Homeless in Vancouver: One person’s trash is another person’s…treasure hunt

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      To make a long story short, It turned out that the little box-like thing that I found in a Dumpster on Friday (September 8) was a Japanese-Chinese-branded personal air filter called a Viruoff Nano—so-named perhaps because it was about the size and shape of Apple’s once-popular 6h generation iPod Nano. Though with its back clip, it more closely resembled the older 2nd generation iPod Shuffle (“the most wearable iPod ever”)

      Either way I wasn’t surprised when I showed the device to another homeless binner and he automatically assumed that it was some kind of MP3 player (though he was puzzled by the absence of a headphone jack), or that anther binner guessed that it was a small Bluetooth speaker.

      People see what they want and expect to see

      Personal air purifiers like the Viruoff Nano are not popular in North America and scavengers wouldn’t expect to see or recognize such a thing in a Vancouver Dumpster, but they are always on the hopeful lookout for little personal electronics like iPods and the like.

      The old adage that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” sums up the wishful thinking of everyone, in all places and at all times, who gleans through garbage for things of value—whether a Dumpster diver in North America, a skip diver in the United Kingdom, a ragpicker in India or the equivalent scavenger in ancient Sumer.

      As a 21st century scavenger who is not adverse to looking in dumpsters, I will not dispute that there is indeed treasure to be found but I will add that these days one person’s trash can also be a complete mystery.

      I chalk this up to two things in particular: the tendency of a significant number of people to wait until their unused articles of consumer technology are dusty old antiques before finally throwing them out—just in case, I guess—and Vancouver’s modern, multicultural nature, which helps insure that anything in the world can and does end up in the city’s garbage.

      Hardly a week goes by that I do not have to resort to Web searches in order to unravel the purpose, function and\or non-English language packaging of some object fished out of a Dumpster, either by myself or some other scavenger. The Viroff Nano is just the latest such example.

      Unpacking a mystery

      Bluetooth speaker...MP3 player...sonic bear repellant?
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The only thing that was obvious about the little object when I found it, still in its original packaging, was that almost all the text on its cigarette pack-sized yellow box was Japanese. A single line of English on the top flap read: “I ♥ Kumamoto”. Tiny diagrams on two sides appeared to show the contents of the box in assembly and operation. However, the largest and most prominent images on the box were of a red-cheeked black bear.

      The box was packed with a vacuum-formed styrene tray holding five things: a little white, open-topped plastic box, about the size and shape of a thin match box and perforated like a dishwasher cutlery holder. There was another white cage-like object, the same ratio as the first but slightly smaller in all dimensions and a fussy white, clip-like object. Two flat blue things that looked to be paper-cloth pouches were printed with both Japanese and the English word “Viruoff” and finally, there was a rolled up white strap.

      A tiny image on the box implied that the strap threaded through the pouches and thus allowed the thing (whatever it was) to be worn around a person’s neck.

      Three other diagrams on the box showed the assembled object emanating concentric waves while it sat on a table, by a laptop and on a vertical surface. But there were no supplied batteries or any physical indications that it was an electrical device.

      At least it was obvious how the two cages and the clip snapped together. Thinking that it might be a clip-on air freshener I sniffed the assembled object but it gave off no fragrance whatsoever.

      How did binners ever manage without the Internet?

      A bit of sleuthing on the Web revealed that this doo-dad is made (or at least marketed) by a Japanese company called Viruoff, which sells a variety of consumer-oriented air filtration products. What I had was the Viruoff Nano, an unpowered and portable version of the company’s line of battery-powered, desk-mounted air purifiers.

      Interestingly, the external case of the Nano is printed with the minuscule branding: “Science e-air”. And there are YouTube videos by this apparently Chinese company pitching the Nano and the two desk air purifiers. Who knows who is the maker and who is the marketer?

      The Nano air purifier is advertised on many Japanese, Korean, and Chinese ecommerce sites as a portable, matchbox-sized device which can neutralize bacteria and viruses, as well as bad smells from body odour and cigarette smoke, within its immediate vicinity for 6o days on one cartridge of the active ingredient.

      According to Viruoff the active ingredient in all the the company’s air purufiers is sodium chlorite mineral, which releases chlorine dioxide. This is commonly used in water treatment systems and as a bleaching agent.

      While the battery-powered desk versions employ a fan to actively blow the sodium chlorite into the air, the active ingredient just sits inertly inside the little Nano. I question how this could really shield a person from surrounding airborne bacteria, let alone viruses, and anyway, how would a person ever know?

      I’m sure, however, that as a homeless person, I can at least test whether the Nano’s sodium chlorite neutralizes body odour. I’m also interested to read that ClOis shown to be effective against bedbugs, but then, so is sleeping outside rather than in a homeless shelter.

      Vituoff does have some cautions regarding its chlorine dioxide-emitting product. It should not be eaten. It should be kept out of the reach of children, pets and people with dementia. It should not be left in direct sunlight. It should not be used in the rain or allowed to get wet. It has corrosive and bleaching properties and should not be left in contact with coloured clothing, leather, or metals. it should only be used in a well-ventilated area. And owing to the characteristics of the product you may smell a “pool odour”.

      Otherwise, it’s all good.

      The black bear that is also a cash cow

      If I ever get a tattoo...
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      This Viruoff Nano is a tie-in with the relief efforts for the April 2016 earthquakes in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. The “Kumamoto Project” is the official “donation box” set up by the Prefecture and has, to date, received at least $5.16 million in contributions.

      That explains the bear, which is Kumamon, the official mascot, or yuru-chara of Kumamoto Prefecture, created in 2010 to boost tourism to the out-of-the-way farming district in southern Japan.

      Thanks to a strategy that encouraged businesses to use the mascot for free, so long as it promoted Kumamoto, the unbearably cute marketing gimmick quickly spread far beyond the prefecture on countless items of merchandise. The result was that Kumamon quickly became a sensation across Japan and throughout Asia and, in its first two years alone, brought an estimated $1.4 billion in economic benefits along with huge name recognition to its rural birthplace.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.