Don’t Be That Guy

May 18, 2009 at 6:57 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

garage-sale-istock-deThere’s unethical, there’s illegal … and then there’s downright double-decker diabolical.

“A man has been arrested for spending counterfeit bills at numerous garage sales,” Michigan’s WWMT tells us.

“The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department says they started receiving calls around 12 p.m. Saturday form folks having garage sales. The victims told police a man gave them what they believed to be counterfeit money.

“Witnesses were able to get the man’s license plate number, description of vehicle, and a suspect description. With this information officers began looking for the vehicle and/or suspect.

“While looking the suspect spent a fake $50 bill at a garage sale in Kalamazoo County. Deputies found a white 1998 Dodge Ram pickup matching the description in the area with a truck full of items marked with garage sale stickers.

“The suspect, a 42-year-old Bangor man, was uncooperative and had a large amount of cash in his pockets. Folks in the area told police he had just given them or tried to pay with a $50 bill.

“The suspect was taken to the Van Buren County jail along with another 35-year-old Bangor man for passing the counterfeit money. Deputies searched his home in the 53000 block of M-43 and seized more fake bills.

“Anyone with information on this incident is asked to please call the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office at 269-657-3101.”

Thank you, sharp witnesses and adept officers. Good catch!!

A Trail of Recycled Art

May 17, 2009 at 7:14 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

front03Thanks to a generous grant, garbage will be transformed into art on Great Britain’s south coast. According to This Is South Devon, “Brixham Adult and Community Learning Centre’s disabled group, ACE, has been awarded a £7,416 grant from the South West Foundation. This will enable them to offer two community workshops creating a Trail of Recycled Art In The Landscape (TRAIL) in June. ACE members will demonstrate their abilities by working with professional artists Vivienne Turner and Petra Turner to lead the workshops.

“The public are invited to join in….

“On Wednesdays, Vivienne Turner will be creating a large willow fish for Teignmouth seafront by making willow panels and then weaving waste plastics into the form…. On Fridays, Petra Turner will be creating seagulls made from wire coat hangers and plastic bottles filled with the stuff they scavenge using textile techniques….

“TRAIL is five years old this year and to celebrate, along with the established sculpture trail, it is launching a new initiative, an exciting extravaganza of wearable art/sculpture inspired by concern for the environment.”

It’s Curb Day

May 16, 2009 at 5:37 am | Posted in News | 3 Comments

couch_curb2Come ‘n’ get it. Today is the first-ever Curb Day, on which we are all urged to put our unwanted clutter out in front of our houses, on curbs, for passing scavengers to take. On this day of days, we scavengers are also urged to cruise the curbs of our choosing and collect. It’s the brainchild of Mike Morone, a former business guy in wastern New York State who found himself taking home so many discards from so many curbs that he decided to nudge this practice into a nationwide holiday. As the coauthors of a new book about scavenging, Kristan and I were interviewed about it for a story in yesterday’s Hartford Courant.

At, Mike writes:

“We throw out tons of garbage. Along with garbage, though, we also throw out lots of valuable items –- items that others would love to own. Here’s how it typically goes – in your garage is a great bike you rode maybe twice in five years. It’s taking up space. When you finally get sick of looking at it, you wheel it out with your trash on garbage day. Problem solved? Not really. So here’s this beautiful bike out by the curb, free to a good home. But no one knows about it. And the people who rush by on their way to work are too sleepy to pick it up. So your bike winds up with thousands of others like it –- rusting in a landfill.

“Meanwhile, millions of kids all over the place would love to own that bike. This culture of excess ownership and waste is prevalent in our country. It wasn’t like that in the old days –- just ask your grandparents….

“Curb Day is a simple two-pronged solution: 1. Let’s not throw out valuable items with our garbage 2. Let’s put our items out on the same day –- so others can easily pick them up.”

Mike warns, however, that certain items are verboten, including food, chemicals, toxic substances, weapons, recyclables and anything illegal.

