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 »  Home  »  Smiles  »  Neighbor to Neighbor
Neighbor to Neighbor
By Margaret Malone | Published  10/2/2008 | Smiles | Interest Level:

Charles Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend” opens with a description that reminds me how fortunate we are to have that all-important event on the city calendar, Bulky Trash Day. Perhaps it will become a national holiday one day. It also reminds me that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

You see, the London that Dickens portrayed didn’t have landfills or garbage pickups, and was once oppressed during a particularly hot summer by a phenomenon aptly called “the great stink.”

Dickens’ London was home to a scavenger underclass that lived by harvesting all manner of rubbish. There were the “mudlarks,” children who wandered the banks of the Thames, gathering anything they could use or sell. There were the “toshers,” who combed through the sewers for the same reason. There were the rag-pickers and bone-pickers…and the “pure-finders.” You don’t want to know what they were looking for. It makes dumpster diving look posh.

I don’t know about you, but I love Bulky Trash Day. When I was a kid in England, we didn’t have a municipal large-trash pickup service. We did have a neighborhood “rag and bone man” who would go around the neighborhoods every so often, collecting all manner of large junk. The rag and bone man was a cultural figure in many cities and towns. There was even a popular and very long-running sitcom, “Steptoe and Son,” devoted to a hilariously vindictive rag and bone man and his oppressed son. The show was later remade in the USA as “Sanford and Son.” Waste Management’s service seems awfully refined by comparison.

So I’m looking forward to an opportunity for a bit of liberating de-clutter. It’s amazing how much junk a family household can collect. Although we donate almost everything we no longer use, broken and worn out items tend to collect over time, like the Jurassic-era fossilized computer and the broken kitchen chair I got rid of last trash day.

There are plenty of wry tales about the semiannual offering to the trash gods. Last pickup day, a friend wrote me in triumph after the trash truck averted the inclusion of some old broken-down lawn chairs in a very unsightly perpetual garage sale. She explained how the “proprietor” of said garage sale made a habit of driving by and inspecting the bulky trash before returning with his trailer to collect the choicest items. These would then magically acquire a price tag and pride of place in his ongoing rummage bazaar (think “Steptoe and Son”). On this occasion the trash truck beat him to the punch and my friend was spared the irony of adding to a neighborhood eyesore.

I found an interesting message board posting recently that threw different light on the question of whether or not scavenging on trash day is ok. The writer explained that someone had picked up an armchair from her trash…and returned it several hours later. The writer in this instance didn’t miss the trash pickup, but there is something rather churlish about returning items previously picked from someone else’s trash.

Then there was the Crudtastic Couch Caper, in which a friend’s teenaged son mustered a posse of his friends to move a discarded sofa from behind Maxwell Creek all the way to his own yard. It’s beyond me why he did this, but it happened. “Never mind Seven-Eleven,” said my friend, “thank Heaven for Bulky Trash Day.” The explanation ultimately turned out to be that the kids wanted to use it as a paintball practice target.

Many people feel out of sorts if strangers drive by and pick items out of their bulky trash. It happens quite a lot, and while it’s a good thing for items to be put to use, it isn’t fair when trash-pickers make a mess, which on occasion they do by scattering items about.

For those who have not seen the detailed announcement on the City Web site, bulky trash day is on your regular trash day, which will be either Thursday, October 23rd or Friday, October 24th. Pick up will begin very early on those days, so you will need to have all items out by your curb the night before your scheduled pick up date.

There are several important rules and guidelines that you should know before taking advantage of this valuable city service, so check out all the info online by following the link to “Announcements” on the City home page at


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