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The symbiotic act of garbage picking

I have no problem with garbage picking, both as a picker, and pickee. As a person who has obtained some cool stuff from other people’s garbage, I can only hope that the (former) owners of this stuff appreciate the fact that I am giving their old things a good home and preventing them from rotting in a landfill. And as someone who regularly puts unwanted items out by the curb to find that they somehow managed to magically disappear, well, let’s just say that I’m just thrilled that someone is saving me a trip to the donation bin.

The City of Ottawa has some funny rules about it. Apparently if you put something out on the curb for garbage pickup it technically belongs to the City. So if you take something out of someone’s garbage, you are stealing (that is, in the eyes of the law), although I seriously doubt that bylaw police are waiting to capture someone in the act of someone pilfering someone else’s garbage.

Same goes for recycling. There is a fellow who walks around our neighborhood and rifles though people’s blue bins, taking beer and wine bottles and anything with a deposit attached to it. I have no problem with this. In fact, I think he’s doing us a favour.

That being said, I still think there still should be a few basic guidelines.

  1. Pickers: don’t tear open closed bags and leave a mess.
  2. Pickees: if you have an item you think might be useful to someone, leave it in plain view. If it’s not gone by the next morning, bring it back inside and pledge to donate it to charity or list it on UsedOttawa. Who knows? That tiny bit of extra effort might earn you some extra coin.


A few years ago the City of Ottawa decided to get on the bandwagon and create a legally-sanctioned garbage picking event. It’s called Give Away Weekend. It’s a great idea, but more people need to participate in order to make it really worthwhile. This year’s GAW will take place on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5, 2011.

It really is a win-win situation when you think about it. It’s gives people an effortless way to clean their closets, and gives other people an opportunity to score some cool stuff for free at the same time.

What about you? What do you think about taking items from another family’s trash? Is this something you’ve done? If so, I’d love to hear about your best finds!


Mother of two imps and wife of one. Writer, photographer, pro blogger, adventure-seeker, Ottawaholic, social media evangelist and lover of STUFF. Also known as @missfish on Twitter.

13 Responses to “The symbiotic act of garbage picking”

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I’m in Ottawa as well. I see the guys go past every Friday picking out all the metal, aluminum, and deposit bottles people just put out in the recycle. I knew about the “stealing from the City” thing, but no one believes me. 😛

A few weeks ago, two guys were eyeing an old car gastank I had pulled out from behind the shed at the house we live in. (working on cleaning up the last tenant’s mess so my toddler is safe in the back yard). One guy screeched to the curb to grab it, and the other guy screeched to the curb just after he left, then got super upset when it was gone. It was rusty, bent, and useless.

When I mentioned it to my father, he said that re-selling scrap metal is becoming a booming business. These guys will patrol all the city on designated garbage days, grab as much metal (including aluminum foil and pop cans!) as they can, and resell it by the tonne to scrap yards. Its good money, apparently. If you put anything copper out, Dad says the “scrap guys” will love you. Its worth a lot right now. So much that some housing developments have had all the copper plumbing pipes ripped out of the new houses by robbers, to resell.

Next week I’m gonna flag the guy down and ask him to take the old aluminum door and wheelbarrow thats still sitting back there. Maybe he’ll haul it out for me. 🙂

Oh, and we LOVE Treasure weekend in Ottawa! Last Fall we got a bike!



I’m not as committed a garbage picker as my husband is, but we have gotten tonnes of stuff, from vases to pyrex dishes to play kitchens and children’s bicycles (yes we checked they were set there for the taking).

Even if I don’t find something for use as is, I’ve often found items to be repurposed as well – crystal chandeliers, records, books…



I had a funny incident related to this happen a few years back. I put my stuff out on the curb in Ottawa with my sign that says, ‘Free Stuff’ so they know to pick it up the free stuff… next thing I know my sign is gone. So my new sign says “Free Stuff – NOT this Sign”



I didn’t know it was technically illegal to recycle stuff on garbage night. Hm?