How to Make a Credit-Card Bracelet

May 14, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Posted in Recycling, Tips | 103 Comments

Everyone knows that credit cards are for buying stuff you can’t afford. You get the stuff now, but don’t have to pay until, uh, later. Credit cards are based on the obsolete premise that in the future you’ll have more money than you have today. In the current economy, using credit cards to rack up high-interest debt is the world’s dumbest idea. The time has come to throw that credit card away —

Or to give it a whole new life as something else. Instead of using your credit card to buy a bracelet, why not turn the card into the bracelet? Pretty much useless for their original intended purpose, credit cards are like the vanished currency of a long-lost civilization. And just as humans have always adorned themselves with shiny accessories made of old coins, the time has come to do the same with credit cards. More lustrous than real gold, durable yet permeable, “gold cards,” “platinum cards” and American Express cards in particular make glorious jewelry. Repurpose these relics into tomorrow’s gems.

A step-by-step photo guide

Before you get started, you will of course need to salvage an old credit card that you’ve discarded — or a new credit card that you’re about to stop using!

cut the cards into little pieces

1. Cut the card into your chosen shapes: squares, rectangles, and ovals work best. Try to get at least six pieces out of each card.

trim the corners until they are rounded

2. If you’ve chosen squares or rectangles, trim their corners to form curves. (A bracelet that jabs you or catches on things is not a fun bracelet.) Arrange the pieces in an order that pleases you.

drill two holes along each edge

3. Using an electric drill, make holes in each card-piece through which loops will be inserted. Ensure that these holes are close enough to the edges of the plastic to accommodate at least half the diameter of each loop. Also ensure that the holes are big enough to allow the loops smooth movement. (Lacking a drill, you can make holes in the pieces using a hammer and a small nail, but the impact will create unwieldy raised edges around the holes on the reverse side.) Interior pieces need two holes at each end (equalling four holes per piece); the terminating pieces need two holes on one edge and one central hole on the final outer edge (equalling three holes each) for affixing the clasp mechanism.

Thread connecting loops through each hole and squeeze them closed

4. Insert loops through holes to connect all the pieces. Squeeze the loops tight so that they won’t slip off. Affix clasp mechanism of your choice.

The final product

Voila! The final product.

Your new credit card bracelet

5. Enjoy your finished credit-card bracelet.

Other types of jewelry can also be made with credit cards.

A ring made from a credit card and broken windshield glass

The credit-card ring — with windshield-glass “gems” scavenged from the scene of an auto burglary.

earrings made from a Visa card

Credit-card earrings. Use your imagination to find ways of incorporating cards into other jewelry (or jewelry parts) that you’ve scavenged.

Free Food at Arby’s

May 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

Arbys1wArby’s fast-food restaurants have instituted “Freebie Wednesdays,” offering free food and special deals every Wednesday — including today!! — throughout this spring and summer.

A Freebie Wednesdays calendar reveals what’s free when:

May 13: Free Roastburger with any soft drink purchase
May 20: Free Chocolate Malt Swirl Shake with any sandwich purchase
May 27: Free Regular Roast Beef with any soft drink purchase
June 3: Free Iced FruiTea with any sandwich purchase
June 10: Free Roast Chicken Club with any soft drink purchase
June 17: Free Regular Sidekickers® with any sandwich purchase
June 24: Free Regular Roast Beef with any soft drink purchase
July 1: Free Regular Beef ‘n Cheddar with any soft drink purchase
July 8: Free Orange Cream Swirl Shake with any sandwich purchase
July 15: Free Regular Roast Beef with any soft drink purchase
July 22: Free Roastburger with any soft drink purchase
July 29: Free Iced FruiTea with any sandwich purchase
August 5: Free Regular Roast Beef with any soft drink purchase
August 12: Free Roast Chicken Club with any soft drink purchase
August 19: Free Iced FruiTea with any sandwich purchase
August 26: Free Regular Beef ‘n Cheddar with any soft drink purchase

Twilight Sequel Script Scavenged from Trash

May 12, 2009 at 7:39 am | Posted in Finds | 10 Comments

twilight-still-staringIncredibly valuable screenplays for the forthcoming Twilight sequel and another forthcoming film were recently scavenged from a St. Louis trash bin. Because scripts for forthcoming films are normally kept very secret, these could have been sold to tabloids for big money, but the finder decided not to, according to the Morning Call.

