Trash pickers cash in on the spoils of summer

Friday, August 2, 2013 | 3:35 p.m. CDT
This week many students were moving out and leaving unwanted items by the curb. Others looking for furniture scoured neighborhood to find items before they were picked up by the trash service.

COLUMBIA — Like other students in the East Campus neighborhood, Gerald Leonard was piling up couches, beds and home appliances at the curb outside of his house Wednesday, the last day of his lease.

He said one of his roommates recently graduated and the other four, including himself, were moving elsewhere in Columbia, so they threw out most of the things that they don't need outside.

“I mean, the idea in Columbia is that you can just take your stuff and leave it on the curb, so that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re getting as much stuff as we can out, and the big stuff, we leave it on the curb,” Leonard said.

He tells friends about his throwaways, but thinks that most of the time they're picked up by people driving through the neighborhood — especially during the late summer student moving season.

Metal is money

When Kristen Tumbleson and Tyler Courtney, both seniors at Hickman High School, drive around neighborhoods looking for free stuff, they don't have furniture on their mind. They collect bed frames, mini fridges and chairs for the scrap metal.

“We learned about it because his mom has worked at a recycling company," Tumbleson said. "When college kids move out, they get rid of a lot of stuff that they don’t need with a lot of metal, so we pick it up and scrap it for money.” 

Tumbleson said they look for the trash with metal, pick it up and haul it to one of the scrap yards in Columbia.

"We picked up a lot of fridges last week," she said. "Like a lot."

A day's work can yield as much as $100, she said.

Treasure hunters

Stefanie Burt and Louis Mahaffey, both MU juniors, drove around East Campus on Wednesday to find free furniture they can use in their new homes.

“I need shelves. I’m pretty sure I can find something eventually,” Burt said.

“There is some cool stuff," Mahaffey said. "We just need a pickup truck.”

”I think it works out, because people throw away all the stuff that they don’t need, and then a bunch of other people actually need it, so they just go and pick it up,” she said.

Burt ended up driving her Honda Civic home with a gently used wooden coffee table in the back seat.

The cleaners

Hakeem Whitaker and Clyde Jones work as trash collectors with the city's Public Works Department, and East Campus their primary route. With Whitaker driving and Jones hanging on the back of the truck, they knew what to expect during a drive around the East Campus on Monday.

As they spotted furniture outside of a house on Ann Street, Whitaker pulled over and Jones loaded a four-person couch into the back. Within a minute, the compactor ate up the entire couch, crushing it with a sharp-edged plate and sliding the waste into the hopper.

Moving-out season for college students means extra work for the city crew, and their  truck has been filling up quicker than usual in the past week.

Cynthia Mitchell, Columbia's solid waste utility manager, said 700 tons of refuse is deposited in the city landfill each day. For Whitaker and Jones, the average trip back and forth from the landfill takes 40 minutes, and their hopper holds 12 to 13 tons of trash at a time. 

The increased number of trips to the landfill this time of year doesn't necessarily make the day feel longer, Jones said. It's just that they have to go three or four times per day. He says they average two trips during other parts of the year.

After working during the fifth-hottest July on record last year, Whitaker said the recent mild temperatures and rain have helped offset the increased workload.

Sharing is caring

Michael Holloway, a Salvation Army clerk, said donations have been steady since last week as college students move and others clear their garages.

“Donations usually pick up during the summer, and they usually decrease during the fall and the winter, but they also pick up around the Christmas, too.”

He said the most popular donation items are clothes, home appliances and furniture.

“We have to go through the stuff and see if it’s sellable," Holloway said. "If it’s broken, if it’s dirty, or if it doesn’t have certain parts that’s needed, we throw it away.”

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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