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Security & privacy

Garbage pickers selling tech billionaires’ trash, even Mark Zuckerberg’s trash

It’s been said that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but what if the man in question is a billionaire? Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has started experiencing a privacy breach of his own. Instead of his data being pilfered, however, Zuckerberg has been losing his trash to local garbage pickers.

In an ironic twist of fate, Zuckerberg’s private trashcans have proven vulnerable to scavenging. What’s more, the people scouting his trash are making money from his discarded belongings.

Is it really possible to make a living from elite Silicon Valley garbage cans? The answer may surprise you.

Dumpster divers make money off of the elite

In the state of California, the practice of Dumpster diving is technically illegal. That fact hasn’t managed to stop local garbage-pickers in San Francisco, however.

This city boasts some of the highest wealth disparity in the entire country, with a gap of $339,000 between the top and bottom 20% of earners. This has led some lower-income residents to take advantage of a peculiar perk that comes with having billionaires for neighbors: People with expensive tastes tend to have expensive trash.

One of Zuckerberg’s neighbors, a military veteran named Jake Orta, has been earning money selling items he found in the trash bins outside of the CEO’s $10 million home. During an interview with the New York Times, Orta described how amazed he was at what people tended to throw away.

Items he found in Zuckerberg’s trash included a vacuum cleaner, a coffee machine and a hair dryer — all in working condition. On other hunts, he’s managed to find more expensive items including designer jeans, Nike shoes, iPads and bicycles. Orta then sells these items, hoping to bring himself the minimum of $30 per day he needs for survival.

Orta’s story, along with others like it, poses an interesting question: Why is so much good stuff just being thrown away? The garbage that these pickers collect tends to come from bins destined for landfills, so it’s not as if these items were discarded accidentally.

Why the rich throw away good junk

As it turns out, the Bay Area generates a large amount of trash from busy commuters, many of whom work in the downtown areas and rely on garbage bins for quick disposal of their many possessions. As the tech industry continues to dominate the region, the average income of new residents grows even higher.

Naturally, their taste in food, appliances and luxury items is growing to match. This makes their used goods an attractive prospect to trash pickers.

Because of our society’s tendency toward waste, an entire subculture of trash hunters has sprung up in many metropolitan areas across the country. Proponents of trash picking believe they are performing a public service, saying that the items they uncover would have done more good in a thrift store instead of buried in a landfill.

There are even some trash pickers that make the process a staple of their diet, going through the trash outside of restaurants for unused bread and ingredients at the end of the day. These unusual eaters call themselves “Freegans,” a combination of “free” and “vegan,” although not all Freegans are practicing vegans.

As trash picking continues to grow in popularity, the practice highlights several facts about our garbage that are impossible to ignore. As a culture, we throw away things that could have tremendous value to people less fortunate than ourselves.

We tend to see trash as a “done deal,” discarding things without any thoughts about how they can be repurposed. With so many people homeless, struggling, or underprivileged, choosing to donate your unwanted items to charities or shelters can do a great deal of good.

As for Zuckerberg and his trash, it’s unknown if he plans to issue a fix for his latest “privacy breach.”

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