Leo Urbano a.k.a The Trash Lawyer with his painting
At this point you have to ask what The Trash Lawyer, a.k.a Leo Urbano, hasn’t found in the squalid remains of people's trash. From everyday household items like vacuum cleaners, toasters, and kettles to the more unique: baseball and pokemon cards that go for exuberant prices, multiple back massagers, thousand-dollar cameras, gimbals. For a past-time that started out as a hobby while riding his bike around the suburbs of Sydney during the pandemic, Urbano’s new focus is swapping trash for treasure and giving back to the community. It makes you wonder: Is this the next step in sustainability?
Arriving at Urbano’s third story apartment is like walking into a mid-century oasis. Except for the odd corner that has a small collection of his latest finds, it’s neat and tidy. Most, if not all, of his furniture derives from his escapades on the streets: bits and bobs placed together with a discerning and stylish eye. “Almost every morning I was going around and I started noticing a lot of things discarded. Then I started going through them and I noticed how much value there was,” Urbano tells VICE.Urbano cites tens of thousands of dollars worth of items that he’s found in his ventures. He points to his most valuable at $3000, a torso-sized painting in black ink. It looks to be of a woman peering stoically over her shoulder.“It looked pretty so I took it with me and did a little research. I emailed the art gallery and they looked at it and thought it was an original.”What Urbano had stumbled upon, squeezed between the folds of childrens paintings, was an artwork from Dapeng Liu, a three time finalist of Australia’s renowned Archibald Prize.“So I contacted the artist and he confirmed. Someone had thrown it away so I was lucky enough to find it.”Was the artist upset that someone had given it away?“I think so. I think he was, but I was like, ‘Look I’ll save it, I’ll keep it with me. I’ll treasure it. I’m not going to sell it.’ “
Despite his unwillingness to part with the aforementioned artwork, when it comes to other items scrimmaged from the streets, Urbano is happy to see them go.“Usually I give away little microwaves and kettles,” he says.“If the furniture is valuable, like mid-century, I’ll resell it so I can raise a little money on the side, otherwise shoes, clothing, a little heater or plants, I’ll donate a lot of it.”At one point, Urbano pulls out a small box filled to the brim with pokemon and baseball cards. “This card here is Billy Ripkin.” He says shuffling through the pack. It has the potential to be sold at around $1000.“I don’t think the guy that threw those away knew.”Unfortunately, his Pokemon deck doesn’t have any holographic Charizards, he says with a smile. Despite that, they are items he’s also willing to part with. Same goes for a recently found set of newish beats by dre headphones and a few high-quality cameras.If someone wants them, they can have them.“I want to create a community of like-minded people for saving and recycling,” he says.“I’m trying to get the council involved so hopefully they can find a space for me where I can put all the things that I’m saving and hopefully people will come, drop what they don’t want and take something else. So sort of an exchange.”
Throughout his process Urbano has picked up tips and tricks of the trade. Wealthy suburbs on collection days are the most fruitful, he says. There’s a lot of waste. He’s also learned to fix simple electronics that would otherwise go to sorting centres. Same with bikes, of which he has four.It’s a good learning experience for anyone looking for a more sustainable future. Mr Urbano is just one leading the way and doing God’s work.“There’s tens of thousands of dollars in the trash that’s wasted,” he says“And I try to save as much as I can.”Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online.