During his more than three decades with New York City’s sanitation department, Nelson Molina has found tens of t
housands of items that he thought would be better suited for a museum than a landfill. So in the early 1980s, he started setting them aside on top of the lockers in the men’s locker room. When that space was filled, he moved his burgeoning “Treasure in the Trash” collection into a vacant room.
The collection now includes more than 50,000 salvaged items collected during his 34-year tenure with the department, filling almost an entire floor of a Department of Sanitation warehouse in East Harlem. Molina wants to see his hand-plucked treasures eventually turned into a museum for the world to enjoy – and to serve as a visual reminder of society’s wastefulness.
“We throw away too many things,” says Molina, 64, who retired in 2015. “New Yorkers need to recycle more and waste less.”He wouldn’t have to preach that lesson if people only realized the monetary value of what they’re throwing away. Among the items in his collection are vintage war uniforms, electric guitars, memorabilia from the original Star Wars debut in 1977 and baseballs signed by virtually every member of the Yankees.
As word of Molina’s project spread among other sanitation workers, his “Treasures in the Trash” collection took on an almost crowdsourcing vibe, with other trash workers contributing their own finds to the effort.
View some of the thousands of items in the “Treasures in the Trash” collection in the video below.
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