On the second floor of the Manhattan 11 Department of Sanitation garage, a growing collection of discarded items has been arranged with great care: Toys, technologies, posters, paintings, books, bottles, lamps, chairs, tables, and so much more. These 45,000 objects are Nelson Molina’s Treasures in the Trash. He and his coworkers found them along their routes in East Harlem during his 34 years as a New York Sanitation worker. From The New York Times in 2012:
Though he gets plenty of help digging for garbage gold, it is Mr. Molina, and only Mr. Molina, who decides what is worthy of display, who makes the frames and who puts them up. He has no grand theories about what qualifies, he said, only his gut… Mr. Molina explained. “Third Avenue west, that’s where I find everything.”
[“Anthropolgist in residence” Robin] Nagle said that sort of distinction holds true throughout the city.
“The wealthier the neighborhood, the better the stuff that’s thrown away,” she said. “There’s a good chunk of change in all of that,” she added about Mr. Molina’s garage collection.
Filmmaker Nicolas Heller made the short film above to help raise money and awareness for the department’s efforts to find a proper museum space for the three decades of artifacts. From Foundation for New York’s Strongest, where you can donate:
Through his tireless efforts to rescue, repair, and organize these discarded objects, Molina reminds us that there are alternatives to waste, and gives us an opportunity to pause and consider our own consumption habits. The vast array of items is a stunning visual reminder of what we value — or don’t value —and the scale of what we throw away. A keen observer can also see smaller narratives woven throughout, telling us stories of Harlem, of Nelson’s life, and of New York City itself.
The Foundation stewards this collection by offering public tours, partnering with other organizations for special exhibits, and ultimately strives to find a permanent home for this incredible collection.
Tours are hosted through New York Adventure Club. To schedule a tour, click here.
Watch these videos next: Dina Amin’s Tinker Friday Stop Motion Project, Pass It On: Turning scraps into soccer balls for village children, Landfill Harmonic, and The Master Microfixer Teaching the World to Fix iPhones.
Plus: Paper’s Passage: From Waste to Product by NYC Sanitation.
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