Mining the nature strip
Earlier this year, Tania Lewis and her colleagues visited householders in Moreland, in Melbourne's inner north, to ask how they reuse hard rubbish. Dr Lewis, an associate professor of media and communication at RMIT, happened upon a gem of her own - she observed a kind of ''green materialism'' at play.
She explains, by way of example: one of her interviewees, Mark, had picked up an old shoe-cleaning box, the sort you would keep a brush and polish inside and put your boot on while you buff and shine. He repaired it and uses it, and also daydreams about its history.
''He imagined the old Italian man who might have made it originally and used it through his life,'' Dr Lewis says. ''He loved the fact that it had been used before. He was very invested in that romantic ethic, the sense of having a connection with the material objects in our lives.''
She says people rummage through their neighbours' refuse for many reasons, including frugality, sustainability and an opposition to throwaway consumer culture. But many of us also do it for the thrill and the pleasure.