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Skips and Scavenging

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The 'skip', or 'dumpster' as it is also known, is a large, usually metal, box with one or more sides missing thus forming an open or lidded container. Skips come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, depending on the country and purpose. US dumpsters are usually lidded, thoughtfully protecting fragile waste from the cruel elements. The classic skip is usually constructed from good, solid steel, though smaller domestic wooden or plastic versions can be found in some situations.

Into these boxes are placed items of discard, or 'rubbish' in layman's terms. While skips in the vicinity of building sites and areas of redevelopment will often be full of mere rubble, those outside offices and homes can often offer rich pickings for the urban scavenger. But note: if a roll of carpet, set of curtains or bagful of cushions catches your eye, ensure that they haven't been rained upon during their residency, otherwise your search might prove to be a messy one.

Amongst the better class of refuse to be found in skips are items such as:

  • Chairs
  • Tables
  • Shelving
  • Plumbing components
  • Bathtubs
  • Mattresses
  • Soft furnishings
  • Electrical equipment

The 'electrical equipment' category can include not only perfectly re-usable household wiring but also TV and stereo parts, old loudspeakers, dirty but functional toasters and the occasional working computer system!

Sadly, skips can be dangerous. Open-topped skips can fill with rain, making them slippy and treacherous underfoot. Decaying organic matter deposited by passing people can mean that unsavoury vermin will infest the skip, lying in wait to give the human scavenger Weil's Disease1 which is present in rat's urine. Vermin can also give you a nasty bite or at the very least, a shock. If you are planning to go scavenging it is always a good idea to equip yourself suitably for the task. In your search for treasures, take with you the following:

  • Gloves - preferably strong and waterproof
  • Bactine/TCP for any cuts
  • Plasters - to use for first aid
  • Torch
  • Strong satchel, sack or backpack

With a little care*, you can safely pillage skips in the dead of night, though this is not strictly necessary. People put stuff into skips because they do not want it. Simply asking the previous owner (if you're able to identify them) or checking that someone isn't simply putting things in the skip before moving it to their new home, can be a simple way of avoiding bother. Another benefit of scavenging in daylight includes the higher chance of your being rescued should you become trapped in the skip.

Remember that not everything in a skip is useful. Broken bottles, rotting food, protruding nails, ceramic splinters and the ghosts of masonry are very likely to cause you more harm than good. If you see something you require on the top layer of rubbish, lift it out. Try and avoid rummaging at the bottom of the skip, anything could be lurking there. You may get lucky, you may not, but do the best with what you can get. It might look like an old milk bottle but could well turn out to be an antique vase. Look at everything twice.

To all who go scavenging: be careful out there.

1Otherwise known as Leptospirosis - essentially kidney failure, leading to liver damage, jaundice and probable death.

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