Mov­ing daze

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Jay Rath Con­tribut­ing writer HIP­PIE XMAS

Ho, ho, ho. It's time for Hip­pie Christ­mas in the cap­i­tal city.

It's the time of year when gifts are gleaned from tons of trash left by de­part­ing univer­sity stu­dents. Fur­ni­ture, cloth­ing, un­opened food and more are col­lected from curbs be­fore garbage trucks can in­ter­cede.

Given that 33,000 of UW-Madi­son's 43,400 stu­dents live off campus, stu­dent mov­ing day is a big deal.

“We've al­ways called it `Hip­pie Christ­mas,'” said Anna Oster­meier, a Madis­onarea na­tive and a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin ju­nior. She helps co­or­di­nate a stu­dent-led re­cy­cling ef­fort in con­junc­tion with the hol­i­day.

In 2015, more than a mil­lion pounds of garbage went to land­fill just from stu­dent move-out days, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the city of Madi­son.

But not all of what was land­filled was garbage.

“It pains me to see per­fectly good things out on the curb to go to the land­fill,” said Al­der­man Ledell Zellers, whose Dis­trict 2 cov­ers much of the Madi­son isth­mus.

Some­thing like Hip­pie Christ­mas oc­curs in many col­lege com­mu­ni­ties.

How­ever, the name — ac­cord­ing to a Google search — is strongly as­so­ci­ated with Madi­son, where most of the down­town apart­ment leases stop and start Aug. 15. It can be a mad house. With so much hub­bub and such a nar­row time­frame in which to move, per­haps it's in­evitable that some trea­sure ends up on the curb.


“A friend of mine found — and kept — a tablet com­puter from a Lang­don neigh­bor­hood dump­ster,” said Sam Link, a mem­ber of Hy­pa­tia Co-op.

Many co-op mem­bers are up for the sport they term “dump­ster div­ing.”

“I've also heard peo­ple re­port find­ing cash,” Link said. “Lead­ing to the ob­ser­va­tion from co-op (mem­bers) that peo­ple around them, be­yond over­pay­ing for rent, are lit­er­ally throw­ing money away.”


But hol­i­day scav­eng­ing is not with­out risk.

And the city has is­sued some cau­tions about dump­ster div­ing.

Un­li­censed com­mer­cial scav­eng­ing can present en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

“They're grab­bing ma­te­rial in the cover of night and some of the stuff has haz­ardous ma­te­rial,” said Bryan John­son, re­cy­cling co­or­di­na­tor and spokesman for the Madi­son Streets Divi­sion. “Peo­ple are out there grab­bing a re­frig­er­a­tor off the curb. What are they do­ing with the coolant in there? Or in an air con­di­tioner? We have no idea.”

Older model tele­vi­sions may have tubes that con­tain lead and first-gen­er­a­tion liq­uid-crys­tal-dis­play TVs con­tain mer­cury.

“Just set­ting that stuff out at the curb is the ab­so­lute wrong thing to do,” John­son said. “If it breaks, the lead or the mer­cury is go­ing to end up leach­ing into the water.”

Other threats can be im­me­di­ate — and more bit­ing.

“Peo­ple need to be ex­tremely cau­tious if they're pick­ing up things from the side of the curb,” said John Haus­beck, en­vi­ron­men­tal health ser­vices su­per­vi­sor with the Madi­son and Dane County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health. “Part of me feels badly about hav­ing to say that, be­cause there are a lot of good things that peo­ple throw away at this time. Oth­ers can make use of it. But it's just not worth the risk of bring­ing in bed­bugs to your home.”


New gen­er­a­tions of bed­bugs re­sis­tant to pes­ti­cides are an in­creas­ing prob­lem in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. They can spread from a sin­gle apart­ment, in­fest­ing en­tire build­ings. And they love to hitch­hike, es­pe­cially in used fur­ni­ture — wood, mat­tresses and fab­ric, but also in books and elec­tron­ics. These bugs can fit into a crevice the width of a credit card. And, worse than a lump of coal in De­cem­ber, items col­lected at Hip­pie Christ­mas may con­ceal cock­roaches and fleas, as well as ro­dents. “It's def­i­nitely buyer beware,” Haus­beck said. “Or in this case, picker beware.” He en­cour­aged any­one dis­pos­ing of next page


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