Researchers investigating the reuse of hard rubbish have found organised scavenging - or "gleaning" - is well embedded in Australian culture.
Academics from RMIT University worked with the City of Moreland in Melbourne's inner-north on the 11-month study into the recycling and reuse of kerbside hard rubbish.
Moreland Council had identified problems of increased operating costs associated with organised scavenging for economic gain and wanted to gain a better understanding of the amount of material involved in gleaning activities as well as the motivations of gleaners.
Researchers conducted qualitative interviews and video ethnographies with 15 households in Moreland for the study, Cultural Economies of Hard Rubbish.
The small-scale qualitative study was conducted by Associate Professor Tania Lewis (RMIT's School of Media and Communication), Dr Malita Allan (RMIT/ Brotherhood of St Laurence), Paula Arcari (RMIT) and Dr Rowan Wilken (Swinburne University).
Associate Professor Lewis, a Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow at RMIT, said the findings showed gleaning was a deeply embedded, multi-generational practice in Australian culture.
"Those we interviewed are very fond of the practice itself, the way it recruits family, friends, and neighbours, the expression and sharing of DIY and creative skills that it often involves," she said.
"The items of hard rubbish themselves often occupy prominent places in people's homes, as well as in their personal histories, as they remember the time, circumstances, and people that came together for each item."
Gleaning provides socially and politically aware people with another outlet for the expression of their values, and a way for them to feel valued and connected to the broader community, the research found.
"As gleaning hard rubbish is about recycling and reducing waste, those who actively participate in it tend to recycle, reduce waste, and 'contribute' socially and politically in other ways," Associate Professor Lewis said.
"Those other contributions will include thrift practices and minimising consumption, community work, engaging in sustainable modes of transport, and sharing goods and resources with others.
"In other words, gleaning is part of a broader cultural and social economy.
"These are attributes that councils seek to achieve in creating engaged and active communities and should be fostered at every opportunity."
The study recommended that Moreland City Council consider the implications of these findings for future policy, planning and decisions involving the regulation of hard rubbish.
Image credit: Alpha, Old TVs out for hard-rubbish collection, 2007, flickr, retrieved 27 October, 2014. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.