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The etiquette of garbage picking

No one knows the pleasures and perils of garbage picking better than Western New Yorkers.

We know it is ecstasy being the first one to spot valuable treasures – an immaculate, retro kitchen chair or a set of sturdy, wooden bookshelves – but we’ve also borne the agony of, say, coming too late upon a record player left out in the rain.

When it comes to “curb-side shopping,” no one has a more expert eye. We simply can’t pass a pile of junk without slowing down for a look.

That’s why folks were piqued earlier this month when two people were arrested and fined $100 for “illegal scavenging” in the City of Lockport.

Scavenging? Yikes. Way to make us sound like vultures.

Seems a slew of locals had put out junk from their flooded basements after the storm. The loaded curbs brought out the pickers who, in turn, garnered complaints. There were also reports of pickers taking “junk” that had been simply left outside to dry. So police began enforcing a picking ban.

But Lockport is just one of many cities to put the kibosh on garbage picking. My own Town of Tonawanda enacted an ordinance in 2006 that makes it unlawful for anyone to “collect, molest or scatter” garbage or recyclables.

Conserving resources and keeping refuse out of landfills seems commendable to me, but due to fears of identity theft (and general fears about having strangers near your house and car), some folks just don’t want people taking stuff out of their trash.

So what’s a junk lover to do? Start with some garbage-picking etiquette:

• Make sure it’s legal. Most municipalities have their town code posted online. Search it for mentions of “refuse,” “waste,” “junk,” “garbage” or “scavenging” to find out if trash in a community is fair game.

• Keep it clean. Most people could care less if you take something they’ve thrown away, but if you ask the ones who don’t like it why they don’t like it, they’ll tell you garbage pickers make a mess of their curb.

Don’t dig through piles, undo bundles or open bags; don’t even take the lid off the garbage can. Only grab things that are visible and easily accessible.

If you do happen to knock something over, tidy up before you go.

• Be quick about it. Don’t linger. Even the most unassuming person can seem creepy when they’re standing near the edge of your house.

• Make sure it’s really garbage. Sure, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but sometimes what one man thinks is trash is still that person’s treasure.

I’ve heard of people setting lawn chairs by their curb for a minute or leaving their lawnmower unattended by the street, only to have it disappear.

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