Dumpster-diving: Long days, low pay

Joe Davis

Unkempt and seemingly nameless, people can be seen rummaging through trash receptacles all throughout the Sacramento State campus on a daily basis.

These trash-bin diving, can-collecting freegans have become a staple in the Sac State community as they collect the hidden currency buried under empty Gatorade bottles and greasy Round Table pizza boxes.

Although some regard these individuals as a public nuisance with opportunistic motives, one individual sees himself as a public servant to a campus he has grown to love.

Jason Sciba, 45, has been coming to the Sac State campus to collect cans and bottles since he was 18 years old.

“When I first started doing this around 1986 there were only three or four other people doing it,” Sciba said. “Now there are like 50 people out here.”

Sciba said he works eight and sometimes up to 10 hours per day. With so many contending for so little, Sciba is sometimes forced to start his workday as early as 1 a.m. just to get a shot at reaching his goal of $8 per day.

“There is really no schedule. When I get here is when I get here,” Sciba said. “I usually try to get here ahead of other people because there is competition here. Some people like to be greedy.”

Sciba, a father to seven children, is currently homeless. Even after he receives his anticipated Social Security check, which he will use to rent a home, he said he will need to collect recyclables to supplement what social security will not provide. 

Even though Sciba is free to come and go for the most part, he said there are still guidelines he and others like him have to follow.

“My relationship with the police is cool because they know me and I follow the rules.” Sciba said. “No.1: you don’t go through the recyclable bins, but garbage cans are okay. No. 2: you can’t have any warrants, or be on parole and you can’t be a sex offender.”

Sciba uses much of the money he makes to pay for cigarettes and coffee. He reinvests most of the money made from cans back into Sac State by purchasing his coffee at Java City and getting his bike repaired at Peak Adventures.

While Sciba feels like the students love him for helping to beautify the campus and saving the environment, he acknowledges that positive interactions with students are few and far between.

“Students don’t really talk to me, but I have been given $5 before,” Sciba said. “During the night near the dorms, sometimes college kids get drunk and say things to me, but that’s what happens when people get drunk. I’ve been called every name in the book.”

Negative reactions to Sciba and people like him are commonplace whether it is through fear or ignorance.

Some students respect the can collectors for showing fortitude while others feel they present a potential safety hazard.

“I don’t know how safe it would be to approach any of them because you don’t know what mind state they are in or if they are crazy,” said the junior criminal justice major Morgan Foley. “It’s just a little weird when I come on campus at night. When it’s just girls setting up booths and there are people digging through the trash – it’s not the safest feeling.”

Foley’s sentiments have been echoed by other students and the Sac State police department has taken notice.

Police chief Mark Iwasa said the department is looking into putting an ordinance in place that would restrict the presence of transient can collectors.

“Many of these people come on campus with other intentions,” Iwasa said. “Some of them are not above taking other things that don’t belong to them.”

Iwasa said there had been many incidents involving transient can collectors that resulted in arrests. After looking into the records of some of the regulars via routine stops after complaints, the department uncovered arrest warrants for some individuals.

Whether collectors like Sciba are allowed to continue playing their role on campus or not remains to be seen. Until a change in policy comes down, Sciba will continue doing what he sees is best for himself and Sac State.

“(One of my goals) is to keep the campus clean,” Sciba said. “I keep it clean of plastics, cans and I also make sure everything on the ground is picked up. I’ll even volunteer my time by picking up paper off the ground and putting it back in the garbage can where it belongs.”