Careful What You Chuck

June 10, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Posted in News | 2 Comments

touchwood-mattressWelcome to everyone’s worst nightmare!

“An Israeli woman mistakenly threw out a mattress she said had almost $1 million inside, setting off a frantic search through tons of garbage at a number of landfill sites on Wednesday. The woman told The Associated Press that she bought her elderly mother a new mattress as a surprise present on Monday — and threw out the old one.

“The next day, she said, she remembered that she had hidden her life savings inside the old mattress. ‘I woke up in the morning screaming, when it hit me what happened,’ said the Tel Aviv woman, who asked not to be identified.

“She went to look for the mattress, but it had already been hauled away by garbage collectors, she said. Searches at three different landfill sites turned up nothing.

“She said the money was in U.S. dollars and Israeli shekels. She refused to say how she acquired such a large sum. ‘It was all my money in the world,’ she said….

“The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot published a picture of the woman searching through garbage at a dump in southern Israel. The picture shows the woman, dressed in a white top and black pants with her back to the camera, picking through a huge pile of trash that fills the frame about 10 feet (3 meters) in all directions.

“Yitzhak Borba, the dump manager, told Army Radio that his staff was helping the woman, saying she appeared ‘totally desperate.’ He said the mattress was hard to find among the 2,500 tons of garbage that arrives at the site every day.

“He said he increased security at the site to keep would-be treasure hunters away.

“The woman said the money had been stashed in a mattress because she had had ‘traumatic experiences with banks’ in the past. She would not elaborate.”

I wouldn’t, either.

Got Gas?

June 9, 2009 at 8:04 am | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

Looking for good deals on gas these days is like looking for good deals on diamonds. It’s all pretty relative, right? I ask because we, the creators of this blog and the coauthors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto, don’t actually drive. For a variety of reasons (driving is a hassle, driving costs a fortune, cars create pollution, but mostly we’re afraid of killing someone or being killed), we walk and take public transit. But everywhere we go, we hear people lamenting the price of gas. So it must be bad. This morning, a friend sent us this link to GasPriceWatch, an interactive site that lets you compare the prices at gas stations within your area and in other areas nationwide. We’ll be searching for coins on the ground to use toward bus fare, but maybe this link will be useful to all those who are “scavenging” for affordable fuel.

New Film on Dump-Dwellers

June 8, 2009 at 11:10 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

‰f‰æƒoƒX[ƒ‰‚oƒpƒ“ƒtJapanese film director Hiroshi Shinomiya shines a spotlight on dump-dwelling Filipino scavengers in his new documentary, Basura. According to Japan’s Mainichi Daily News, the film — set for a June 27 release in Japan — “is a sequel to the 51-year-old filmmaker’s two earlier documentary films on the impoverished residents of the ‘Smoky Mountain,’ the huge garbage dump in the Philippines also called Asia’s largest slum…. His earlier works — Scavengers: Forgotten Children and God’s Children, released in 1995 and 2001 respectively — depict the desperate lives of children scavenging through garbage, covered in flies, in order to support their families.”

Shinomiya told reporters that he wanted to change the children’s lives with the new film.

Some of the scavengers have moved into housing complexes since the first films were made. “Christina, now a mother of four, got pregnant and married at the age of 16. Her husband got out of scavenging and took a regular job, and the family was living a happy life; until unfortunately, he was fired…. Even former residents of Smoky Mountain who moved to the new housing are still forced to continue scavenging if they cannot find a regular job, and Shinomiya believes that the support of Japanese young people is essential to change the current status of the Philippines: ‘If young people cry out for change, even the Japanese government, one of the most influential in the world, cannot ignore it, and will take action,’ he said.”

Awestruck, We Say

June 7, 2009 at 8:16 am | Posted in Book excerpts | Leave a comment

FootprintsIs scavenging like religion? Well, it jolts us out of the straight smooth streamlined world into another world where wonders manifest in gutters and where hunches come true. This separate scavenger-world looks like the ordinary world. And it exists within the ordinary world. We enter through the ordinary world into our world of chaos, uncertainty and surprise. In our scavenger-world, deals and freebies and finds feel like signals and signs. Like benefaction. Benediction. Divination. Questions answered. Secrets told. Rounding a corner in our scavenger-world can change everything. Awestruck, we say: Look at that! To us, finds feel like gifts and dispatches from someone, somewhere, who somehow knows all about us.

Scavenging is a calling, a vocation, and a vow. Just as when saddhus, nuns and monks take vows of silence, scavengers take vows of vigilance. Vows of patience, acceptance and adventure. We take vows of tolerance. We vow never to choose. We vow to almost never spend. We vow to never be seduced by marketing. To scavengers, these are all matters of the soul.

