One man’s trash is another man’s treasure — though not legally.
A Cobble Hill filmmaker’s documentary looks at the legal consequences people face for collecting recyclable materials off the street for cash.
The movie, called “Mettle” and directed by first-time filmmaker Andy Arrow, features scrap-haulers hit with thousands of dollars in fines for “theft” of discarded household appliances and other recyclable stuffs left at the curb for pickup by the Department of Sanitation.
“It was a complete surprise — I was like, ‘Are you kidding me,’ ” said Arrow, who had no idea that once you put those materials out on the street in any of the five boroughs they become the city’s property under law.
The 57-year-old graphic designer began investigating the matter after his heavy-duty air conditioner, which he left discarded on the sidewalk, was mysteriously picked up within minutes.
“By the time I got upstairs, it was gone,” he said. “There was no sanitation truck.”
Curious Arrow decided to take his new handheld video camera out and walked the streets of the Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood in search of who might have picked up the metal appliance.
What Arrow thought would be a mere 10-minute YouTube video turned into an hour-long documentary that he made for less than $1,000 over the span of a year-and-a-half.
Using the average camcorder, Arrow interviewed and followed around trash-pickers who scour Brooklyn streets for discarded household items like ironing boards, refrigerators, microwaves, and other metal objects that they trade in at local scrapyards for cold hard cash.
“What they told me was quite surprising,” said Arrow, that the scrap-haulers often get ticketed and could even get arrested in some cases for picking up the tossed trash.
Solomon Washington, a scrapper of Bedford-Stuyvesant who is featured in the documentary, said that when he first started collecting metal scrap two years ago, it was a way for him to earn a living.
Washington said that he regularly drives around in his pick-up truck and packs it with discarded scrap. Cashing in the materials could land him anywhere from $50 to $250 a day, he said, adding that he has been hit with summons for “hauling construction material without a license.”
It is against the law to remove by motor vehicle recyclable materials, including paper, metal, glass, and plastic bottles, from the curb that have been placed out for trash pickup, according to the Department of Sanitation.
The fine for this offense is $2,000 and vehicle impoundment, and a $5,000 fine for each subsequent offense within a 12-month period.
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins said that an individual picking up the trash and moving it on foot is “technically not illegal” but is “frowned upon.”
In the film, Arrow also interviewed neighbors, activists, and politicians including Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope). His requests to interview the Department of Sanitation and other city agencies were denied.
Arrow said that he tried his best in the ultra low-budget documentary to present the facts without any bias opinions, but that “you feel for anybody that’s being unjustly punished, for sure.”
“I haven’t found anybody else anywhere that said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea — let’s arrest people for picking up trash,’ ” he said.
“Mettle” premiering at the Jalopy Theater [315 Columbia St. between Hamilton Avenue and Woodhull Street, (718) 395–3214, www.jalopy.biz]. July 28, 7 pm. $10.Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@