When finding something you lost means sifting through 10 tons of garbage

In his 15 years on the job, New York Department of Sanitation supervisor Timothy Belmer has overseen around 30 of what DSNY calls lost item searches.

"It's definitely different, I'll tell you that much," he said. "It's exciting to see people find what they lost. A lot of people, they get intimidated by the big pile."

Those in this city who throw something away they wish they hadn't may call 311 to report their accidentally trashed item. Operators then relay that request to the applicable sanitation district, which identifies the trash pickup route, the individual truck carrying the wasted treasure, and whether that truck's already dumped its load.

"Unfortunately, if it goes into a pile like this, there's no way you can find it," DSNY Deputy Chief of Solid Waste Management Sean Brereton said, gesturing to a 20-foot mountain of trash behind him.

But if the call comes in before the garbage truck reaches a marine transfer station like the one FOX 5 News visited in Gravesend, Brooklyn, Friday, Brereton welcomes the item's owner to come search through that truck's 20,000 pounds of trash to see if they can recover what they regretfully discarded.

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"Normally, if we know what route it is and where we picked it up, we can tell you kind of roughly where it was in the truck," Brereton said.

"They don't think it's that much until the truck finally dumps the last piece," Belmer said. "I've seen people do 10, 15 minutes and then stop. It's too much."

Searchers have only two hours to comb through 10 tons of trash, armed with only PPE, a rake, maybe a shovel, and their bare hands.

"Going through 10 tons of garbage is not an easy thing," Brereton said.

So, perhaps surprisingly, around half of these amateur trash-sifters do find what that of which they fortuitously freed themselves.

"A synagogue had thrown out some books and a Torah was in it," Brereton said.

"I've seen wedding rings, engagement rings," Belmer said.

"We had someone who threw out a laptop," Brereton said.

"It ranges from a bag of clothes — one of the weirdest things I've seen — to a lottery ticket," Belmer said. "We actually found those. Winning lottery tickets. But guess what? It rubbed off in the liquid from the truck."

A supervisor like Belmer stands by and watches the search, sometimes questioning to themselves whether the lost item seems worth two hours spent elbow-deep in garbage.

"Of course, like a wallet," Belmer said. "Stuff that's replaceable I would not dig through this trash for."

Belmer and Brereton's advice should you throw away something you want back: Know your trash bags, prepare for more trash but — thanks to a hefty fan system — less of a rancid stench than you might expect ("You can be down there with a couple hundred tons of garbage and it just smells a little off," Brereton said.), don't wait to start sifting ("If the person can't make it that day, we actually try to accommodate them the following day," Belmer said. "Could be a little spicy.") and definitely bring the one friend or family member the sanitation department allows.

"Depending on who's willing to help," Belmer said. "Not a lot of people willing to help dig through garbage."