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 Inc.com. If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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