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Auckland's infamous inorganic rubbish collections can be a treasure trove - but some lucky bargain hunters have hit pay dirt.

Last weekend, in a fit of over-enthusiastic cleaning, Tony Rice inadvertently put his flatmate's most treasured mementos out for the street-side collection.

Within hours, the box of precious items was gone from Larchwood Ave in Grey Lynn. Rice, 32, assumes it disappeared into one of the vans or trucks trawling the streets for cast-offs. But now he's asking the person to give it back.

"It's like ripping off your new mate, so I'm doing everything I can to fix it."

The box belonged to his new flatmate, musician Jess Benson. Inside were a sewing basket she was given at age 3 - "it was one of my first memories" - sheet music she'd written, a flute, a tree trunk art piece, Audrey Hepburn books and personal records with her name.

"The thing is I know there are things I haven't even realised are missing yet," said Benson, 23.

The box was still in the living room because she hadn't yet bought furniture to hold its contents. When she noticed it was gone, she texted Rice, asking if he knew where it was.

"He came in and said, 'Jess, I've done something bad'. We sort of put two and two together and had an emotional few moments.

"My first reaction was panic, and despair because the odds of getting them back aren't huge. But it's impossible to be angry because Tony has been doing everything he can to fix his mistake."

Rice, a DJ, has posted notices around the neighbourhood, contacted radio stations and had an appeal published in the Herald's Sideswipe column. But so far, the only calls have been from sympathetic friends wishing them luck.

"In a way, it's my fault," said Benson. "When I moved in I swept in and cleaned things and of course Tony got into the habit. He was actually being a really good housemate, or so he thought."

Rice said he had no problem with inorganic scavenging - he scored a collection of records from across the road the same day he lost Benson's box. When he lived in Melbourne, he furnished his house with kerbside "rubbish". But this box obviously wasn't junk.

His appeal to whoever has it: "Give me a hand in fixing my mistake."