“One man’s rubbish may be another’s treasure”

         – 19th century proverb


I find it interesting that when Europeans first settled in North America they found the natives had no name for “waste.” There simply wasn’t such a thing.

America, alone, accounts for over one-third of the world’s waste and most of that trash ends up in landfills. It amounts to one ton of landfill waste per USA citizen per year.  That is shameful and we call ourselves advanced.

While living at our Yukon Outpost in the hamlet of Mt. Lorne we have discovered a virtual “gold mine” far from the rich ore strikes of the Klondike gold fields. Our weekly schedule often involves going on one or two all-day hikes, going to town for groceries, supplies and an art fix and going to the dump. All of these are highly desirable activities.

In fact, exploits of  our dump discoveries have spread far and wide.  When friends and family make the trip from the Midwest to the Yukon they expect their travel itinerary to include a visit or two to the dump.

There are three community dumps within an hours drive of us and they are the best dumps I’ve ever been to. For one thing, there is very little trash. The recycling efforts here are the best I have ever seen. You can recycle aluminum and galvanized cans, bottles, cardboard, paper and ALL plastics, but they will also take all batteries, from those tiny ones found in hearing aids to the 12 volt variety found in autos. (Note: It is estimated that ten percent of all the world’s plastics end up in the oceans.)

They also take tires, milk and juice cartons, computers, televisions, speakers and sound systems. There is a large dumpster for metal recycling and for household appliances. And there is even a shed to leave compostables.

The Mt. Lorne dump does an excellent job of  minimizing the concept of waste. By the time you throw away your actual trash here, it amounts to very little.  It only requires that you take the time to separate things. This dump is a model for the rest of North America.

Here at the dump you can enjoy a community picnic, an impromptu music jam or an athletic workout. Admittedly the Mt. Lorne dump does not appear welcoming with a four-strand electric fence surrounding the grounds. While it might keep out after hours trash dumpers it is designed to discourage black and grizzly bears.

The dump’s greatest attractions are the two “Free Shacks.”  The sign actually reads ” Reuse Area.” One is for clothing and the other is for just about anything else. The larder that accumulates in the Free Shacks increases with the spring and fall cleaning tides.  Residents in the area live back in the bush or are thinly spread in the hamlet. Garage sales are not practical with a spread out population so it is easy to simply give stuff away to someone who might need it.

One day I pulled up to the Free Shack  and in moments I was putting a a thick sheepskin winter coat and a German-made backpack in the truck. I’ve also added some nice wool sweaters to my Yukon wardrobe and secured a favorite belt, though it’s a bit long for my svelte midsection.

I always scan the books and have found some great reads like “Deep Survival” by Lawrence Gonzales and “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.

For my wife Nancy, the dump is the equivalent of a rich blueberry patch. While I can often make my scan in a matter of five minutes, she wants at least triple that. On the other hand, Nancy’s plunder has far surpassed mine. She has snagged garden tools, quilts, duvet covers, cute pants, shorts, tops and even hats that look like they just came off the shelf at L. L. Bean.  She even found some of our kitchen holdings  including, plates, mugs, glasses, silverware, a nearly brand new bread machine and a sparkling, unscratched Cuisinart blender.

Over the past weekend I learned that over at the Marsh Lake dump, a 45-minute drive from our dump, a woman connected with a mink coat that was in excellent shape! I’m serious.

Loading camper

Last week I helped a local woman load a camper on the back of her pickup. Yep. . . a bonafide over-the-cab camper! Word has it that the week before the fellow who brought in the camper dropped off a boat and trailer. It disappeared very quickly. Apparently the guy who dropped off these treasures is moving south and he did not want to fuss around trying to sell any stuff.  (For clarity’s sake, “moving south” means moving anywhere south of the Yukon).

Camper loaded

Given that many folks that live in the Yukon are here for only a few years, they  often accumulate more than they need.  Consequently to make the move south more easy they often bring good quality items to the dump.

Recently, my good friend Mike stopped at the Marsh Lake dump and got himself a car.  His brother is running that dump this summer so he could have provided insider information.  The car was half-filled with gas, and an easy starter with a perky battery. There was a note on the front seat that included a phone number so the car’s title could be transferred. He called the phone number and discovered that the owner was a neighbor! She had been trying to sell the car for some time and simply gave up. Oh yeah, the glitch turned out to be a bad axle. He noticed when turning a corner that the car made some noise. Upon further inspection he discovered it had a bad axle. So he found a used one and replaced it himself.

The same day I helped the woman load up the camper, I found two gas stove knobs in the dirt outside a dumpster. I eyed them over and jammed them in my pants pocket.  Our small stove/oven is missing two knobs and we have tried several but none have fit. I am pleased to say that we now have four perfectly operating burners that are easily adjusted with a turn of the knob. Who cares if they don’t match.

In regards to social benefits, the Annual Dumpster Dining event offers grilled bison burgers and bison smokies (brats).  Combined with  live music the event attracts scores of folks. When we first arrived in the Yukon and had to make a trip to the dump we soon found other folks flocked there. Consequently, we have met some of our dearest friends after a visit to the dump.

People get a little wacky going to the dump.  During one cold winter day, I saw a bundled man hunkered over a row of computers. Suddenly he let out a steaming, triumphant cheer. I walked over to see what he was celebrating and he excitedly told me that he had just found some sort of computer component that would have cost him hundreds of dollars if he bought it off the shelf.

While shack “shopping,” the protocol is honorable and polite. Although I have seen folks anxiously wait for you to put down the wool shirt or mixing bowl that you inspected and then like a hungry raven drop in and claim it as it slides from your hands.

This dump will get you in shape. We now have a nearly new spare life jacket, a taped hockey stick and puck, cross country ski poles and a set of weights. I’ve passed on rickety looking treadmills. But a neighbor girl got a very nice mountain bike that simply needed to be cleaned up and have it’s tires pumped with air.

Mike, the Mt. Lorne dump manager, enjoys golf and basketball. So it is not unusual to see him practicing sand trap shots from the sandy landscape that sits under the dump.

mike BB shot

Mike and I both enjoy picking up the basketball and shooting hoops on the backboard and basket that came in to the dump. We can make up some very inventive shots for a wicked game of Horse when you consider dumpsters, crates of bottles and parked cars.

The dump can provides forays into the arts. One day Jeremy, dump watcher on duty, reported proudly that he had his new guitar along. He asked if Nancy had her fiddle in the truck. She did so in minutes they were jamming.  Soon neighbor Ruth pulled up to leave some things and she quickly pulled out her mandolin. I found a reasonable chair from inside the Free Shack and listened to the spontaneous concert.

And the beautiful thing is that if we don’t like something that we found, we can bring it back next week. A stack of pocket books are poised to make the trip and  I see that Nancy has put the bathroom scale by the recycling tubs. That means it’s going back to the dump as social currency.

Sad, I rather like that I only weigh 69. . . . kilograms.

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