One man’s trash is certainly another man’s treasure. Nelson Molina, a retired NYC sanitation worker, has gathered thousands of objects that were thrown away in the trash for 30 years. His collection is so vast, it has taken up most of the second floor of a sanitation truck depot in East Harlem. He calls his collection “Treasures in the Trash”, and considers it a museum “but it’s not officially a museum”.
At first glance, the space looks like a flea market for anything under the sun. Molina’s collection is meticulously organized, clean, and well-maintained. Objects are grouped together and segregated by theme like action toy dolls, African statuettes, Buddhas, guitars, pewter table ware, Pez dispensers, posters, and typewriters, just to name a few. There’s an entire section dedicated to artworks, personal photos and memorabilia, toys, including half a dozen shelves filled with Furby dolls, and even a Michael Jackson shrine. Martin Bellew, a retired New Yorker who went on a scheduled tour of the collection exclaims, “It’s really well done. You can see the evolution of the neighborhood.”
None of the items are for sale. Molina estimates the value of the entire collection at $160,000. Exploring the collection is like walking through 30 years of life in the East Harlem neighborhood, where Molina grew up and still lives today.
Molina retired in 2015, after 34 years working at the NYC sanitation dept. He has always been the kind of person who finds beauty in other people’s trash. He says, “I’ve been a picker since I was nine years old” and reveals he got the habit of picking from his mother, who never threw things away. At first, the collection started in his locker, then a corner, an entire hall, until finally, he was given an entire floor in the warehouse. Molina has never taken out anything from his collection, since sanitation department regulations forbid workers from taking home anything they find on the streets, but not from keeping them in the office.
Aside from being a bona fide picker, Molina is also an all-around handyman. He has mended hundreds of broken objects, repaired electrical parts, and restored some of his finds like a life-size Santa Claus and ornamental fountain. His favorite piece so far, is a Star of David sculpted from scrap metal recovered from the site of the Twin Towers when it collapsed. It was presented as a remembrance of a victim.
Although he’s retired now, Molina still visits the depot twice a week to check on his collection. He insists it belongs to the NYC sanitation truck warehouse and says, “I don’t want anybody to take care of it”.
The collection is currently not open to the public, but visits may be arranged in advance. For more information on this, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.