While waiting for her fiancé to finish work, beauty-salon owner Casey Ray noticed some interesting-looking documents in a trash bin outside a hotel where actors were staying during a shoot for the upcoming George Clooney flick Up in the Air. Ray’s find amounted to “two scripts, one for the vampire sequel New Moon and one for a different movie titled Memoirs. She decided to return them to the studio making the films. In return, she was invited to attend the movies’ premieres….

“It’s not clear how the scripts wound up in the bin…. When Ray found the scripts, she considered leaking them to a national tabloid but decided against it, said her lawyer, Al Watkins. ‘My client didn’t really want to get paid,’ he said, but she was interested in hanging onto the scripts as collectors’ items. Watkins helped her return them to Los Angeles-based Summit Entertainment LLC, the studio making the movies. He said the studio invited Ray to premieres for the two films, and will certify the scripts as authentic after the movies are released….

“The Twilight movies are based on the novels of Stephenie Meyer, so many of the plot turns are well known to readers. But keeping the New Moon script … out of the public eye preserves which elements of the book will be included in the film.”

But will Summit Entertainment pay Ray’s way to those premieres?

Rare Sinatra Tape, Scavenged

May 11, 2009 at 11:33 am | Posted in Finds | 2 Comments

IMG_0653An extremely rare recording of Frank Sinatra singing and chatting was bought for a song at a car-boot sale — which is an English scavenging venue rather like a rummage sale, but with the merchandise sold out of vans, trucks and car trunks in a field or parking lot. (A typical car-boot sale, the William Morris Car Boot Sale in Walthamstow, is depicted at left.)

A man bought the tape for £10 ten years ago, then recently played it for a music-history expert wondering whether it might be worth anything, according to Chronicle Live.

The expert, David Harper, calls it genuine and “an absolutely staggering find. It was recorded in secret many years ago. Frank Sinatra can be heard chatting and then singing a lovely song, ‘East of the Sun,’ in his own special way. There are some copyright problems with it, but I am certain that if it came up at a leading auction in London, it would sell for tens of thousands.”

On the tape, the person making the recording can be heard saying that he shouldn’t be doing it. Luckily, he overcame his conscience and clicked “record.” Great find!

Thrift Megastores: the Wave of the Future?

May 10, 2009 at 6:34 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

goodwill price tagGoodwill Industries opened a 12,000-square-foot superstore last week in Norwich, Connecticut.

On opening day, according to local newspaper The Day, “there were lines of people extending down the sidewalk, the parking lot was packed and eager shoppers couldn’t wait to get in….

“It may not be accurate to call this newest retailing venture a thrift shop. The Goodwill organization prefers to call it a retail super store and uses terms like ‘gently used,’ or ‘the best of the best’ in pre-owned clothing, books, furniture and the like.” The store “also sells new items, including new mattresses, socks, sandals and the like,” but at low Goodwillish prices.

All used clothing “is inspected before it goes onto racks, any furniture must be sanitized, used books are only put out if they’re in good condition, and housewares and toys all must be in good working order….

“As shoppers grabbed shopping carts on a recent weekday and the store’s numerous cashiers rang up continuous sales, rows and rows of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing attracted first-time browsers and longtime customers. Typical prices are $4.99 for women’s pants — and some appear brand new. There are sweatshirts selling for $3.99, men’s blazers — some sporting impressive labels — selling for $9.99 and up, and men’s full suits retailing for $12.99 and up….