This is true for all kinds of scavengers. For full-time scavengers, whose entire lives are spent outside the comforts of consumer culture. But even part-time scavengers, even specialized scavengers, even on-again-off-again coupon clippers, know the buzz, the transubstantiation, of the find.

You’re sitting, standing, walking, riding, and —

Out of nowhere, or so it seems: the find.

Behold this strange sensation, which consumer culture with its processed, paved-over predictability has tried its best to take from us: the otherworldly, transcendental, epiphanic glory of the find….

This is the land of never-knowing. Scavengers live with uncertainty. The one thing that we know for sure is that we’ll never know what we will get or when or how or even if. We wonder: Is this happenstance? We are washed in the magic of the random.

(That’s an excerpt from our book, The Scavengers’ Manifesto.)

The New Berkeley Bowl: Like a Hangar

June 5, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Adventures | 11 Comments

Yesterday was the grand opening of the new Berkeley Bowl, a 140,000-square-foot second branch of the independently owned, gourmet-magnet supermarket whose produce department (one of the largest in the West) Saveur magazine calls the nation’s best. Because grand openings are almost always freebie territory, we made a scavenging foray.


With a deli section that could outfit every picnic in the state, hangarlike Berkeley Bowl West sprawls far and wide. Its sixteen grocery aisles resemble airport runways (for small planes, but still). Seven years and $30 million in the making, BBW also has enormous seafood, meat, wine, beer and dairy sections. The olive bar includes twenty varieties.

A huge selection of local and microbrew beers.

A huge selection of local and micro-brew beers.

But what makes Berkeley Bowl world-famous, in both of its stores, is its produce: aisle after aisle stocked with thousands of items priced lower than at regular supermarkets (and in most cases unavailable at regular supermarkets), grown locally and internationally — from the familiar (such as apples, but twelve different varieties) to the rarefied (okay, so some recipes actually do call for rambutan and Italian chestnuts) to the truly WTF, such as nuaje beans and horned melons. (We once bought one of the latter, aka kiwano, jelly melon, hedged gourd and horned cucumber, at the Bowl because … well, because we could. Native to Africa but now grown in the US, it’s the size and shape of a hand grenade, but sun-gold, with spikes. Sliced in half, it spurts a clear green ooze that smells, barely and fleetingly, like meat. Laid open, it presents a bright fibrous network of hollows awobble with nodules, glass-green, fingernail-sized. In each nodule is suspended a seed. Sliding on spoons as if alive, it slurps like agar and tastes of cucumber, but faintly — like a whisper — sweet.)


The shelves are stocked with a bewildering array of exotic specialty vegetables and fruits that are almost impossible to find anywhere else.

The new Bowl’s produce section is so long that, standing at one end, you can barely see to the other. Upon first reaching it, we thought: This is huge! … Then we realized we were only in the first half, the organic half. Its bags are sustainable, by the way.

The organic produce area alone is bigger than the entire produce section of most stores.

The organic produce area alone is bigger than the entire produce section of most stores.

When the Yasuda family opened their first store in 1977, it occupied a former bowling alley, hence the name. Its low produce prices make it a sort-of scavenging venue, as does its policy of giving discounts if you buy stuff by the case or by the flat. The store’s most scavengeable aspect is its bags of bruised produce sold for super-cheap. (You can never predict when they’ll be in stock, how many will be on hand or what kinds of bruised produce will be in the bags, so it’s a constant source of creative Scavenger-Style Cuisine: lots of gazpacho one week, lots of onion rings the next.)


On its opening day, the new store was too new to stock any bruised produce. (They should have brought some over from the other store, as a nice gesture. Well, we’re growing our own produce this year anyway.) Freebies were shockingly few and far between, consisting only of some vitamin samples and some cheese cubes.



Granted, that’s way better than nothing. And free Berkeley Bowl tote bags (made of recycled materials) were being given away with every opening-day purchase, as we delightedly learned upon buying a few ounces of active dry yeast (with which to make bread, super-cheaply, in our scavenged bread machine). The yeast was our only purchase. But see, we’re scavengers.


Not just one kind of salmon, but seven.

Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan, Duchess Camilla Shop at eBay

June 5, 2009 at 5:30 am | Posted in Celebrities | 1 Comment

lindsay_lohan10Prince Charles’ wife shops at eBay. According to the Daily Record, “Charles has revealed that his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is a frequent buyer of knick-knacks from the site…. Camilla’s spokesman said she wouldn’t be shopping under her own name or official title, but Jeff Kroll, one of the founders of eBay, is delighted the company has been linked with the Royal Family. He said: ‘There is a rather famous person who told me recently that his wife buys things on eBay, and that would be the Prince of Wales.’ Camilla is said to snap up bargains online for her son and daughter from her first marriage, Tom and Laura, but has doubtless made a few purchases for herself and her husband.”

