One person’s rubbish another’s treasure


Kerbside rubbish in Stirling WA, photo by Henry Kujda

During a recent stay in a Brisbane bayside suburb, a kerbside rubbish collection was in the offing. You could tell by the untidy piles of trash lining the footpaths of suburban streets. On my daily dog walks, I became aware of a steady stream of cars with trailers doing the rounds, beating Council trucks to the treasure.

Scavenging from kerbside collections is a time-honoured tradition. Whole generations have furnished their share houses with the kerbside rejects from other people’s homes. We are talking here of household items too big to fit into a wheelie bin, but none so large two people could not lift them. So a fridge is OK, a barbecue (sans gas bottle) probably OK. The large dead limb off the ghost gum that fell on the shed is probably not OK. Most Councils have lists of items you can leave on the kerb and things that won’t be collected (like old tyres, fuel cans, pesticide spray containers, gas bottles, fire extinguishers and so on). Anything made of MDF will probably be left for Council to collect, especially if it rains before collection day.

I helped my brother-in-law carry surplus items to the kerb (an old office chair, a baby’s car seat, a single foam mattress, a dismantled bed frame, a (new) security window frame and so on). No sooner had items been placed by the kerb, a car and trailer would pull up and the driver would start throwing things into the trailer.

Further up the road the same thing was going on, with a certain frisson of tension between scavenging crews. In some ways, it seemed singularly distasteful and desperate, on the other hand, why would we care – we were the ones throwing the crap out.

As part of its War on Waste series, the ABC’s Alle McMahon looked into how different States and Territories viewed the practice of kerbside scavenging. For example, the ACT only provides kerbside collections for seniors and concession card holders. As such, it is illegal to leave items out on the verge or nature strip.

The City of Sydney carefully states: “Our legal advice is that anyone who picks up items left outside for bulky waste pick up is doing so at their own risk.”

As the saying goes: Caveat Emptor, or in this instance, Seminiverbius Emptor.

There are signs that some Councils are abandoning kerbside collections in favour of recycling stations at their local landfill. Up to 60% of waste collected in Australian is recycled, although more than 20 million tonnes of solid waste per year goes to landfill.

While the independent Noosa Shire Council still has a kerbside collection every year, the neighbouring Sunshine Coast Regional Council dumped the practice, which it deemed to be “outdated and environmentally harmful”.

Free annual kerbside collections stopped once the Sunshine Coast Councils amalgamated in 2008, but there has been some pressure to resume. Noosa Shire de-amalgamated and started kerbside collections again, the two Councils tabling vastly differing sums as to the cost of kerbside collections.

Cr Jenny McKay told FOMM she had always been a supporter of the kerbside collection concept but other councillors and staff disagreed for a number of reasons.

“A low percentage of people across the region actually take up the offer, thus making the cost per property very expensive.”

Cr McKay pointed out the council waived fees on some large items (e.g mattresses), when taken to waste facilities.

Early January is the traditional time for household clean-ups. We all warm to the task as a result of disposing of after-Christmas detritus, including careful disposal of prawn shells; the merry rattle of bottles and cans being tumbled into the recycling bin.

But all too often the cycle of change signalled by January 1 prompts people to revisit concepts of decluttering and downsizing, adding specific items to their New Year resolutions.

January often signals the impending departure of the elder child to university or the workforce. If said child is leaving home, there is often a recycling of family junk; the student gets the old fridge and the non-smart TV while the parents go to a department store and buy brand-new everything.

For older people, children long gone and developing their own hoarding habits, it becomes a tussle between feeling comfortable with the familiar and needing to let go for reasons of space and relevance.

Empty-nesters and retirees contemplating a move to a smaller living pace have a different set of problems. If they are moving from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom unit, then they will need to get rid of two sets of bedroom furniture as a bare minimum.

The options are: hold a garage sale, list the items on Gumtree or your favourite Facebook free ads site, donate them to charities like the Salvation Army or Lifeline. In many locations, the bigger charities will come and collect the items.

If you are in a state of flux and need to store your household goods for a while, there are no shortages of businesses ready to rent you a lockable storage space.

The self-storage industry large warehouses housing hundreds of lockable storage units – is a $1 billion+ business in Australia, busier than ever as more people relocate from large houses to small units.

But just as EBay and Gumtree disrupted the second-hand store sector, the digital sharing world has caught up with self-storage. acts as a broker for people wanting to store personal belongings, hooking them up with citizens who have spare rooms or garages.

Spacer co-founder Mike Rosenbaum explained what his then year-old business was aiming to do in an article for Domain. Spacer’s customers are typically looking to store household goods, business stock or large items like recreational vehicles, sporting equipment or even nursery items.

“What we’re finding is [extra storage] allows people to live the lifestyle they want to live – typically close to the city or closer to amenities,’ Rosenbaum said.

The average user spends about $250 a month renting space, which typically pays for a single lock-up garage in Sydney or Melbourne.

Spacer now claims to be the largest renter of storage space in Australia, with more than 30,000 units.

The bottom line for anyone who is paying to store household goods off-site is whether the outlay (over the time kept in storage), exceeds the cost of replacement.

For those whose circumstances demand that they scour suburban streets to claim household items ahead of what is sometimes called Hard Rubbish Day, that debate is completely academic.

The Band Who Knew Too Much summed up the life of kerbside scavengers in their pithy song Hard Rubbish Night in Kew.

“This tele’s just a beauty, it’s just like the one at Mum’s, it’ll be great for watching footie; though it’s missing just one leg, I suppose I’ll have to watch it from the broken rocking chair.”

Happy New Year to all FOMM readers, wherever you are.



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Jon toogood
Jon toogood
January 5, 2019 1:37 pm

While visiting Brisbane last December, I noticed this strange ritual. Here in Canada, you are left on your own to dispose of unwanted items, sell them, donate them or off to the goes.