Every day on my way to drop off my daughter at her carpool meetup location, I pass through a wealthy neighborhood. Trash days in this neighborhood are Monday and Thursday. On Mondays especially, following what I suppose must be weekends of “tidying up,” it’s always interesting, and sometimes shocking, to observe what ends up on people’s curbs.
This past Monday, I counted three couches on the curb. Yes, three entire couches on a single block. One of the couches, a black faux-leather sofa and matching ottoman, had clearly fallen into the bad graces of the family cat(s) and was unsalvageable. But the other two looked to be in perfectly good condition. One was a rather nice-looking microfiber sectional.
One Monday several months ago, there was a piano on the curb. A whole-ass piano, which, as far as I could tell without getting out of my car and inspecting its insides, didn’t have anything wrong with it. As a musician, this makes me incredibly sad. Pianos are difficult to sell because moving one typically requires professional piano movers (or 4-5 extremely strong people), so whatever you pay for the piano itself, you have to add a couple hundred bucks. Because of this, where I live in Florida, people literally give pianos away for free on Facebook Marketplace. Still, it makes me sad to see a musical instrument that could provide so much joy to a household sitting forlornly on the curb, exposed to the harsh Florida elements.
I’ve seen dressers, desks, office chairs, refrigerators … just about anything from a household that wouldn’t fit in a garbage can, oftentimes in good, usable condition, parked at the end of the driveway of a very nice home. I’ve even picked some of it up. I once loaded two six-foot-tall glass-front cabinets into the back of my SUV, drove them home, posted pics to Facebook Marketplace, and sold them that very day for $80. I did the same thing once with a coffee and end table. My kitchen table is a refinished curbside salvage. Some of my daughter’s artwork hangs in frames that someone set out by the road.
I just can’t help but think of how many struggling people would be happy to take a wealthy person’s gently used sofa or give their kids a slightly out-of-tune piano to mess around on. If I could have rescued that piano, I would have. That one really hurt.
To be fair, it’s not just the people who live in wealthy neighborhoods that chuck large household goods. People leave furniture on the side of the road in my neighborhood too — it’s just in decidedly inferior condition. A sunken mattress with an expansive yellow stain in the middle of it; a bar stool with a broken leg; a rusted out mini-fridge.
High-income trash just hits different.
Threads on Reddit lament on how rich people throw away working goods. In one thread, someone picked up a working computer monitor from the side of the road. The OP wrote in one comment that they’d managed to accumulate “an Acer dual core laptop, an i5 desktop and two 32″ monitors” from people’s trash.
Similar threads can be found on Imgur. One woman posted a pic of a beautiful carved wood mirror she’d salvaged from the roadside. Unsurprisingly, the responses are filled with more people sharing stories of all the cool shit they’d rescued from the garbage piles of rich people.
It nauseates me to see usable furniture, appliances, and electronics being thrown in the trash. So much of what we buy is meant not to last — planned obsolescence keeps our industries churning, but it also bloats our landfills. Our culture here in the U.S. is shamefully disposable.
Well, not everywhere in the U.S.
I was shocked when I learned that my partner, who lives in Vermont, has to make special trips and pay fees to dispose of certain household waste. I’m so used to seeing people sit whatever item they need to get rid of out on the curb that, even with my distaste of disposable culture, it seemed rude to make people pay to discard, for example, an unusable pee-stained mattress, when they’re already paying for regular waste pickup. What do low-income people do when they need to dispose of a large item but don’t have the cash or a large enough vehicle to transport it to the designated drop-off site? (To be fair, charging a flat fee for waste disposal is a regressive tax that disproportionately impacts lower-income people. I’m not wrong there.)
Still, observing the difference between Florida and Vermont’s waste management systems got me thinking about wealth, accessibility, and opportunity, and how that influences what people will send to the landfill. In Vermont, even when a wealthy person needs to dispose of a couch, the system is such that it’s still less hassle to offer the item on Facebook Marketplace, even for free, than to arrange to have it hauled off to the designated disposal site and pay the associated fee. You’re not going to sit a perfectly good microfiber sectional out by the curb and hope it doesn’t rain. You’re going to actually put in some effort.
Meanwhile, here in Florida, wealthy people have no incentive whatsoever to put that perfectly good couch on Marketplace, even if they can get $100 for it. They can earn that in one hour at work — it’s just not enough motivation. Nor is there any motivation to donate it, because, again, what’s the payoff for time spent? If you can toss the couch on the curb and trust it will magically disappear within 24 hours and be out of your hair forever, why wouldn’t you?
Wealthy Floridians (and citizens of other states with lenient disposal management) throw away good shit because … well, because they can. They have the disposable income to afford frequent upgrades to their possessions, and it’s absurdly easy to throw out the items of which they’ve tired.
I suppose that’s one way for those of modest means to come by free furniture and the occasional flat-screen TV. As long as we can get to it before it rains.