“The store is the retailing anchor at the newly opened Briar Hill Plaza shopping center on Route 82 diagonally across from the Norwich Wal-Mart complex.” Take that, Wal-Mart.

Mm, Mm, Good

May 8, 2009 at 5:52 am | Posted in Deals, News | Leave a comment

0000340001601As part of its “Help Grow Your Soup” campaign, the Campbell’s Soup company is giving away free seeds! “At Campbell, we believe quality ingredients are grown from the ground up — and make truly delicious soup,” reads a promo. “That’s why, for over 70 years, we’ve painstakingly cultivated seeds for tomatoes that go into our delicious tomato soup. Now you can get seeds we use for growing tomatoes.” (Order your free seeds online, but for each request you must provide the code number found on the bottom of a Campbell’s Soup can.)

The company is also donating huge numbers of tomato seeds to the Future Farmers of America Association, whose teenage volunteers, in partnership with the Urban Farming nonprofit, are now planting community gardens in urban areas around the country to enhance their agricultural education. One such project, the Frank White Garden in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, includes an Urban Farming Food Chain Edible Wall, which UF describes as “an innovative vertical garden that will produce tomatoes grown from Campbell’s seeds that, along with the other produce grown in the garden, students can harvest and bring home…. It’s a very creative way to grow food with limited space.”

There’s still time to plant those things and get a juicy red harvest that doesn’t cost you a cent.

The Scavenged Building: Berkeley’s Brower Center

May 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Yesterday, we were given a special sneak-preview of downtown Berkeley’s David Brower Center, a bold 50,000-square-foot experiment in “green from the ground up” architecture that opens to the public on May 10. A whopping 53 percent of its construction involves recycled materials, which makes this complex of offices, conference rooms, public space, art gallery, theater, organic restaurant, and more into the world’s biggest scavenged building.

Come along with us on a photo tour of the Brower Center’s many scavenged components.

The curved façade of the Brower Center, at Allston Way and Oxford Street.

The curved façade of the Brower Center, at Allston Way and Oxford Street.

Recycled, repurposed, and reused goods infuse the walls, carpets, furniture, fixtures, plumbing, and other aspects of this four-story structure which is expected to receive LEED Platinum, the highest certification, from the U.S. Green Building Council.


A table made out of repurposed planks from an old wine vat.

On the ground floor, executive director Amy Tobin showed us salvaged-wood tables, benches, and a lustrously smooth black-acacia countertop created by Paul Discoe, an ordained Buddhist priest and author of Zen Architecture whose Oakland-based company, Live Edge, utilizes lumber from urban street trees that have been cut down due to storm damage, disease, and for other reasons.


The center’s soaring concrete walls include up to 70 percent slag. Runoff from the steel-smelting process, slag was long unwanted but is now hailed for its fortifying properties and its ability to help concrete bear weight. The presence of slag in construction also significantly reduces CO2 and cement content.

The ground-floor reception area is set into a geometric grotto whose walls, in soaring bands of varied browns, are a mixture of plaster and salvaged soils. It’s a permanent art installation, dubbed “Earth Niche” by its creator, Marisha Farnsworth, whose company The Natural Builders specializes in construction with such substances as earth, cob, and salvaged straw.

“We think of the Brower Center as more ‘art’ than ‘building,'” Tobin says.


The south side of the building, showing the shading devices over each window and the solar panels on the roof. The U.C. Berkeley campus is visible in the background.

Ever since planning began in 2000, the process has focused on sustainability, from methods to materials. The resulting structure, designed to be 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional ones, includes a daylighting program that employs zinc siding and photovoltaic panels that double as sun-shades so that, optimally, artificial lights need never be used during daytime in many parts of the building; high-efficiency lighting with automatic controls limit use when daylight is adequate. Windows that actually open and close (a rare sight in office buildings) and low-pressure ventilation via a raised floor system increase indoor air quality.


