Trash Decisions

Trash Decisions

If it’s April, it must be bulk trash pickup month in Hamden. The semiannual ritual is loved and hated, anticipated and dreaded, as Hamdenites pile up their otherwise too-big-to-toss items streetside for neighbors to rescue, scrap dealers to scavenge or, eventually, the town to drag to the dump.

Drive around Hamden this time of year, and you may be surprised what’s out there for the picking. In Spring Glen, a Raggedy Ann and Andy toy chest, a bookshelf with an old-school pencil sharpener still screwed to its side, a pair of old Adirondack chairs; in Mount Carmel, a rowing machine, a cat condo, a toilet; in West Woods, rolled-up carpets, loose drawers, a play pen, an ironing board. One lucky out-of-towner discovered a pool ladder and slide in a north Hamden neighborhood. “Are they getting rid of it?” he asked, incredulous. As he loaded it in the back of his truck, he said it would replace his own cracked model at home.

Early on April mornings, more intentional bargain hunters cruise Hamden’s residential streets before the frost has melted. Weekends, not surprisingly, are a free-for-all of spring cleaning and sidewalk shopping. At some point, town trucks pass through and clear the way for more stuff.

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Hamdenites love to swap not only castaways but also stories about them. Marilyn Anderson Cataldo has a beloved wing chair that she picked up in the bulk trash more than 25 years ago and has since reupholstered three times. Its previous owner lived on a nearby street. “I confessed to her at one point that I took her chair,” Cataldo says, adding that the neighbor, who was also named Marilyn, was happy to know where it had landed. Other neighbors brag about other finds: a boudoir chair with a matching ottoman, a keyboard, an old reed organ, a cedar bench, a desk and tons of kids’ toys.

Others get a thrill from sending their old stuff to new homes. “I get to peek out my window and watch people, particularly young families, load various items that will always hold sentimental value to us into their cars trucks,” says Hamdenite Melissa Kaplan. “Witnessing their excitement brings such joy and hope that our furniture will… bring them joy, too.” The Regan family reports taking bets on how quickly their cast-offs will be snatched up. “ had a few items taken as we were walking them to the curb,” Jennifer Regan reports.

Not everyone’s stuff finds a loving new home. Anything made of metal may be pillaged for scrap. (I once watched a scrap metal collector use his bare hands to rip the hinged lid off a broken grill I’d left at the curb.) And sometimes takers are a little too eager. Barbara McNamara recalls the time her neighbor set down her golf clubs for a moment to run back in the house for one last thing before a golf game. When she came out, the clubs were gone. The suspect—driving a red pickup truck full of bulk trash—was quickly apprehended and suitably chagrined.

Other times, people just can’t escape their own stuff. Susan Shank Hawthorne remembers putting an old rocking horse out for bulk trash pickup. Later, one of her children spotted it in a local antique store. They knew it was hers because it was missing a handle.

While bulk trash generates a lot of love, not everyone delights in the monthlong display of curbside junk. “Flowers popping up all over, lawns teeming with new life, mattresses and broken toilets spilling out over the sidewalks,” laments Hamdenite Bruce Crowder. Others agree and point to the ways neighboring towns handle their bulk trash, picking it up by appointment or over shorter periods of time.

Even Hamden has its limits. A town press release stipulates a maximum of one mattress per household (woe to the family who recently put out five of them). Prohibited are hazardous wastes such as pesticides and pool chemicals; construction debris; plumbing fixtures, sinks and pipes (which would seem to disqualify the toilet); tires; vehicle parts including old lawnmowers; yard waste; propane tanks; electronics and pool covers. Some—but not all—of those items are accepted at the Hamden Transfer Station on Wintergreen Avenue, where one worker shook his head when asked if things were quieter because of bulk trash pickup. On the contrary, traffic has been “nonstop,” he said. That’s because April also marks the start of warmer days and yard cleanups.

Restrictions aside, you’ll find pretty much everything else you can imagine (or can’t) curbside in Hamden—much of it truly trash that no one wants. Nevertheless, public sentiment seems to lean toward the thrill of free stuff. One neighbor recalls earlier days when bulk trash month was more like a community event, with neighbors walking up and down the streets of Spring Glen, chatting and catching up while they sifted through one another’s junk before hauling it home.

The bulk trash party, such as it is today, goes until April 30, at which point everyone will have to start hauling their own big trash to the transfer station. Until October, that is, when Hamdenites will do it all over again.

Town of Hamden Bulk Trash Pickup…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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