Peculiar Things Discovered in the Trash by Garbage Collectors

Trista - October 17, 2019

People throw away tons of trash. In 2013, it was estimated that in the US alone, residents had tossed out more than 254 million tons of garbage and recycled or composed another 87 million tons.

But not everything that is discarded falls into the typical category of what we think trash is. Some garbage disposal employees have disclosed that some of the items they have found along the curb are definitely unusual. A few of the finds fell into the finders’ keepers, while others required the help of law enforcement. Here are some of the craziest items ever left to be picked up along the side of the road.


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Ashes Of The Deceased

When someone dies, it is often requested that he or she be cremated. The process utilizes combustion, vaporization, and oxidation to transform the cadaver into essential chemical compounds. It leaves ashes while still retaining the process of dry bone.

Several garbage disposal collectors have revealed on Reddit that they have uncovered someone’s ashes hiding among the trash pickup sites. One employee told Reader’s Digest that his manager had contacted the family after reading information from a plastic tub. The family said it was no mistake, and that they had thrown out the man on purpose.

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Veteran Grave Markers

The Department of Veteran Affairs will furnish a free government-issued headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death. The distinction is meant to give honor to those who have made the sacrifice for this country.

A garbage collector told Reader’s Digest that he had once found World War I and World War II grave marker medallions in a few recycling bins. He reported them to the police in hopes that they would be returned to their rightful owners.

Shocked man. Shutterstock.

A Human Skull

Skulls are not often expected to be found in trash cans and dumpsters, but garbage disposal employees have said that they have found them while they were out on the job.

In Stamford, a garbage collector found two skulls amid recyclable materials. While there were speculations that one of the heads may have belonged to a man who had recently disappeared, it turned out that they were bought by a resident from a medical supply website.

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Live Animals

Not everything that has been found in the garbage has something to do with death. Several trash collectors have stated that they have noticed a newly born litter of critters among the debris left along the side of the road.

A few of the stories include puppies, bunnies, a baby kitten, and several other members of the animal kingdom. Luckily the compassionate compost workers were able to rescue the tiny lives and alert the local animal control and rescue to their findings.

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Famous Cartoon Drafts

Animation has come a long way over the last ten years. While many of today’s cartoons are computer-generated, the classic shows and comics of the past were mostly put together using drawings on transparent sheets and paper.

Imagine the surprise of one garbage disposal employee who told Reader’s Digest that he found one day while he was working a backlot in Hollywood. Among the gently used props and typical trash were animation cells of Woody Woodpecker and Buzz Buzzard. The worker is also an artist, and he snatched up this unique find right away.

Pieces of mannequins. Shutterstock.

Body Parts

In what sounds like the beginning of a crime show or scary movie, several trash collectors have stated that they had found human body parts while they were working their garbage routes.

One collector recounted the story to Reader’s Digest that his dad worked in disposal for a company in a suburb of Las Vegas when the company could not get enough workers to cover a shift. He often worked on high-end homes, which he found a severed leg in one of the trash cans he opened. Other body parts were discovered in other trash cans along the route. Police were notified, and apparently, bodies are found in Vegas on a pretty “regular basis.”

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Photo Albums

In perhaps one of the more dramatic of the garbage finds, one landfill worker was asked by a customer for a hole to be dug on the property so that he can bury something. While the machine operator was reluctant to dig a hole, the workers obliged.

While the car drove off, he watched the driver throw out what appeared to be a book. Upon closer inspection, the album had a knife lodged in the middle. This is an extreme example, but garbage collectors stated that they could tell when a household is going through a divorce based on the photos found in the trash.

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If it’s by accident or a byproduct of a guilty conscious is up for speculation, but quite a few employees have found large quantities of cash lying in trash collecting bins, with some cases being in the amount of tens of thousands of dollars.