Some nonprofit tenants have already moved into the not-quite-finished building.

Radiant heating and cooling operate via tubes set into the concrete structural slabs. Non-toxic fabrics and finishes are used throughout. Upright steel cables create a “self-healing seismic system” designed to protect and preserve the center during an earthquake; much of Berkeley is built atop a fault. An interactive real-time systems-monitoring dashboard, set to be mounted in the lobby, will allow passersby to monitor the building’s energy consumption.


A table made from a salvaged urban tree, standing on replaceable carpet tiles.

Interface FLOR carpeting, which includes the industry’s highest percentage of recycled content in both the pile and the backing, is used throughout the center. While it runs wall-to-wall in some areas, in others it is laid in tile form, with each small square separately detachable. So in the event of a spill or stain, the whole rug need not be ripped out of a room and replaced: rather, just a tile or two.


Restrooms are a building’s “private parts,” and the counters in the Brower Center’s restrooms largely comprise chunks of recycled glass. The water in the toilets is repurposed too: Faintly yellow, it looks like you-know-what, but it’s really rainwater, collected in a cistern. “Toilet water,” Tobin reasons, “doesn’t have to look drinkable.”


Elsewhere in the building, a chain fashioned from recycled bits of artillery shells is used to channel rainwater into a vessel, where it is saved for re-use. And water isn’t an issue at all in the men’s-room urinals, which are Berkeley’s first waterless urinals.


“In trying to build the right way,” Tobin says, “we’re trying to send a message here, to establish a track record and a model so that other communities can see how it’s done. We’re setting a standard. We need to change how we build cities.”

Well…we can start by scavenging.


The salvaged black-acacia countertop in the lobby.


A bench also made from salvaged wood.

Our Kind of Place

May 5, 2009 at 6:55 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

mapOkay, now we have to move. Our town is okay and everything, but it does NOT have a thrift shop named the J-Ville Jazzy Jumble Thrift Shop, as does the tiny hamlet of Jacksonville in central New York state, near Ithaca. And ANY town that has a J-Ville Jazzy Jumble Thrift Shop is where we want to be.

We’d have to get used to the cold and the snow and the proximity of the Finger Lakes, but hey: We could buy sweaters, coats, blankets and oars at the Jazzy Jumble.

Don’t Go There

May 4, 2009 at 6:20 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

300px-f-86a_01This is one of those things that gives us a bad name. “Scavengers at Jet Smash Site” is the headline of a story in yesterday’s Darlington-Stockton Times, a local paper in Great Britain’s northeast.

“Macabre treasure hunters have been using metal detectors to search for souvenirs from the scene of a horrific jet crash more than 50 years ago. An RAF Sabre fighter from Linton-on-Ouse near York plunged into Hood Hill, near Sutton Bank on the North York Moors, in September 1954 and was blown to pieces in the high-speed impact. The pilot, 23-year-old Flying Officer Colin ‘Snatch’ Grabham, born in Dover, was killed instantly and the crater left by the smash is still visible to this day.

“But souvenir scavengers, thought to be military aircraft enthusiasts, have been search for highly-collectable fragments of the jet and left signs of digging. And officials have condemned the practice and called for its immediate end. ‘It is highly likely the remains of Flying Officer Grabham are still on the site and therefore the site should be treated with the respect it deserves,’ said a Ministry of Defence spokesman. ‘In addition, there is a chance that ordnance may remain at the site and it can become unstable when exposed to the air, leading to death or serious injury.'”

“He also warned that it was an offence to tamper with, damage, move or unearth any remains under the Protection of Military Remains Act….

“The site is within the National Park and … digging near the crash crater [is] also restricted by law due to its importance as the site of a medieval fortification.”

