New York

NY Filmmaker Shines a Spotlight on Unexpected Trash Treasures

“Think about the things you throw out because everything can have a home.”

What to Know

  • Nicolas Heller's latest film, “Treasures in the Trash,” highlights sanitation worker's decades-long collection of items found in trash
  • Although findings are catalogized on the second floor of the M11 garage in East Harlem, Molina’s collection does not have a permanent home
  • Documentary takes look at DSNY worker Nelson Molina's 34 years of picking items in trash and attempts to display them in a museum setting

Someone's trash is another's treasure.

The old saying is highlighted in New York filmmaker Nicolas Heller's latest documentary called “Treasures in the Trash” -- a cinematographic work recognizing New York sanitation worker Nelson Molina’s decades-long collection of artifacts, which he saved from his neighborhood trash.

“This was stuff that was picked out of the trash over 34 years in one neighborhood… It would be in a landfill if it wasn’t for Nelson,” Heller explained.

Heller discovered Molina’s collection through a friend, Charlie Eisenbach, who is a sanitation worker.

“Nothing like this exists,” Heller said.

Although it is illegal to take and keep items from the New York City Sanitation Department (DSNY) garbage or recycling collection as personal property, according to the department, Molina has kept these items [which are city property] at a DSNY garage.

“What Nelson’s work shows is that so much of what New Yorkers throw out really isn’t “trash”—so many of these items have value and could rather easily be refurbished and reused,” Julie Raskin, executive director of the Foundation for New York Strongest, said.

Although the findings are categorized on the second floor of the M11 garage in East Harlem,  Molina’s collection does not have a permanent home.

The DSNY plans to create a museum which focuses on sustainability issues by displaying the 2015 retiree’s collection of over 45,000 artifacts, and recognizing the work of its staff and the department as a whole.

“Even though a sanitation worker may be on your block twice a week, their work can be invisible and very much underappreciated. It’s also very dangerous work-- and the men and women of our department do this very critical work each and every day, rain, shine or snow,” Raskin explained.

With the help of the department’s nonprofit partner, The Foundation of New York’s Strongest, the "future" museum will showcase historical pieces recovered by DSNY, and the city’s vision plan to eliminate sending waste to landfills.

In the meantime, as an immediate alternative, the department plans to partner with different institutions to showcase Molina’s work.

“We are currently working with the Hunter East Harlem Gallery to showcase some of Nelson Molina’s pieces at their exhibit "What is Here is Open,""Raskin mentioned. 

Also, the department has participated in the Auto Show at the Javits Center.

“We are considering a public model, which would look something like what FDNY has done with their museum and repurpose a public space that the City owns, or find a space that is owned by a third party,” Raskin said.

For more information on the DSNY Museum click here.

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