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Dumpster diving, a fashionable Alaska hobby

VB dress dress with VS motorcycle vestand vintage camel bag
midlife woman in dress with motorcycle vest
Victoria Victoria Beckham dress with vintage Moschino belt, Victoria Secret leather vest, Esprit bag, studded pointy toe flats, and Ray Ban sunglasses (all own)

No mandatory trash removal service

In Fairbanks, there is no municipally organized trash service. No, panic! We are not having trash and rats in the streets! There are businesses who offer a trash collecting service in some neighborhoods. However, it is voluntarily to sign up. When you sign up, of course, you have to pay a fee for the service. You get a big trash can that they empty once a week with a medium size truck.

Transfer sites

So what do the others do? No, they do not throw their trash in their neighbors’ trash cans! They drive their trash to the transfer site.  At each “end” of the town, there is a large fenced-in area with a small container for special trash, a lot of big dumpsters, two huge containers of the sort used for shipping by railroad, container trucks, and cargo ships. Furthermore, there is a roofed place.

One of the two big containers is for yard and and the other for private construction trash, and they are of no further interest. The small one is for hazardous material. The roofed place is about 15 yards times 10 yards (13.7m times 9.1m). It is called the “house” by the locals, and serves for “recycling”. Not the recycling you know from the Lower 48 or Europe. There is hardly any real recycling in Alaska due to the

  • sparse population of 731449 (US census 2012) on 663268 square miles (1717854 km2), which means 0.9 persons per square mile (2.3 per square kilometer),
  • barely there highway system, and
  • lack of recycling facilities.

Recycling in Fairbanks

What is recycled in the house are items that one cannot sell in a garage sale, consignment or thrift store anymore, but are still totally functional. Thus, when people come to the transfer station they many of them browse the “house” after they have thrown their household trash into the dumpsters. I have seen everything from paintings to washers, chairs, TVs, CD players, canapes, snow blowers, bikes, dog sleds, clothing, cacti, cross country skies, hiking boots, clothing, push mowers, and mattresses there. I wonder what kind of person that would be who would take an used old, dirty mattress.

Dumpster diving is a hobby

I love to go to the transfer station, but not for browsing the “house”. I like watching the scene. What is so interesting about a transfer station? The people, and the trash divers. There are some people who come with their pickup truck full of trash. Then they back their pickup in front of the dumpster so they can stand in the back of the truck and unload their trash into the dumpster. They take every item, look at it, and throw it into the dumpster. Normal so far. However, you often see this: About one third of the time, they carefully put the item they had looked at back into the truck. Finally, they leave with having only thrown away two thirds of their load. I always wonder what they think in that very moment when they decide to put the item back into the truck and what it made them to keep the item. May be someone else loaded the truck for them and they were told to drive to the transfer site?

Now what is a dumpster diver? This term refers to a man or woman mining dumpsters. They climb into dumpsters and use a stick to open trash bags. The trash gets searched for reusable items like old plates, cups, clothes, vases, dolls, etc. No, these are not poor and/or unemployed people. They are collectors. They are there with big trucks in which they load their collectibles. They are there no matter how cold it is. For some of them it seems to be like the colder the better as then the competition is less and the possibility to make a great find is enhanced.

Dumpster diving is considered a hobby. When the Borough wanted to make a law that would forbid dumpster diving the newspaper and its blog were full of protests. There were even articles with photos of the interior of cabins which were entirely furnished and decorated with items that their owners had picked up from the dumpsters at the transfer site!

midlife woman in street style
Side view of the OOTD

The dumpster divers’ clothing is very interesting. They wear jeans, typically dirty, but well fitting and of good quality, i.e. not something that is of low or no value. In summer, they combine their jeans with a T-shirt and a flannel shirt on top and a baseball cap. They wear hiking boots or other shoes that protect them from cuts. Often the jeans is tucked into long socks or the top of the boots so nothing slips into the legs of their jeans. In winter, they wear some Carhartt well insulated jacket and a trapper hat. Year round they are wearing tough construction leather gloves, and carry that sharp stick.

Wildlife dumpster divers

Then there are the ravens and doves. The ravens sit on the steal walls of the dumpsters. They wait for the dumpster divers to open the bags to eat the leftovers of the pets’ dishes. The doves walk around the dumpsters and pick up crumbs that fall out of the trash bags or from the cookies kids are eating while their parents are browsing the “house.”

The Fairbanksans

Then there are the people that just drive in with their Subarau, Focus, Toyota, you name it. They jump out of the car, open the back, take out one trash bag, throw it in a nice parable into the dumpster, hop back into the car, make a U-turn, and off they are.

And then there is me. The fashion blogger in her street style wearing a Victoria Beckham dress, a Victoria Secret black leather motorcycle vest, a vintage Camel bag (yes that cigarette company made clothes), a vintage Moshino belt, and studded pointy toe flats watching the scene. See the links for how I styled the dress under a skirt, the motorcycle vest with a chartreuse sweater, and the pointy toe flats with blue clothes.

Landfill

Now to lifting the secret on the last point: What happens to the trash when the dumpster is full?  There is a big truck that turns the dumpsters over into the container it carries. Once the container is filled, the truck vanishes and drives to the landfill, and comes back. All day during the operating hours. End of the “trash story.”

Focus Alaska is a weekly series here on High Latitude Style featuring Alaska curiosa, lifestyle, wildlife, street style, weather, and insider travel tips.

Get the inspiration, support, motivation, and tips to look to your best in life. Subscribe to High Latitude Style. Deep inside you know when I can do it you can do it too.

Photos: G. Kramm

Copyright 2013-2017 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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