Also: “Noel and Liam Gallagher are regular users of the site.” You know you always loved Oasis.

And: “Lindsay Lohan loves surfing the web for unusual clothes and has a sunglasses habit that she feeds with regular bargain buys from eBay…. Tom Cruise’s wife Katie Holmes has solved the problem of what to buy by hunting down rare edition books on the site, while Jennifer Garner bought an antique barber’s chair for her husband, Ben Affleck.”

Truth be told, eBay isn’t our favorite scavenging venue, because the whole notion of having to outbid others for merchandise makes us want to run away screaming. But hey, it’s better than retail. And if it’s good enough for Jennifer Garner….

Ten Practical Uses for Your Credit Cards

June 2, 2009 at 9:44 am | Posted in Pop culture, Recycling, Tips | 73 Comments

Stop using your credit cards. They’ll just get you into debt.

But wait: Don’t throw them away. Just stop using them as they were designed to be used — that is, to pay for stuff. Save the actual cards. Because they’re useful in all sorts of ways you might never have considered.

Here are ten ways we’ve repurposed our unwanted credit cards. But the possibilities are infinite. How would you use yours? Post ideas and links in the comments section below, or email pictures of your handiwork here.

(Click each photo below to see the full-size image. Card numbers are blurred; you can never be too careful these days.)

Ten Practical Uses for Your Credit Cards

Monopoly money

Picture frame

Snow goggles
snow_goggles(Also formerly known as “Eskimo sunglasses.”)

Dolls’ picnic table

Burglary tool
burglary_toolThe original alternate use for credit cards.

Golf putter
putterMake sure to have the back of the card facing outwards; otherwise, the protruding card numbers will make it hard to aim! (This really works — click here to see a video of the credit-card putter in action.)

coinageIf the economy collapses, we’ll have to use something for money.

Light-switch cover

credicopterA hand-held mini-helicopter augmented with credit cards for extra lift. Click here to see the credicopter actually flying!

Cocaine cutter
cocaine_cutterThe other original alternate use for credit cards.
(Note to law enforcement: Baking powder. Not actual cocaine.)

Thailand’s “Garbage” Library

June 2, 2009 at 7:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

60px-GFDL_Krating_Daeng_150mlAn eco-friendly library in Bangkok was created last month with scavenged “garbage” including bottles left behind after parties, boxes left behind after a fair, scrap teakwood left behind at a building site, and much more — and it’s been built in an abandoned space. In what used to be a “shophouse” — that deep narrow retail/residential structure ubiquitous in Southeast Asia — the ceiling chandelier is made from soda-pop bottles; those old boxes have been transformed into bookshelves, and those naturally beautiful teak planks hide dirty concrete walls. A broken toilet has been converted into a planter. It’s the work of Community Architects for Shelter and Environment (CASE) group, a team of Bangkok-based architects devoted to improving life for the urban poor.

CASE’s founder Patama Roonrakwit — who became interested in what she calls “slum dwellers” while studying at Oxford — told reporters at the Thai paper The Nation: “Financial limitations inspired us to make full use of recycled items.”

Last year, drawing upon the Buddhist kathin tradition — in which donating goods improves karma — Roonrakwit set up sites where people could donate used construction equipment as well as books, paper, plants, toys, housewares and pet supplies.
Many of those donations went into this community library. Total renovations took only three weeks.

The abandoned shophouse was a remnant of the formerly thriving Chinese retail community that has since moved away.

Solar-cell lamps illuminate the space, which also has a garden. Local workers and children gather to read donated books and magazines and play with donated games. Donated paintings — and artworks created by local kids — adorn the walls. The upstairs mezzanine has been outfitted with pads for lounging and meditation.

Thrift-Shop Donation Leads Cops to Meth Lab

June 1, 2009 at 6:39 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

methamphetamine-crystalsSorting through a bundle of recently donated clothes, workers at a Missouri thrift shop found “a bag half-filled with a crystal-like substance,” according to a UPI story. (The bag is described as having been “in” one of the donated garments; it is not stated whether the bag was in a pocket, sewn into a hem, or ensconced in some other way.) On May 20, one of the workers called the cops to report the surprising find:

“Police said the substance left in the clothing was nearly $500 worth of methamphetamine.”

Police then “tracked the item of clothing” to a home in Hillsboro, Mo., where “a large meth lab was discovered.

“Cpl. Jerry Williams said the raided lab, discovered thanks to the worker’s call … was capable of consistently manufacturing a sizable amount of the illegal drug.

“The raid of the home resulted in the discovery of three children, ages ranging from 3 to 14, and the arrest of two suspects…. Matthew Velasco, 38, and Melanie Velasco, 35, now face charges ranging from possession and intent to distribute a controlled substance to felony child endangerment.”

« Previous Page

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.