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.
MERRY HIPPIE CHRISTMAS!
“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.”
DUMPSTER DIVING DANGERS
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.”
THAT’S RIGHT, BEDBUGS
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