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Idaho's 'Garbologist' Turns Trash Into Treasure

There is an expression is English that says, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It means that what is garbage for one person can be useful to someone else.

This proverb has special meaning for Jaz Malone. Jaz works at a dump, or waste disposal site, in the state of Idaho. She rescues things from the trash and recycles, or finds a new use for them. She calls herself a “garbologist,” someone who studies and recycles or repurposes trash.

Almost everything in her house – dolls, hats, books, clothes, even her toilet and stove -- came from the dump.

Local people know her as “the Hat Lady.” Every day she wears a crazy hat made from items found at the dump.

“I never have a bad hair day,” she jokes. A bad-hair day means your day goes poorly for no good reason.

Jaz works at a garbage dump in the Kootenai National Forest in the state of Idaho. It is on the road to Priest Lake, a popular vacation spot near the Canadian border. This isolated part of Idaho is famous for its beautiful lakes, forests and mountains.

Jaz says the local people are very concerned about keeping Priest Lake beautiful.

“The people that live up here truly seem to really love the earth. And they’re conscientious about their garbage. They want to recycle. They want to do things that make life better for their grandchildren.”

In the past, people at Priest Lake burned their trash. But burning trash raises the risk of forest fires, especially in the dry late summer.

Jaz’ dump site used to be a landfill, a place where trash is buried underground. At night, bears would take the trash to the forest and eat it. County officials were concerned about the health of the bears and the forest.

They replaced the landfill a few years ago with large trash containers. At night, Jaz locks the trash containers to keep the bears out. Every week, trucks take garbage hundreds of kilometers away to be processed. These days, much less garbage goes into the forest.

With her funny hats and outgoing personality, Jazz has become a local celebrity. Sometimes people go to the dump just to visit her.

“She makes going to the dump fun. She has such a warm heart and always makes me smile,” says customer Kimberly Joy, who is visiting Priest Lake from California.

Jaz even has a calendar featuring her crazy hats and favorite jokes. The profits from her calendar sales go to local churches and community organizations.

Jaz' calendar

Jaz' calendar

At the heart of her artistic vision is a pun. Puns are a humorous way of using a word or phrase to mean more than one thing. For example, a page from her 2011 calendar says, “I’m always down in the dumps.”

The expression “down in the dumps,” tells others that you are unhappy or sad. But in the picture, Jaz is smiling. She is a happy person, but she is also literally and physically standing “down in the dumps.”

In English, a “flower bed” is a place where flowers are planted -- not a place to lie down and rest. Jaz, with her love of puns, planted flowers inside a real bed frame that she found at the dump. She gave new and humorous meaning to the words “flower bed.”

Jaz's "flower bed"

Jaz's "flower bed"

Jaz has not always been happy, and her life has been difficult. She worked at many low-paying jobs. She worked with troubled children, in a lumber mill, and as a janitor, waitress, cook, and dishwasher.

“That takes a toll because it’s a lot of heavy always-busy work, and it pays very little.”

Before the dump, Jaz had lost everything: her house, her car, her son, and her job. But slowly, she has gotten her life back. Now, she has a house in a beautiful meadow where she lives with her husband and son. She says her job at the dump was a blessing that transformed her life.

“I don’t think of myself as a failure,” she said. “I just started on the bottom and liked it. … Whatever the future brings, I’m going to make the best of it.”

Adam Brock reported this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

garbologistn. a person who studies modern culture through the analysis of what is thrown away as garbage

isolatedadj. separate from others

conscientiousadj. very careful about doing what you are supposed to do : concerned with doing something correctly

landfilln. an area where waste is buried under the ground

punn. a humorous way of using a word or phrase so that more than one meaning is suggested

literallyadv. with the meaning of each individual word given exactly

meadown. a usually flat area of land that is covered with tall grass

blessingn. something that helps you or brings happiness — usually singular

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