Zuckerberg’s Trash Is a Subculture’s Treasure

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

One of the clearest signs of capitalism’s unraveling is the enormous chasm between the super rich and very poor in San Francisco. The city also offers a kind of laboratory about the ways people survive off America’s waste. For The New York Times, Thomas Fuller follows Jake Orta, a military veteran who spends his days gathering discarded material from wealthy residents’ trash bins to resell later for, if all goes well, $300 a week. He’s one of a few hundred residents who make their marginal livings this way in a city teeming with tech money and plagued by chronic homelessness. Mr. Orta has found numerous items in the bin outside Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $10 million dollar home.

At dusk he leaves his apartment building, which is wedged between a popular brunch spot for tech workers and a cannabis shop in the heart of the Mission neighborhood. The smell of marijuana fills the vestibule. Walking up a steep hill lined with mature trees, he passes homes that could pass for works of art: Victorians, some with stained glass and elaborate cornices and moldings painted in a soft palette of pastels, ocher, celadon and teal. A virtual tour of the neighborhood on the Zillow site shows that homes valued at $3 million and above are the norm.

But Mr. Orta doesn’t look at the architecture. He walks the streets, slightly stooped, his eyes on the ground and a flashlight in his back pocket. His friends call him the Finder.

On the six times Mr. Orta went out with a reporter, he followed a variety of circuits, but usually ended up exploring his favorite alleys and a dumpster that has been bountiful. (The first rule of dumpster scavenging, he said, is to make sure there’s no raccoon or possum in there.) In March, the dumpster yielded a box of silver goblets, dishes and plates, as if someone had yanked a tablecloth from underneath a feast in some European chateau.

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