One respondent said he found $5,000 in cash while he was a full-time student working at a movie theatre. The honest employee turned in the money, but no one ever came back to reclaim the cash. Another employee reportedly stated that he found $3,000 in cash tied together in the rubber band.

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Although they are to be sorted into separate piles for disposal, electronics like computers and video game consoles can often be found in the discard pile.

One garbage collector who also worked at a sorting facility was able to start a decent business selling electronics and appliances that were left at the free drop-off point. Hundreds of old computers and consoles were given a new life after he switches out the dead parts, re-solder components, and de-age the plastic.

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A Nazi Enigma

The Enigma machine is an encryption device that was used to protect commercial, diplomatic, and military communication during the mid-20th century. It uses a rotor mechanism to scramble letters of the alphabet. Nazi Germany employed this practice extensively during World War II among all branches of the military.

One employee at a recycling plant found an enigma machine in one of the bundles that came through. This trash definitely turned into treasure, as it was later discovered to be worth $10,000. The incredibly rare find was most likely picked up by a wealthy history collector.

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Record Collection

Vinyl records have been making a comeback in popularity, with sales increasing year after year. Several artists have also opted to release or release new and older albums on the form.

One garbage collector stated that he uncovered “probably three tall pallets of records” during one haul. The stop resulted in more than 1,000 copies, and the employee said he kept all of them for himself. Rock on!

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Undetonated Grenade

One of the craziest finds among garbage trash collections was an undetonated grenade. A recycling plant employee said that while several people have questions about what can or cannot be recycled, this one came as quite a surprise whenever it went through the conveyor belt line.

The whole plant had to be shut down, and a bomb squad was called when the old unexploded device was recovered. He said it was later taken to a landfill and detonated.

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A Pinball Machine

Once all the rage in all the arcades, pinball machines have since fallen out of fashion. Still, many businesses have kept up the devices in their lobbies. One of the most popular games was Centaur, which was inspired by the first flipper pinball game with multi-ball options.

One garbage collector said a non-working Centaur pinball machine was left on the curb. While it did not have any legs and it needed to be dusted, the device was up and running after a few repairs and a bit of polish. The worker placed the machine in its office.

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Taxidermied Animals

Taxidermy is a hobby where dead animals are stuffed and mounted for personal decoration. The Smithsonian magazine reports that the centuries-old practice is seeing a resurgence in artists who are using taxidermy as a way to make a living.

Many trash collectors have stated that a collection of “crumbling” taxidermied critters have been found in the discard pile. One collector said on Reddit that he knew a maintenance man who had found a taxidermy raccoon dressed in a toddler T-shirt along with a taxidermied alligator.

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Designer Clothes

Several garbage collection reported that bags and bags of clothes are often discarded from wealthy neighborhoods. Much of those items are designer clothes and name-brand items that are pricey when they are sold in retail stores.

One collector recalled retrieving bags and bags of designer clothes when a family had moved out of the area.

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A Pregnancy Story

Sometimes the most exciting collection can come in two-part sections, leaving the worker left to draw his own conclusions. A groundskeeper recalled on Reddit about one morning while making his rounds for litter cleanup; he discovered a full box of condoms that had been tossed in the bushes behind one of the townhouse complex units.

He wrote that he knew a teenage girl had lived in the area but did not give the discovery another thought until about two weeks later, in the same bushes, he uncovered a used pregnancy test. “I laughed pretty hard,” he wrote on the site.

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Computer Equipment

Waste management agencies often travel to businesses and schools to pick up boxes and boxes of trash. On a post on Reddit said her sister works for a company, and they were told that they could take home whatever they wanted from the collections as long as it was not an illegal substance, had someone’s personal information on it, or could be sold for scrap metal.

During one stop at a pretty large school district, the haul included old computer mice, monitors, television sets, and vintage mechanical keyboards. Of the three boxes that she took home, she was able to sell all of the old discarded materials and make about a $10,000 profit.

Prosthetic arm. Shutterstock.

