PITTSBURGH — Anecdotes about valuables being mistakenly consigned to the garbage are legion, but modern waste collection methods are giving rise to a whole new type of amazing stories about what can be found in the garbage, according to a Pittsburgh-based waste management firm.
Much urban garbage collection today involves the use of large containers or dumpsters, and sanitation crews have become aware that growing numbers of homeless people are using them for shelter, the Chambers Development Co. notes. As a result, the containers are now examined carefully before transfer to the garbage truck.
Employees are also especially cautious at institutions, including prisons and hospitals. Some drivers toot their horns to warn any dumpster occupants, and most check the contents before emptying receptacles at correctional and health care facilities.
In one town in Pennsylvania, workers report, a young man named Greg dutifully exits the dumpster when the collection truck arrives, taking with him all of his belongings. Once the pickup has been made, he re-stows his personal effects and resumes residence.
Flowers Left at Dump
Other stories also contain an element of pathos. One concerns a woman who, believing her dog had been taken to a landfill after being hit by an automobile, sought to recover his remains for a more seemly interment. When she learned that searching 50 tons of waste and landfill would be impossible, she adopted the practice of making regular visits to the site and leaving potted flowers in memory of her dearly loved pet.
Despite the relatively new problems, lost valuables still dominate the list of anecdotes compiled by Chambers employees. Misplaced jewelry heads the list and is rarely recovered; the suspicion is that it frequently doesn't even get to the garbage truck but, if it did, in most cases tons of debris cover it before any search could be organized.
Not all lost items have gone unrecovered, however.
- A mile down the road after a pickup at a private home, a driver noticed unopened mail on top of the rear-loader pile. He pulled out the letters and, upon completing his route, called the customer to see if the mail was intentionally discarded. The customer raced down to the office and recovered $35,000 worth of checks from a stock sale.
- A newspaper reporter on an investigative story suddenly realized his handwritten notes from a series of interviews had disappeared, apparently tossed away by a janitor. Asked to check the day's pickup from the reporter's home area, workers miraculously turned up part of the notes.
- The month's payroll at a small South Carolina military office couldn't be located as the troops lined up to receive their checks. Chambers was asked to trace the early morning trash pickup from a few hours prior to the discovery. Luckily, the truck was just arriving at the landfill and the $13,000 packet was retrieved.
Every recovery isn't welcomed, however, the firm's officials point out. Discovery of a sack of cocaine led to the conviction and imprisonment of a drug dealer.