Trash talk

A child's pink bicycle helmet... the remnants of a chicken dinner... and 7 other things worth your time.

The town my family and I live in suspended recycling pickup due to Covid-19. (Some municipal employees were were exposed, and others had to quarantine for a bit).

So we — along with all of our neighbors — are now making weekly trips to the public works center, to wait an hour in line to drop off our stuff.

This got me thinking about trash, and I suddenly remembered the time two years ago that a “professional trash picker” dug through Mark Zuckerberg’s garbage, and a reporter for the New York Times went along with him and published what they found.

I wouldn’t normally think this was fair play, but of course it’s already out there. (The NYT has a slightly larger readership than Understandably, at least for now.)

Also, Facebook is basically at war against Apple to continue tracking us all, which is sort of a digital version of digging through our trash. Yet, when this happened to Zuck two years ago, he was literally (within days) writing a 3,000-word manifesto calling for more privacy in social media.

(If you have more patience than I do, you can read it here: A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.)

Let’s just say privacy it doesn’t seem to be a priority now, at least if it conflicts with business. So, this might be a good time to revisit the trash-picking story.

Our guides for this trek were Jake Orta, a formerly homeless Air Force veteran who could afford a "small, single-window studio apartment" in San Francisco thanks to his rummaging, and Times reporter Thomas Fuller, who accompanied him on six trash-picking tours.

He ekes out a subsistence living from scavenging trash—about $300 a week—and sometimes finds things like phones, iPads, and designer jeans.

Among Orta’s regular targets, at least in 2019, was a San Francisco house that Zuckerberg had bought in 2012 for just a shade under $10 million. Here’s what he got on one such outing:

  1. a child's pink bicycle helmet,

  2. a vacuum cleaner, 

  3. a hair dryer, 

  4. a coffee maker,

  5. a pile of clothes,

  6. a Whole Foods paper bag,

  7. some A&W diet root beer cans, 

  8. some cardboard boxes,

  9. a junk mail credit card offer,

  10. the remnants of a chicken dinner, 

  11. a stale baguette,

  12. some Chinese takeout containers, and

  13. a garbage bag containing "just junk," in Orta's words.

Tech moguls: they're just like us, right? If only we could target ads at them based on their trash.

7 other things worth your time

Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. I’ve written about this trash picking thing before on If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for the daily email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill build this? That’s the #1 thing—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Can you think of one person who might enjoy it? Thank you!

Share Understandably

Finally, if you liked this post, please click that little heart icon below. Comments are always welcome, and if you reply to this newsletter, it will go straight to my inbox.  

Leave a comment