A Prosthetic Limb

A prosthetic limb, also known as a prosthesis, are medical devices used to replace missing body parts that may have been amputated through trauma or disease, or they may have been missing as a result of a condition that was present at birth. Prostheses are meant to restore normal function and help the patient get a better quality of life.

Because they can also be extraordinarily expensive and are custom made, it is not something that you would expect in the garbage can. A garbage man reportedly found a prosthetic limb once while he was picking up the week’s collections, adding that the artificial limb “was fully functional, and it was worth a lot of money.”

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An Electric Guitar

Anyone who has ever priced musical instruments knows how pricey they can be. Guitars can range in between hundreds and thousands of dollars per one. Inevitably something like that would not be easily discarded.

A paperboy passing by doing his rounds spotted a pristine electric guitar leaning next to the bin. The musical instrument had hardly anything wrong with it, except that it needed a new set of strings to replace rusty or missing ones. “The guitar itself was so new it didn’t even have the plastic peeled off the scratch plate.”

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Classic Coins

Coin collection can be a lucrative hobby for many people. Several pieces have been able to mint quite a bit after increasing in value over the years. It would be a surprise to find these kinds of pieces thrown carelessly away with the garbage.

One garbage disposal employee reportedly found an 1884 silver dollar while another discussed on Reddit about a small wooden box that was found one day. Inside, there were 50 silver dollars from 1922.

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Ancient Artifacts

In all the junk and debris, it can be especially impressive when you find something historically valuable. Nick DiMola discovered just that when he worked at a junk removal company in 2004. DiMola was hired to clean out the apartment of an artist who had passed away.

In the midst of all of the stuff, there was a cardboard barrel that DiMola had mistaken for trash. He sent it to a warehouse, where it stayed for the next few years. One day, he was curious and wanted to see what was inside. He couldn’t have imagined that there were ancient Mayan artifacts dating as far back as 300 BC. In total, there was $16,500 worth of objects, including a stone ax god artifact worth $1,000.

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Key Pieces Of Evidence

Several occasions have also proven to be the opportunity that investigators needed to get a big break in some big-name cases. For example, a discarded laptop was found lying amidst other trash belonging to former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre.

The laptop ended up being just what prosecutors needed for their case against Tourre. It was found to contain secret emails and other information that was related to the controversial sales of mortgage securities. He also referred to himself as the “fabulous Fab” in the emails. Because of this discovery, Tourre was convicted of mortgage fraud. Goldman Sachs was sued and ultimately settled for $550 million.

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Savings Bonds

Savings bonds can be an essential piece of personal investment. The rate is set by the US government, and the return is often at least twenty years down the line.

One man in Kentucky reportedly found more than $22,000 worth of bonds that were lying in a barrel of scrap metal. Mike Rogers was working at the recycling center when he made this astonishing discovery. He was also honest and tracked down the rightful owner of the bonds.

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Valuable Artwork

Some priceless pieces of artwork would definitely not be considered junk, but that was what happened to Elizabeth Gibson one day when she was walking in Manhattan. Along the street was a painting waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors.

Gibson had initially picked up the art because she likes the colors that were used. After she took it home and researched it over the years, she discovered she had saved a lost masterpiece. “Tres Personajes” was painted by famous Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. The piece was eventually sold at an auction for $1 million.

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Lottery Tickets

A small percentage of people are lucky enough to win the lottery, and it is a fewer number that is able to pick up a lost lottery ticket that garnered big winnings. Edward St. John was dumpster diving at the local convenience store when he literally hit the jackpot.

Edward St. John found a million-dollar winner among the rubbish. The man who purchased the ticket, Kevin Donnovan, eventually sued Edward St. John over the ordeal, and Edward St. John was ordered to give up $140,000 of the earnings.

Treadmill. Shutterstock.

A Treadmill

A popular trend among unusual discarded items are items that may not be working right away, but with a little work, they can find new life again. Exercise equipment can be especially bulky because of its size. Treadmills allow its users to walk, run or climb all while working out in a stationary position.

