The other day, I found a man disembowelling an abandoned stereo on the nature strip. He was snipping cables when I startled him. His head whipped up; he froze briefly like wildlife caught in the beams of an oncoming truck, before shoving the cables into a faded green shopping bag and moving on.
Yep. It’s hard rubbish week in my suburb, and the scavengers are on the prowl. My man fit the stereotype: middling and furtive with his pliers, green bag and non-ironic nineties parachute jacket. Nevertheless it’s surprising to discover how run-of-the-mill hard rubbish scavenging is. According to researchers, ‘while four out of five householders contribute to hard rubbish at least every two years, two in five make a withdrawal. Parents with young children are…the worst offenders’ (via The Herald Sun).
There’s always some sort of treasure for the persistent: furniture, hardware, firewood, toys, collectables, etc. I once uncovered a set of orange and black retro canisters and an old electric fan; such items add character to my home without the Chapel Street Bazaar price tag.
Unfortunately, hard rubbish scavenging falls within the grey areas of the law. In March this year, police arrested a Lilydale man after he took a vacuum cleaner from the hard rubbish pile in Chirnside (via The Age). It was midnight and they thought he had actually stolen the vacuum cleaner. Charges were eventually dropped.
Others have not been so lucky:
Simon from Prahran (who does not wish to disclose his last name) found out the hard way two years ago when he landed a $900 fine and 12-month good behaviour bond after taking two bikes put out on a nature strip for council collection.
“I was living in Frankston at the time and the police were called to my home on an unrelated matter concerning a flatmate of mine. They were going through the house and came across two bikes I had found on hard rubbish and was doing up for my kids. They asked if I had a receipt for them and when I said no they charged me with stealing council property.”
Simon pleaded guilty to possessing the hard rubbish and is still paying off the hefty fines: “I was gobsmacked, I couldn’t believe it and went and tracked the neighbour who put out the bike. It was like I had stolen the Mona Lisa. I’m not interested in hard rubbish any more.” (via The Age)
It’s disheartening to learn about one person’s thrift being seen as another person’s thievery. Not only is hard rubbish scavenging financially smart, it also diverts waste destined for landfill. Still, I suppose councils need to protect the commercial viability of hard rubbish collections somehow—
The good news is that while hard rubbish has been left on council property, it still technically belongs to the person who put it there (at least that’s how it works in Chirnside). So the trick is to check first with the council before you start trawling through its streets and also with the original owner before you take something. In most cases, the owner will be happy to see their rubbish go to a good home, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. If the owner isn’t available, leave a note in their mailbox, thanking them. Also, leave the rubbish as you found it, i.e., in a neat pile and not sprawling over the driveway.
And finally, remember to do as you would unto others: if you’re throwing out a reasonable good couch/desk/washing machine, leave a note for scavengers, explaining that it’s theirs for the taking and it will be gone before you can say ‘hard rubbish’.
24 years and 2 months to go,