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From elephants to bags of cash, it's all in a day for junk crew

While JustJunk workers have picked up some strange things over the years, the bulk of their work is focused on recycling and donating items that others are happy to have

Netflix sensation Marie Kondo has made a career out of decluttering and it appears that many area residents have taken her message to heart  and are tossing things that no longer “spark joy”.

The crew with JustJunk, a local company that removes unwanted materials and items from residential and commercial properties, has been busier than ever the last two years, franchise manager Emerson Mills said. 

During the pandemic, while many businesses suffered, with so many people stuck at home and looking for ways to keep busy, Mills said the business went from slow in the wintertime to “crazy busy.”

“Everybody was cleaning out their garage or basement and we were more than happy to do it,” he said.

This time of year is also pretty busy with all the “spring cleaning” taking place. 

The crew services a population of approximately 720,000 people between Simcoe County and Muskoka and south to Newmarket. They are awaiting the arrival of a fourth truck in the next couple of weeks to try to keep up with the demand, Mills said.

A typical day begins around 7 a.m. and consists of between seven and nine jobs per day ranging from retirement homes to hoarding situations  or just picking up an old couch. Everything the crew picks up is then transported by one of their trucks to a local recycling facility, Mills said. Whenever possible, items are also donated to local charities.

“We try to donate or recycle everything. We don’t use landfill, only recycling facilities. We are all about diversion and trying to protect the planet. I’ve always said this is a company that needs to be around because we are a throwaway society nowadays,” he said.

“(Items) go to landfills and everything just gets buried, so we use recycling centres where we back up, we take stuff out and they crush it up and turn it into something else, which is a really neat process.”

While most jobs are pretty straightforward  maybe even boring  Mills and his crew admit they have seen some unique and interesting things over the years. 

“The craziest thing I’ve ever found was $250,000 cash. We were cleaning out an apartment in Aurora and there was a bag full of food. We’re not supposed to take food, but it was only one bag so we told the customer we would help,” he said. “We took the food and threw it into the truck… and the customer came down and asked us if we’d seen a safe.”

Mills searched the truck, but couldn’t find a safe. But then remembered that one bag of food.

“I opened up the bag and there was a safe inside. I guess it had broken open when we threw it in the truck and it was all hundreds and $50 bills. We gave it back to him and he was extremely grateful, as I am sure you can imagine," he says. 

Despite many years at this job, Andrew McEachern admits he's still often surprised with what people toss away.

“A lot of time they’re throwing out new stuff,” he said. “One customer once tried to give him a motorcycle, (but) I had no way to bring it home, though. We’ve had antique furniture you wouldn’t expect people to be getting rid of. It’s so random. We also once picked up a tandem bike at a job. It was in brand-new condition.”

“People will move into a brand-new house that someone just put in brand-new appliances, but it’s not what the new owner wants so they call us to get rid of them," Mills said. "Or king-sized beds that were never even slept on. That’s where we always try to donate when we can because if a family in need can use it, that’s what we are all about.

"If we don’t try to divert as much of this stuff away from the landfill, what's our future generation going to look like?”

For Liam Hamilton, the “strangest” job included a call about an elephant in a backyard. 

“Our job notes (said) there was an elephant in the backyard. We’re thinking, obviously, it’s not a real elephant. We got there… and it was a full, life-size styrofoam elephant. It was taller than the house! It was unbelievable," he said. 

Between them all, Mills says they’ve pretty much seen it all, with the exception of a human body — although they did pick up a “skeleton” on a recent Tuesday morning run. 

“We have seen everything short of bodies. We’ve had guys in our Toronto locations that have found undetonated World War II explosives. Some horrible things and certainly some interesting things,” said owner Lance Hamilton, adding the goal is to leave a better world for the younger generation. 

“Here (at the recycling centre), it’s turned into metal bunk beds or cars. We are in a world now where we have a certain amount of responsibility,” he said. “I grew up with a father throwing styrofoam cups out the window of the car. That much more that I can do (now) means that much more the next generation can do.”

Recycling and donating is just a simple way citizens can help, Mills said.

“Doing this, and being able to donate furniture to where people need it… it's a win-win. You feel great about giving something to someone who needs it, and you’re keeping it out of the landfill for our future generations,” he says.

And after 10 years, he still takes pride in his job.

“You’re always walking into new situations. Yes, people are throwing out furniture, but every story is different as to where they got the furniture or why they’re getting rid of it now.”