Which means that those treasure-seekers are breaking Commandment 5 of our Scavenging Code of Ethics, as detailed in our book The Scavengers’ Manifesto:

“Don’t remove historical or archaeological artifacts from areas where they are protected. [Such areas include] battlefields, ghost towns, Native American settlements, archaeological sites, historic buildings, and so on. As tempting as it might be, never ever remove any artifacts of any kind from protected sites such as these. It might feel like scavenging, especially when no one else is around, but there’s another name for it: looting.”

Damn, Damn, Double Damn

May 2, 2009 at 8:55 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

female-bedbugIt was just a matter of time before this happened, and now it has. Bedbugs, which were almost totally eradicated from the US after World War II but have made a resurgence in New York City and Chicago — thereby making life hell there for scavengers — are now in San Francisco too.

“San Francisco is experiencing a bedbug boom,” we read in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. “Dr. Johnson Ojo of the Department of Public Health said bedbugs are popping up everywhere, from ‘low-income housing to high-priced hotels.'”

And, it stands to reason, on soft furniture sold at yard sales and thrift shops and left out on curbs.

“It’s an all-out war on the tiny, creepy, blood-sucking predators. And the bugs are winning. Ojo has put together a citywide policy that covers all the basic steps: Hotel managers who learn of an infestation must immediately set up a pest-control spraying, and residents are encouraged to follow specific instruction on washing clothing and showering with hot water. Yet many who deal with the problem regularly think that current methods are no more than stopgap measures. Faced with a growing epidemic, the city needs to start thinking beyond the idea of squirting insect spray and hoping for the best….

“Bedbugs are everywhere….

“If you thought bedbugs were eradicated long ago, you are not alone. Arthur Slater, an entomologist who directed UC Berkeley’s pest management program from 1973 to 2001, said he hardly gave bedbugs a thought…. Slater said there are two major factors in the bedbug upsurge over the past 10 to 15 years. The first is cheaper air fares, which allow regular travel from countries where bedbugs had never been controlled. The second factor is complacency…. He is an advocate of a treatment where large heaters are brought into a sealed room and the temperature is raised to more than 120 degrees for 24 hours. That not only kills the bedbugs but also their eggs, which are the real problem in the bugs’ rapid growth.”

Blam! Pow! It’s Free Comic Book Day, Batman!

May 1, 2009 at 10:23 am | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

crimess22maySaturday, May 2, is Free Comic Book Day. This means that comic-book stores all over the nation will literally give books away. The annual promotion, which began in 2001, was launched by comic-book publishers and distributors to bring more people into the stores. Among the freebies at participating stores are titles from the major companies DC (Superman, Batman) and Marvel (Spider Man, X-Men) and from smaller publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite and Devil’s Due.

In Berkeley, California, Comic Relief is not only giving away freebies but also offering chances to meet a lot of artists, including Daniel Cooney (Valentine), Joseph Wong and Genevieve Tsai (Islands in the Sky), Daniel Salcido (Doodles of the Drunk), Joey Alison Sayers (I Wish You Were Dead) and Derek McCullough (Displaced Persons, T-Runt, Stagger Lee).

Get ’em while they’re free!

Bartering’s Back

May 1, 2009 at 8:06 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

lilacshrubWhenever cash becomes scarce, swapping and bartering come back in full-force. These smart practices have been around ever since ancient human beings with one skill or possession met others with different skills and possessions and, rather than kill each other (which would ultimately end the supply), they decided to trade. Not that folks ever totally stopped swapping. But these days, it’s flourishing again and going mainstream — from Craigslist’s “barter” category to office-wide clothing swaps. Even commercial enterprises are adopting the model.

Highland Hill Farm in Pennsylvania is happy to offer trees and shrubs and design services in exchange for other items in the absence of cash or credit. The nursery’s owners will happily trade their own goods and services for such useful items as tools, plumbing and building supplies … or darn near anything. “You cannot insult us with off-the-wall offers,” is the title of a video at the farm’s web site. By “cannot,” they mean “No offer is too weird for us to consider,” not “cannot” as in “better not.”

We’ll be seeing more of this — you bet.

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