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Refuse road show 

According to the old adage, one man's garbage is another man's gold. But according to the City of Rochester's municipal code, it's illegal for one man to take another's tarnished treasure once it reaches the curb.

                  The code defines "scavenging" as "the uncontrolled removal of materials at any point in waste management," and decrees: "No person shall interfere with, remove or scavenge for any material in any city-issued container, recycling container, alternate container or in any bulk refuse or building refuse which has been placed between the sidewalk and the curb by the owner and/or occupant for public collection."

                  Fine for the first offense: $25. Sanction for a second offense: $35. Get nabbed grabbing garbage a third, fourth, or fifth time: $65 each. Finding a ceramic Cookie Monster cookie jar, with only minor chips and cracks, in a box of junk left by the sidewalk: priceless.

                  Indeed, for full- and part-time trash-treasure hunters, the possibility of paying a fine for violating that code is negated by the possibility of scoring quality kitchen utensils, kitschy knick-knacks, and second-hand clothes for free. And that's assuming they're even aware there's a code to violate --- which, chances are, they're not.

                  Louis Howard, the city's director of parking (and other non-criminal) violations, can't recall an occasion when a fine for scavenging had been levied. "It's not a violation that's regularly cited," he says.

                  A source at the city's Department of Environmental Services thinks the code, created in 1991, is intended to discourage scavengers from making a mess, rather than to punish collectors of curios and college kids rolling cable-spool coffee tables back to their crummy apartments. For obvious reasons, the city's more concerned with people dumping garbage illegally than people illegally taking it away.

                  And even in these hyper-vigilant times, the average, patriotic citizen would no sooner call the cops on a scavenger than they'd sic the Board of Health on kids selling 5-cent cups of lemonade down the street. After all, scavengers don't just haul away unwanted junk. They also relieve the garbage-generator of mental baggage, like guilt over having made such a frivolous purchase in the first place, or self-recrimination for having been too lazy to repair or donate a once-useful item.

                  As parasitic relationships go, this one's fairly symbiotic.

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