Thursday, September 07, 2006

Your Right to Refuse

Every couple of months local councils perform 'Hard Rubbish Pick-Ups', collecting all the old crap they won't accept on their regular bin runs. It's a simple process: you just leave piles of stuff you no longer want by the side of the road, and on the appointed day they vanish.

In practice, very few items left by the roadside are actually still there when the council trucks make their rounds. A lot of antique businesses and second-hand furniture shops do a brisk trade in these cast-offs, trawling the streets in vans and ransacking carefully stacked piles of rubbish in the hope of finding something they can loot and sell on for a decent profit.

But it's not just money-making enterprises on the scavenge. The sheer range of unwanted items left out for collection means there's something for almost everyone, if you're willing to look. Sofas, bed frames, bicycles, surfboards, children's swing sets - you name it, sooner or later it'll turn up for pick up.

It's not unusual to see people walking down the road, laden with electrical appliances that have been abandoned by their previous owners. Now and again you'll spot sweaty men heaving fridges and washing machines onto utes, but most commonly it's people scoring VCRs that have been cast out after being replaced by DVD recorders.

You'd think no one would be interested in VHS any more, but if you don't mind being behind the technological curve a little, you can furnish yourself with not only a player but also a decent movie library, absolutely gratis.

Ordinarily you can't give away pre-recorded VHS tapes - I know, I've tried. I recently went onto an Internet board I sometimes post on and advertised a complete, five-season run of a TV series that I no longer wanted after upgrading to DVD. All someone had to do was contact me, turn up and walk off with the tapes. Not so much as a nibble. So on the next hard rubbish day I stuck the lot outside on the verge.

They lasted about seven minutes.

Why did they go so quickly, when they'd been stinking up my house for so long with no one willing to take them? Perhaps there's a thrill there, a frisson to being able to take something that's not yours without being given permission - a kind of legal stealing. That would certainly tally with the large number of people who wait until after dark to rifle through the rubbish. It's as if there's still a small amount of guilt there, even when they're doing nothing wrong by taking items. For every opportunist bold enough to operate in daylight there'll be five who won't.

Of course, as far as I'm concerned, it's all academic. Being British, I wouldn't be caught dead plundering other people's garbage.

That's why I send the wife to do it (incidentally, our new table and wrought-iron candelabra are smashing).


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