One man’s junk is another’s Junktique

One might think trash is reserved for the homeless. Yet, the exchange and renewal of used goods is a vital part of Burlington’s culture. What one person might call “trash” provides someone else with both the necessities of life and inspiration for art. Phinn Sonin is the the owner of Junktiques, an eclectic thrift shop on North Winooski Ave. “We’re committed to giving things a new life,” Sonin said, “and to protecting our resources by preventing the overuse of landfills.”Jordan Douglas, a professor at St. Michael’s College and a local artist who is currently featured at the 215 College St. Artist Cooperative, frequently uses found items in his photography. “Some of these things were soaking wet, stinking, they were ugly. But, there’s something beautiful about them and I try to make them as beautiful as I can make them.” Douglas said. “I found a shotgun shell in a river while swimming; I picked it up in my hand and it was so strange, it had so much energy,” Douglas said.”Thinking about what it represented, a vehicle of death, I was almost afraid to hold it but I knew I had to capture this meaning,” Douglas said.In Burlington, the use of “old junk” in everyday life extends to people belonging to many backgrounds, incomes and interests. “To a low-income community, it becomes important,” Sonin said. “But even middle-income people are benefitting, especially those who live in the city.”Even UVM students have taken advantage of Burlington’s “trash culture.” Many students have taken discarded chocolate from the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory’s dumpsters. Corey Paradis, a UVM senior, said he’s tried it with friends many times. “I’m a fan of free chocolate. You need a posse. It’s a big operation,” Paradis said. “But seriously, they should be giving it away. They shouldn’t be throwing it away in the first place.”Molly Williams, a UVM sophomore who is interested in making usable goods out of recycled materials, is beginning a ‘Recycled Stuff Guild’ with her suitemate, sophomore, Jonna Jermyn. “I will be teaching people who are interested in making recycled stuff the process of making these things. Anyone can bring any ideas that they have,” Jermyn said. They hope to begin having workshops teaching people how to make gifts for the holidays in the coming weeks. Williams began her practice of making bags and jackets out of plastic grocery bags both for environmental and economic reasons. “I know a lot of plastic bags are put into landfills,” she said, “I knit a lot, and yarn costs a lot – it makes sense to use something that’s free.” Cole Hess is an employee of the Administrative Training branch of Recycle North, a non-profit, second-hand home funishing store. Hess said that the economy and the growing concern for the environment are driving factors in peoples’ pursuit of used items. Hess believes that Recycle North has an effect on the environment by re-selling products that would otherwise end up in the trash, and customers enjoy the service they provide because of the low-prices on household goods. “With the way the economy is now, if you can get something for a lower price it makes a big difference,” Hess said.Those who collect old and used things claim that they become attached or entranced by the history of those things. “Used things take on some kind of energy from previous owners and places,” Sonin said. “So they come in with a little history. Some people buy something because of that story.”Douglas believes that used items take on an evolutionary quality in his photography.”When you don’t recognize it right away, it has more transformative potential,” Douglas said. “When you can get to that deeper level where the meaning can reach other levels, then that’s when you can meet your audience.”Local thrifters occasionally come across unusual and interesting items.”The guy I buy from is a canner. He makes a couple hundred dollars every couple of weeks off of collecting cans and he’ll find really interesting stuff in the dumpsters and sell it to me,” Sonin said. “One of my favorites was a little statue of a monkey with his mouth open. One day a customer came in and asked me ‘Do you know what this is?’ It ended up being an old opium pipe from China.”Phinn Sonin claims that “trash” culture in Burlington goes beyond simply collecting. He says there are many people who survive entirely from others’ dumpsters. “When I moved to Burlington I lived off the trash from an organic grocery store,” Sonin said. “I thought I was serving the environment by using things that had been discarded and integrating them into my life. I had a good life back then. I call it ‘urban survival’.”Perhaps others who subscribe to Sonin’s ideas of ‘urban survival’ and all people who collect discarded goods would agree with Lars Eighner’s short story, “On Dumpster Diving”: “Why not take it, since it is all free?”