An editorial dumpster dive into the alternative value market that fuels Mission District’s street life.

Photography and Articles by Nick Marzano

San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood sits at the epicenter of a 21st century tech gold rush. But in the shadows of Silicon Valley, a different class of entrepreneurs survives and thrives on the streets.

Created back in 2016 in the hope of inspiring people to pay attention to what’s unfolding on the streets around them and to reconsider what is classified as trash and what is seen as treasure, Mission Gold is an independent photojournalism project about looking and elucidating the lives and art of the overlooked and disenfranchised street residents of San Francisco.

Most importantly, Mission Gold wants San Franciscans to realize that curiosity and compassion are the currencies that count most.


How street recyclers, sidewalk retailers and black marketeers make ends meet on the street.

Photography by Nick Marzano

Separating trash from treasure is part Antiques Roadshow, part CSI Miami. From old porno DVDs to Ouija boards, phone chargers to harmonicas, valuables must be excavated from an often throat-gagging mass of dirty diapers and used needles.

According to Recology, San Francisco’s trash collector, over 1,400 tons of cans, bottles, cardboard, plastic, electronics, foods scraps and God knows what else were disgorged as garbage everyday in 2016. For those prepared to roll up their sleeves, extracting an income from this messy mother lode can happen one of three ways.

First is the street recycling of aluminum, glass, paper, plastics and other materials with an official California Refund Value (CRV). It’s a reliable earner, but wrestling 100-pound shopping carts down the highway to the Bayshore recycling district isn’t everyone’s idea of an easy buck.

Second are various street…


A Mission recycling pro’s ultimate guide to mining treasure from San Francisco’s most unusual mother lode: its garbage bags.

Photography by Nick Marzano

On any given day in San Francisco, there are at least 100–200 apartments in little black bags. Tonight, the treasure hunt starts, and I wanna live stream it.

Alphelus X is a trashcan connoisseur, silky raconteur, pro recycler, homeless detective and amateur Egyptologist. In short, he is a legend, wrapped within an enigma, hidden within a garbage bag.

If that sounds like a random laundry list of awesome, spend a few nights mining trash bins with this man and witness the insane inventory of shit we apparently don’t need, but that Alpheus X will scrape off, soap down and turn…


The alternative riches and disruptive entrepreneurs fueling San Francisco’s parallel economy in the start up era.

Photography by Nick Marzano

Millennia before Google, Facebook and the other tech titans sent seismic shifts through the Bay Area landscape, disruptions were already underway. Deep beneath Silicon Valley in the rocky seams of the San Andreas fault, mother nature’s own venture capital was flowing — golden veins that later gave the first rush of economic life to San Francisco.

Since the initial gold claims at Sutter’s Creek in 1849, the city has been built on disruption at every level. From the psychedelic shake-up of Haight-Ashbury, to advances in virtual reality, it’s the city’s frictions that make it such a force.

Today, San Francisco Mission District has become the epicenter of a 21st century gold rush.

The technology industry…

Mission Gold

Mission Gold is an independent photojournalism project exploring street entrepreneurship and alternative value in SF. All profits to homeless charities.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store