Natural Dividends
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Natural Dividends

How Trash Became Treasure

Since Covid-19 started, I’ve been taking more walks around my neighborhood. Something I didn’t regularly do. On these walks, what I began to discover was people just flung their trash on the side of the road—furniture, mattresses, appliances, toys, electronics, and just about anything you could imagine. At first, I viewed it as trash and wouldn’t touch anything, but then one time, I stopped and looked at a brand new $100 toaster just placed next to a dumpster. We had no toaster in our kitchen, and I thought we could use it, so I picked it up and brought it home. I cleaned it out, and we now had a nice toaster in our kitchen to use. I couldn’t believe I had found this on the street and that someone would throw it away. From then on, I was hooked.

Every walk, I would come home with something new. My roommates at first were a little unsure of what I was doing but then slowly started to accept it then benefit from the excess of items I would find. That slowly crept over to my friends as well. We have an empty room in our apartment that became the treasure room which turned into a free store for when guests would come over. Everyone always left with something they wanted or needed.

Typical “treasure” on the streets of LA

Sometimes you really do come across trash, but I realized that more than 80% of the time, it’s perfectly good items. I couldn’t just walk by and leave these things there when I saw value in them. So I was taking things to sell or keep, but I was leaving nice things on the street because I couldn’t carry them home. After about two months, I noticed that the street “treasure” supply did not stop. I kept thinking I should be notifying the community of these things as someone might need to use them as often the individuals who put things on the street don’t take a moment to list them on local social websites as a curb alert to the community.

So I started a group on Nextdoor called “Street Treasure Lookout” and just started posting everything I saw. It’s been six months since the first post, and the group has reached 1000 members, something I didn’t even think would happen. It continues to grow as more and more members get involved and post. It was me sharing the value the streets of LA give, and if one person could get something out of my posts, then I knew the whole effort would be worth it.

Over the past year, if I had to guess, I’ve found somewhere in the range of $20,000. It’s shocking what someone throws away as my best finds were items like Channel handbags, designer clothes, bikes, and high-end appliances.

These toys look perfectly good; just a little cleaning or even the car seats could help someone in serious need.

So how did I end up turning trash on the streets into treasure? Well, I’m an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and exploration. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some of the world’s most beautiful places, which helped me develop a strong connection to nature. Over the years, I would return to places and see the conditions deteriorate.⠀

That inspired me and my longtime friend, Johnathan Humphrey, to start Natural Dividends, a non-profit that amplifies the voices of environmental advocates, promotes sustainable lifestyles, and helps bring cohesion between nonprofits. To put it simply, our mission is to Increase Nature’s Share.

One mission we’ve put out to our community is to start Negative Net Hiking. This was one of the many ways I took on the challenge in my own life. Taking these items off the street keeps them out of the landfills and gives them a second purpose. Also, I didn’t have to buy new items that I might otherwise need, and seeing that there was more treasure than I could pick up, I started to group people to build a community.

Negative Net Hiking is simple, next time you're out on a walk, take a garbage bag and some gloves with you and take out more than you take in! It doesn’t have to be to fill up a bag with trash but to look for “treasure” instead and to share it with others.

To get involved and see how you can #increasenaturesshare, follow along @naturaldividends and Facebook. 🌍🍃

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Christopher Banas

Christopher Banas

Plant-based minimalist in SoCal who quit the corporate grind. Now teaches financial life hacking while saving the environment.