I’ve been grabbing good quality items from the curb since my days in university. It’s how I furnished my place, for next to nothing.

And I still notice and grab decent items every once in a while. Just this week I noticed two good Ikea lounge chairs (kids’ size) up the street. My girls and I walked over and carried them back. They were proud of the fact that they found these beauties and that they were going to help the planet by keeping them out of the landfill. A bit of glue and a clamp was all it took to make them 100% perfect.

The competition, as you point out, is getting pretty intense. I noticed half a dozen metal grabbers patrolling our hood this week. There is certainly cash to be made. They take the metal and leave the chairs for re-use. It’s all good. This, I think, is the future of “stuff” on our little blue planet.

The best thing I ever grabbed from the curb? There are so many super-picks, it’s hard to choose. One item that comes to mind is an old axe. It was covered in dust and rust but I could tell the handle was hand-crafted and so elegant. I washed it down, oiled the wood and ground off the rust to reveal a beautiful old well-used axe from the early 1900’s. It now hangs in our cottage. She’s a beauty.

Oh and I take and give. Sometimes I sell on UsedOttawa but mostly, I slap on a FREE sign and put it next to the road. It dissapears and I smile.


Joe Legault

I have no problem with pickers or pickees, but, one should remember that the lovely old sofa you’re carting away could be rife with bedbugs. Just sayin’……..suck the joy outa Christmas, that’s me.


Glen Gower

I’m all for people taking stuff out of my garbage pile – better than sending it to the dump.

Once when I lived downtown, I spent 45 minutes bringing a very heavy and disassembled home gym up from the basement, put it on the curb for the garbage. Fifteen minutes later and it had vanished, no trace.



I’ve found many great items out on the curb. Aquariums, Disney books and ride-on cars that I donated to my children’s daycare. Great finds and sometimes only looking for a new home 🙂



I’m a salvager of both opportunity, and sometimes with great intent too. I may walk by a bin and peek, and it has a gem in it, or I may go out around the neighbourhood and pick stuff that has life left in it, and I use to find a new home for it sometimes.

In Regina I know of no bylaw prohibiting picking from dumpsters or streetside bins, and there are no notices on bins either about it. There is a Supreme Court ruling from a year or two ago about trash on the curb being fair game for police since the dumper doesn’t want the items anymore, so it stands to reason that the Ottawa bylaw may violate this finding by the SCOC, that trash it fair game for any who find it.



I enjoy finding stuff and fix it and have garge sales and post it up on kijiji and other sites to get free gas money to put to wards the next hunt i evon maneged to save up for a road trip and replace my ride and buy two new kayaks just from selling peoples junk


Frank Apokwu

I personally think that Garbage picking could become the next hottest job on the block, especially now, when people are really desperate to have all that their eyes can see and are usually indecisive concerning the basic difference between their wants and their needs. If you ask me, I would say it won’t hurt to pick an item from a neighbors garbage, we just have to be civil about it.



I started garbage picking as a hobby when I finished high school in 2000. One of the first major things I found was a nice pair of Acoustic Research AR-A2 speakers I’m still using today. These could probably fetch $200 on ebay as is. Nice bicycles, stereos. In the mid to late 2000’s I found a fairly large Minn Kota electric trolling motor. Only problem with it was with the switch. We are still using it today. I knew some of the other pickers and one time I traded some copper pipes I found for a nice bicycle one of the metal collectors had in his trailer. Even offered him $20, but he declined.

My most significant find was 2 years ago. It was a 4 stroke Honda 7.5 hp outboard motor with the gas tank, just laying there at the curb on garbage night. You could tell the previous tried to work on it to get it going. Last year I also found a Honda lawnmower and it’s self propelled! There are years I don’t got out as much, this year I didn’t go out at all because of covid19.



    Wow! That’s super awesome.

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