Trash really others' treasure
WHEN Jesse Chapman was a child he used to drive around the streets with his dad and salvage furniture and other items that residents discarded on footpaths in the lead-up to council hard-waste collections.
The pair spent hours finding treasures among the trash and rarely went home empty handed.
He's now 33 but Mr Chapman's passion for unearthing gems among the junk has not faded.
His Huonville home is furnished with items he has salvaged, including furniture, homewares, art, books and vinyl records, and he still enjoys cruising the streets of Hobart in the lead-up to major hard waste collections, hopeful that something interesting will catch his eye.
During the past week he has scrutinised footpaths in Sandy Bay and Battery Point each night after work, having a "bit of a snoop around" in the hope of snaring goods before Hobart City Council contractors arrive in trucks to take everything away.
Mr Chapman is just one of many Tasmanians who get excited by annual council clean-ups. Some take to the streets during daylight hours or after dark looking for items for their homes, sheds and shacks, others are collectors, some are struggling low-income earners, while others are keen to make a quick buck by salvaging scrap metal to sell, or round up items they think will fetch easy cash in second-hand stores, at markets or garage sales.
While it is not known exactly how many of these scroungers, or waste pickers as they are sometimes known, frequent Hobart footpaths, Mr Chapman believes there are more than most people think and the numbers are growing.
"There are a lot more people doing it now than there used to be," he says. "There's a bit of competition, but it's not too bad because generally everyone is looking for different things."
There could be a fresh rush of scroungers when people realise that the behaviour is not illegal.
Ask your friends, neighbours or work mates whether they have ever scrounged anything from the roadside and most will tell you that while they have occasionally spotted interesting stuff they have never stopped to take it home because they were scared they'd get caught and fined.
In Victoria, for example, residents can be fined up to $500 for picking hard-waste items off the footpath.
Even Tasmania Police's Hobart Division Inspector Glen Woolley was perplexed when asked whether scrounging items off the footpath was illegal. But after some investigations with both the Clarence and Hobart City Councils he confirmed that there are no criminal codes or bylaws stopping Tasmanians nabbing items from the footpath.
"Once an owner places goods on the sidewalk it becomes abandoned property," Insp Woolley explains. "They relinquish all ownership."
He says if people were to take items out of wheelie bins or dumpsters there could be grounds for a stealing charge.
But items on the footpath were fair game.
"Unless the owner tells them not to take things, or the owner puts a sign up saying that only the Hobart City Council is authorised to collect it, then as far as I can see there's no offence being committed," he says.
Individual councils have the power to introduce bylaws preventing residents from collecting goods, so if you're concerned, speak to your local council.
In the Hobart City Council area alone, more than 300 tonnes of waste will be collected from footpaths in the next few days.
About 25 staff and six trucks from Aussie Waste Management are working from 6am to 5pm each day this week to get the job done.
Yesterday collections were done in Sandy Bay and Dynnyrne, today it is Mt Nelson and the CBD, with North Hobart, West Hobart, Lenah Valley and New Town scheduled for later this week.
Aussie Waste managing director Henrick Coombes says so far there have been lots of mattresses, white goods, couches, kids' toys and general household items collected, as well as "massive amounts of TVs and old computers".
His staff divide items into waste and recyclable items, with pushbikes donated to charities to be restored.
He says elderly people embrace hard waste collections because they find it difficult to hire trailers and take items to the tip, while other residents start cleaning out sheds and spare rooms many weeks prior to make the most of the free service.
Hobart's Dwayne Tauschke started scouring footpaths as a teenager growing up in Melbourne and has done so on and off for the past 20 years in various states of Australia.
Now 36, he enjoyed the hobby so much that he started working at the South Hobart tip shop seven years ago, along with Mr Chapman, also a tip shop employee.
The men have in the past scrounged footpaths together in their spare time, although Mr Tauschke admits he doesn't need to do it as often as he used to because he gets his "fix" working at the shop.
"I've always been a bit of a steptoe, a bit of a scrounger," admits Mr Tauschke, who is particularly interested in metal items like old tools, tins and jewellery but has also furnished his home with salvaged goods.
"It's that sort of lucky dip aspect that I like, you just never know what you're going to find. You might look through 100 piles of stuff and find one pile that will make your day."
He says more affluent suburbs like Sandy Bay are often the best for footpath salvaging but lower socio-economic areas are also good, because they are often home to elderly people who throw out items after years of hoarding. He says most people would be surprised by the quality of things people throw away.
Often they might not have space in their spare room or shed, they may have to make way for a new baby or have to move house and don't have time to have a garage sale or market stall so they throw perfectly good gear away.
"You would not believe what comes through, it's quite phenomenal," he says.
"Huon pine furniture, beautiful enamel cookware, antiques, and we get so much brand new stuff in boxes."
"Every day you think 'why would somebody throw that out?'."
He says some might call what he does "scummy" but he doesn't mind.
He says most Tasmanians interested in footpath salvaging were smart, well educated people, with an interest in old things and a desire to cut spending and help save the environment by recycling.
Mr Chapman says he couldn't quit even if he wanted to. "It's in your blood, you can't really switch it off," he says of salvaging and recycling.
Mr Tauschke agrees. "You never know what you are going to get, it can be quite exciting."