In Fairbanks, Alaska, the majority of the Borough doesn’t have regular trash pick-up, instead something called the Transfer Site exists. Picture a 2-3 acre lot lined around the perimeter with dumpsters, and a large empty space in the middle where people can park to throw away their garbage. In almost all Transfer Sites there exists a re-use area, where people can drop off things that are not quite trash, but which they don’t need anymore. Think old furniture, clothes not worn anymore, old electronics, child’s toys etc. Basically, the Transfer Site is a huge, free, constantly changing garage sale.
Is there junk? Most definitely. Are there also treasures? Absolutely.
I started going to the Transfer Site after I started reading a blog called “Arrogantly Shabby” written by two friends in town (here’s their blog! http://flagrant-vagrants.blogspot.com/) I was really inspired with just the amount of really good stuff they found. Old Navy shmavy. These girls were finding awesome vintage dresses, jewelry and Frye boots. So I started going every day for, initially (I told myself) just two weeks. If I didn’t find anything by then, I’d go back to Value Village (and their increasingly jacked-up prices, but that’s a different blog.) I had only been going for a couple days before I was completely and utterly hooked. Clothes, furniture, books, jewelry, art; and it was all free.
Fairbanks has a whole small sub-set of the community that you meet at the Transfer Site. There are the dump trolls, people who are overly aggressive about getting first ‘dibs’ on stuff, and who walk around cutting cords on electronics so no one else can use them. There are the scrappers, who are there all the time, in Carhartts and gloves, scrapping copper off of wire and going through the dumpsters, looking for what people unwittingly (or lazily) threw away. There’s the ashamed dumpster goer, someone who obviously loves the Transfer Site, but, embarrassed at the implications of what that means, act like every time they see someone they know there, why, that’s the first time they’ve been all week! And they’re just throwing away trash!
And then there are people like Maple and Me. Usually in the 20-50 age range. Old enough to not really care what people might think about them being at the dump, but young enough to still have the energy to get in and out of dumpster at -30. Maple and I jokingly call ourselves dump rats. (Can you tell we love ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’?) We go every day, we go through dumpsters, and we’re happy and proud to be finding good things (like real wood furniture, not pressboard.) We’re not trolls, we let people at least drop the trash off at the re-use area before going through it (unlike trolls, who will often take things out of people’s cars when they pull into the TS.) They make us all look bad.
Going to the Transfer Site every day has honestly changed how I think about consumption in the United States. It amazes me what people throw away, and how much of it Maple and I are able to re-use. The Garagehome is almost entirely furnished from the TS. The majority of what Maple and I wear is from the TS. We’re compiling windows for a greenhouse next summer, all from the TS. I’m so happy we live in Fairbanks, which has a system set up where people can easily get rid of stuff they don’t use, and that stuff is then easily (and freely!) available to people who can.
This attitude of reusability and recycling has spilled over into how Maple and I consume within our community. We’ll often grab things at the TS that we think others would like, and this leads to people often giving us stuff that we then keep some and give the rest outward through our circle of friends. As our friend Nanae told us at a party, “You guys just take everything.” And it’s true, we do. You never know who is going to want it…
Below are some of the better things that Maple and I found at the TS this Spring/Summer. I’ll have a second installment of this in a couple months, so that the Fall/Winter finds can have their moment of glory.
Fun Fact: The first time Maple ever saw me I was digging through a dumpster at the TS.