One garbage disposal worker said that he had found a working treadmill that was meant for trash pickup. After a bit of repair, the exercise equipment was working just as good as possible.

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Vintage Lamp

Another unique find among the heaps of trash collection day in and day out was a vintage lamp. A Reddit user recalled an old stained glass light piece that his grandfather found. It required a complete renovation of the electrical work, and it needed a good polishing.

It was not until a friend suggested that the lamp was actually a Tiffany lamp did the owners check out its origins. The stained-glass light was estimated to be worth $55,000, and it would have been worth more had the original wiring would have been intact.

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A Bedroom Set Upgrade

Furniture pieces are often everyday items to toss out, but there was one collection mentioned on Reddit that proved to be a tremendous upgrade to the finders’ living room spaces.

The user was working for his uncle’s moving company, and he found that it was often interesting what rich people give away for free. He explained that after clearing stuff out of a house with all marble flooring, he was able to score a $35,000 solid wood bedroom set for his own sleeping room quarters.

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A Dead Horse

One particularly disturbing story came from a former sanitary engineer who worked in the early 1990s. He said a regular stop was a veterinary clinic, and one hot summer day, there was a dead horse on top of the dumpster. The workers decided not to take the equine corpse, so they pushed it off and proceeded, grabbing the rest of the haul.

The next week the horse was in the dumpster, and the workers decided to take it, even though it had been rotting for several days in the hot temperatures. He described the scene as “the single most disgusting event in my life.”

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An X-Ray Machine

Medical equipment is not something that people outside the profession see every day. X-rays expose patients to high doses of radiation, but they are instrumental in helping doctors discover a quick diagnosis.

Another odd find among the trash collections sites is a stand-up x-ray machine that had been used in a chiropractor’s office. The collector said the mechanism was still operable, and he was able to sell the equipment for a profit.

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Bedazzled Bugs

Bugs are a part of the collector’s daily life, but one story was notably different. A groundskeeper recounted that there was a that had a massive problem with bugs.

One night while he was collecting trash off the floor, he noticed that a resident had a carefully decorated cardboard box. It resembled a hotel. An exterminator had to be brought in, and he often talks about the “bug lady.”

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An Old Chem Lab

Another story from Reddit involves the items left behind from a long-forgotten high school chemistry lab. It was estimated that many of the items came from the 1960s. The collector said there were jars and jars of things like thermite, yellow phosphorus sticks submerged in yellow liquid, and containers of mercury, among other items.

The collector said that the well-stocked chemistry lab had been left empty for decades until one day, the school suddenly closed. Nobody was allowed to enter it for years before the doors were finally opened to be cleaned out.

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Ceramic Elephant Statues

Some things refuse to be refuse. Another odd find at a landfill was a white ceramic elephant, about 10 inches tall. It was reportedly covered in the dirt that is pushed over the trash

The employee who recounted the story on Reddit said that it seemed to be an original piece of artwork. The elephant was able to withstand being thrown into the garbage truck, through the compactor and run over by the bulldozer, only to be still left standing seemingly undamaged. He said he ended up taking it home and naming it Lucky.

Vintage weapons. Shutterstock.

Vintage Weapons

There are also several stories about garbage disposal workers who have found weapons while they were gathering collections. One employee said he and his friend found a double-sided battle. It was later confiscated by management.

Another poster to the Reddit thread said his dad found various things over the years, including a Nazi dagger from World War II.

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Classic Alarm Clocks

Many garbage collectors have also brought in various timepieces when they are cleaning up items from the side of the road. According to several Reddit posts, expensive watches are often found discovered among the trash piles.

The author of said he had found various alarm clocks. While he has yet to fix many of them up for selling, he adds that some of the Westclox he found date back to the 1940s. Another clock is believed to be from the British United Clock Company, which folded back in 1909.