Hooray! Cleanup Week is nigh! I must say, as mundane and simple of a thing as this seems, I am finding myself tremendously enthused about Cleanup Week this year. Probably because Matt and I had so much debris and unwanted (by us) miscellany lying about due to our move last summer -- it is VERY nice to not have the patio covered in rotting wood scraps, for one thing.
But: why do I consider Cleanup Week to be blogging material? Well, that's mainly because I saw something really interesting (and, in my estimation, positive) happening. Which is to say that there was a lot of stuff exchange going on between neighbors and other folks who came to the neighborhood equipped with trucks and such. Lots of Perfectly Good(TM) things were being put out (knowingly, in my case, at least), and I was very pleased to see that within literally hours of piling a number of serviceable-but-not-useful-to-me items were gone. I would much rather usable items be taken and put to good use by people who actually want/appreciate them, than hauled off to rot in a landfill.
Regardless of whether the people who took the old shelf units and mirrored doors kept them, sold them, stripped them down for parts/materials or spruced them up and gave them away, I figure those things all met a better fate than they would have if the "scavengers" hadn't come around. The only things that actually got hauled off to the dump were some nasty old vinyl sheeting and the worst of the rotting wood (taken from the old kitchen).
I myself (thanks to some neighbors down the street) came away with some very nice, uniformly-sized pieces of wood (held together by a piece of cloth; I think it might have been part of a futon or bed support system or something) that were in great shape and which I am sure will come in handy for projects and such.
Anyway, what's been in the back of my head during this whole cleanup week endeavor is the fact that (a) clearly there's a lot of Stuff in the world, and there need to be better ways of distributing it, and (b) while "scavenging" is discouraged in the mailers the city sends out, it seems to me that we ought to be encouraging this sort of thing, and perhaps having it more often!
It was like a big, free garage sale, and it was a rousing success in part because there was no need for people to stand there exhanging dollar bills or haggling over prices. People who didn't want certain things put them outside, and people who did want them were free to take them. You don't get much more logistically easy than that! Of course this kind of Stuff Exchange really only works on a local scale, but I would definitely think more locales might be interested in it.
On that note, one thing that has long perplexed me is the way "scavenging" has somewhat of a bad connotation. When I used to root through neighbors' cleanup piles as a youngster, other neighborhood kids would yell "Garbage picker!" at me, and I later learned this was due to some weird perception that only "low class" people would bother looking at what others had thrown out. But I think that, especially given sustainability / environment-related factors, scavenging is one of the most awesome things that one can do for one's neighborhood.
(Of course it's important that the items you're taking are really and truly not wanted by the person getting rid of them, but that's one of the nice things about cleanup week; there's really no ambiguity in that regard!)
So, what's the lesson in all this? Basically I think it would be good if America (at least) became more scavenger-friendly. In the rest of nature, scavengers perform functions recognized as essential to the ecosystem, and it's an interesting philosophical reminder to consider the tastes of, say, dung-beetles and vultures, and how gross the world would get if those creatures did not exist.
Of course there's nothing wrong with "new" things, and I am not saying everyone should be scavenging constantly. And none of this should be taken as an admonition (i.e., "you are a bad person if you don't do this / everyone should be able to do this"), as I know people's life circumstances and abilities and needs differ (and fluctuate) widely. But where there's a "scavenging niche" I don't see any reason to try and block it off, and I do see plenty of reason to take advantage of it!