Auburn wants first dibs on curbside trash


Chapter 22: Health, Plumbing and Sanitation

Article 1: General

Section 3.9 Interference with collection

No unauthorized person shall remove any garbage or waste or any portion of same that has been placed for collection by the department of the city.

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Violate this long-standing ordinance in Auburn, and expect to receive a summons and pay a fine to be determined by a court.

Oh come on, Auburn. Picking through the curbside trash is a tradition. It’s recycling at its very best. It’s the very definition of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Street scavenging is, according to author Pramod Nayar, about change. People abandon items they no longer need, and others pick up needed items. It’s what he terms “aesthetic salvage.”

It also just makes sense to lessen the amount of material we put in the trash stream, putting material goods to good use and saving a buck or two along the way.

“Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.”


That’s been a way of New England life well before the World War II poster made this a catch phrase for all things frugal.

Auburn’s rarely-enforced ordinance making it illegal to pick through any waste left curbside has been on the books for decades, but will now be enforced by the Auburn Police Department. Patrol officers, according to City Manager Glenn Aho, will be looking for pickup trucks full of junk. If you’re seen with junk, “you can count on getting stopped and questioned.”

That’s quite an ambiguous charge for police, since one man’s junk is — as we all know — another man’s treasure.

Are police really being asked to stop any truck filled with junk, when that junk may very well be someone moving their personal raggedy furniture to a new apartment?

They are. And that’s wasteful.

And what about the trash pickers who stow their take in a panel van? They get a pass?

Auburn has decided to enforce the city ordinance for a couple of very understandable reasons.

Curbside trash pickers can be sloppy when sorting through a neatly-arranged pile set out by homeowners, leaving behind a far-flung array of trash that city workers have to take time to gather up. The city also wants to sell marketable items, such as copper pipes, power cords and metal, instead of seeing Joe Citizen of Auburn or Elsewhere pocket that profit.

Good reasons, but the all-encompassing approach to summons anyone picking and hauling junk will also mean someone can’t claim a used Big Wheel to give to a youngster who would otherwise never know the raucous joy of pedaling plastic at street level.

Instead, Auburn city crews will pick up that toy, and haul it to MMWAC where tax dollars will pay for its destruction because there’s no market for the city to sell that particular item.

Is the city going to collect and sort through every trash pile to find markets for dinged bookshelves? Lightly used overstuffed chairs? Mattresses and clothes?

Not likely.

The City says it is watching taxpayer dollars by collecting and selling curbside trash, but it will also be spending taxpayer dollars by collecting and disposing of tonnage that enterprising people over the years have proven recyclable.

If this ordinance is to be enforced, perhaps it should be enforced curbside only and only when observed by police.

A summons for disrupting a neatly-stacked pile of waste. A summons for lifting copper or wire.

No summons for the discrete lift of a Big Wheel, or the recovery of a could-be-painted bookshelf.

Recycling must be encouraged. Not criminalized.

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