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 retailing enterprises based around the salvaging of discarded items to be either publicly resold, bartered with other vendors, or privately transacted.
Third is the black market. Credit card statements, prescription drugs, and even hastily discarded handguns can be fished out from our collective Mount Everest of waste. Many illicit goods and services also spill out on streets in back alley, side glance and sign language transactions.
The Good, The Bad and The Kinky
San Francisco is a hot bed for second hand (foot, mouth, insert kink here) sex-related paraphernalia. My friend Alphelus reported that a used ball gag found in a bin outside the Armory club was sold on to a private client for $60. Discarded Porno DVDs sell faster than Vaseline greased lightning, and the DIY dominatrix whip beside the red shoes seen in the picture above went for $10.
Rockstar Bartering Experiment
How much is this broken energy drink sign worth? A) a pack of Marlboros B) a Playboy magazine featuring La Toya Jackson wrapped in a python C) a leather bicycle seat, or D) all of the above. The answer is D. Over the course of a week, this flesh and blood Rockstar bartered the sign for all of these items on Mission Street. He also writes inspired poetry dictated by a divine tongue in his ear.
Civil War Belt Buckle
This artist, nocturnal urban treasure hunter and Ghost Buster impersonator, uses a metal detector to scour the dumpsters and construction sites of the Mission for artifacts like this Yankee Civil War belt buckle. I’m told the piece would sell for about $150 on eBay, although the true value of this weathered number comes from the weight of its bloody history.