Treasure in the Trash: A Look Inside 30 Years of NYC Garbage

Located on the second floor of a garbage truck depot in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City is Treasure in the Trash, a local gem created by retired NYC sanitation worker Nelson Molina. Treasure in the Trash is a gallery of NYC garbage collectibles, which includes typewriters, photographs, furniture, household items, action figures, stained glass from a church built in 1895, a Star of David made from steel from the World Trade Center and more.

Molina, who grew up in East Harlem, has had a passion for finding useful items in the trash since childhood. “My mother always said to not throw anything out if you can find a use for it,” says Molina. “I didn’t have much as a kid so I would go around, pick up toys that were thrown out and fix them up.”

Molina followed his childhood passion and landed a career in the waste and recycling industry, where he worked for over 30 years. Early on in his career, he began picking up useful and interesting trash items with his work truck and some of his coworkers followed suit. With these items, he created a gallery that took over an entire floor of the depot, which was previously an old parking area for trucks until it was deemed unsafe.

Now, Molina has thousands of items in the gallery, all of which are carefully placed in organized sections and themed tables. Most of the items in Molina’s collection were found individually, and then grouped together and placed on display.

For years, Molina rescued these treasures from being sent to the landfill and now, even though he is retired, he spends three days a week at the gallery. But those days may soon come to an end because the depot is being reclaimed by the Metropolitan Hospital.

The fate of the gallery has yet to be decided by the city, but Molina and fans of the gallery hope the collection can find a permanent home. The gallery isn’t open to the public, but the NYC Department of Sanitation and Molina offer monthly tours by appointment.

Here, Waste360 has put together a photo gallery that highlights some of the items in the Treasure in the Trash gallery.

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