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The joys of scavenging

A passion for cast-offs is tops for the planet

By Carolyn Pogue

John Doyle, a likable columnist in the Globe and Mail, recently wrote that we’re living in a “scavenger economy.” Like that’s a bad thing. He worries we’ve changed from a manufacturing society to a scavenging one, and seems to think we should be making more new things — as if the planet can survive that mindset.

My parents taught us to repair, recycle, reuse everything. Scavenging fits right into that. Perhaps Doyle has never visited community-building dumps, like the one in Water Valley, Alta., or in Yellowknife, where people sort unwanted items for easier shopping, take their kids and a thermos of coffee and make an afternoon of it. He must not have felt the joy of being given a beautiful sweater now soft and comfortable from being worn by a good friend. He’s likely never shopped at the Free Store on Hornby Island, B.C. Maybe he forgets that without other scavengers like ravens, crows, magpies and coyotes, his visits to cottage country would stink. After all these years reading his column, I thought I knew him. Silly me.

Doyle makes disparaging comments about recyclers, describing a bottle depot scene this way: “The old, the desperate, the impoverished and the lost are there, getting a few cents per bottle for what they’ve scavenged off the streets.” Does he want recyclers to wear ball gowns and tuxedos when they go to work? Would he prefer that empty bottles are kicked down the street, rolled under hedges or smashed on the road to slice his tires? Or (and wouldn’t this be good), maybe he means that people should be paid more than a few cents per bottle for providing this service?

Doyle describes turning on the TV (he gets paid for that) and being inundated with ads asking for second-hand jewelry, “old stuff for cash.” The channels are filled with new so-called reality shows like Storage Wars, where unclaimed stuff in storage lockers is auctioned. He argues that this reflects a manufacturing economy falling apart; it’s desperation.

Certainly when people dumpster dive for food, they are desperate. So we need governments that put our money into programs to help. We need living wages, not minimum wages, and more affordable housing.

But in other cases, recyclers, scavengers, call us what you like, are creative people, like set decorators for television and theatre. Back alleys, second-hand shops and auctions can yield the perfect 1890s chair or fedora for Act 2. Artists shop in dumps, alleys, ditches and garage sales for found objects, glass, even dead birds for art making.

Doyle should be happy that scavengers tidy up the world. God help us, the planet needs less stuff, not more. Oh, wait. It’s spring. Must dash to get ready for the church rummage sale.



Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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