“Wow, you found a gold mine!” 

This was a recent Wednesday, around 11:37 a.m. My co-workers and I answered the call from the City of Whitehorse to spend one hour picking up garbage around our worksite.

This was the “let’s go make Whitehorse beautiful” call of duty. There was no lack of junk to pick up around our parking lot and along the river trail behind Spook Creek Station. Crocuses are not the only species to flourish in the spring, garbage does too.

I like to think where there is garbage there is treasure. And I was not disappointed. A perfectly good woman’s winter jacket, car keys, an insulated beer mug, and a ten inch-long kitchen knife were all found during the garbage hunt.

What is garbage anyway?

Sometimes, somebody’s garbage is someone else’s Holy Grail. Free stores at public dumps across the territory are good places to witness this. There, you can find clothing, kitchenware, and furniture. More often than not you can also peek at the dry construction waste pile. This is where treasure can really be found.

Trash also reflects what we eat. Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are, one could say.

One of the most collected types of garbage that morning was chip packaging and soft drink containers: junk food.

Just like the potato chips that will quickly be consumed and forgotten, the packaging meets the same fate. We are a consumer society.

Paper was another favourite item. Newspapers, flyers, grocery lists, receipts, they were all there. Paper can be considered a noble trash. It goes back to Mother Earth in a reasonable lapse of time compare to a plastic Coca-Cola bottle. Anyone using an outhouse or going camping will know that toilet paper, for instance, decomposes quite quickly.

At some point during the clean up we came across an area on the bank of the river, tucked in the trees, where apparently someone had made his home. Large chunks of cardboard, old blankets, and plastic bags littered the ground.

A co-worker was already at work, removing plastic and cardboard. At one point I thought the cardboard should be left on site, that someone was probably using it as insulation against the wet and cold ground. Maybe that was a bed? We finally removed the cardboard and plastic bags, leaving the blankets. Through our eyes, those items were trash, but we could have been wrong.

At the end of that hour-long garbage pickup, all the bags were to be brought to Shipyards Park. City officials delivered an award to the team with the heaviest pile of bags, followed with a free barbeque.

We didn’t win. The consolation price was far more interesting — a cleaner environment for all. Crocuses included.