine clothes …

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… and kitchenwares.

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There’s also a lot of random stuff, like this framed Pirates of the Carribean themed print …

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… a larged stuffed fish …

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… and a shopping cart adorned with tinsel garland.

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I didn’t have high expectations going into the day. I hoped to find a little silver or gold in jewellery form, maybe some loose change or a still valuable textbook. If I was lucky, maybe I’d come across a relatively modern laptop or iPhone (even broken would be fine!). I wasn’t too worried about bringing home a big haul, though. I ended up saving two pairs of pants (the corduroys fit nicely, the others need hemming) …

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… a few books …

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… a container full of decent spices …

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… some loose change, an iPhone cable, and a dumb pin that states “I heart buns.” I actually needed an iPhone cable, so that was handy.

A lot of useful things definitely met their demise in the ghetto the past few days in spite of the many scavengers working the streets. Binders, for example aren’t really valuable enough to take on a large scale, but are often in good enough condition to use again. The same is true for mugs, plates, other kitchenwares, and clothes. Leftover food, such as a half-full bag of macaroni noodles (a common sight in the ghetto) or half-used spices are still quite safe for consumption but not worth scavenging if you’re hoping for a bigger score.

I know McGill has some programs, particularly in their dorms that encourage students to donate what they can. However, this doesn’t apply to people living outside of dorms, and from experience I can say that a lot of good stuff still gets tossed at dorms as well. Is there a way we can get students to better reduce, reuse, and recycle? If you’re a student, does your university have a successful strategy for tackling this issue? I’d be interested in hearing your ideas!