Lost treasure

I’M going to miss Newcastle’s bulk waste kerbside collection. Not because of the opportunity to be rid of my own junk, because the council is still picking it up twice a year, but rather the loss of the suburb-wide piles that yielded so many of my home’s treasures.

Take just the latest find, a 1950s Laminex table with a hot pink top in almost perfect condition and chromed but rusty legs that are now resplendent again.

What has changed since the beginning of this month is that Newcastle City Council picks up a household’s junk by appointment rather than suburb by suburb. Council workers – no longer contractors – pick up the bulk waste the day after the weekly garbage service, so the scavengers, as the council calls them, will have much thinner pickings as they, if they, patrol the streets.

It appears that deterring these scavengers was a primary reason the council changed to a less predictable collection, and my view of these people in the old trucks or utes as salvagers marks the difference in the council’s attitude and mine.

I looked upon their sorting through our junk as profitable and efficient recycling, and I looked upon those doing it as people having a go. Some specialised in metal, others in furniture, some in simply oddities, and the end result was that every pile I’ve put out the front of my place was reduced by more than half within a couple of days waiting for the council-paid contractor. Often the salvagers would take the lot.

Newcastle council looks upon the sorting through our junk as barely better than theft. The scavengers were, the council manager in charge of waste services, Lisa Scully, tells me, quite brazen in taking the recyclables, and I was never aware of a reason for them to be anything but brazen. The problem was, Ms Scully says, that the scavengers got the income that should have been available to the council, income that would have offset the cost of dumping the non-recyclables. But, I asked her yesterday, weren’t the salvagers very efficient recyclers? Efficient for themselves, Ms Scully said, with no benefit for residents.

So, you phone, the council sends a truck, sells the recyclable materials to specialist recyclers and takes the rest to the dump. And I doubt that any of the council’s recycling will rescue the treasures from oblivion. What, for example, would become of my hot pink Laminex table now?

It has not all been incoming. For our twice-yearly pick-up we’d carefully arrange bits and pieces on our nature strip in the hope they’d catch the eye of a salvager and live again, and we’d put notes on televisions and other appliances proclaiming ‘‘It works!’’. (At the same time, of course, we’d run an eye over our neighbours’ piles.) My wife and I would keep a count, noting when the louvres went, pleased when young people in a ute took the lounge.

Do any kerbside-rescued treasures grace your home? Do you agree that there's more to recycling than money?

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