Dumpster Diving 101

Dumpster diving embraces the old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” For those of you new to the term – no, it’s not diving of a ramp into a water logged dumpster. Simply put dumpster diving is rummaging through dumpsters in search of discarded items that may still be used by the ‘diver’. Called ‘bin diving’ in England the trend is already popular in Europe and Canada, although it is called by different names.

Previously dominated by the homeless for obvious reasons and without the tag, the average man in the street can now be found dumpster diving, although some people are forced to do so out of necessity. College students, environmentalists, artists and recyclers are some other people who find this venture rewarding. Freegans are people who have abandoned a materialistic lifestyle to live off of whatever they are given or find, so they will frequently be found dumpster diving.

Food items are usually the most sought after treasure but clothes, scrap metal, books and household items can also make a good find. Due to the stringent regulations regarding the sale of food, many products have to be discarded by the ‘use by’ date and fruits that are over-ripe or blemished are thrown out. Cans that have lost their labels, obsolete items, books that have one or two typos, household items that are slightly damaged – all these items may still be useful but cannot be sold. For these items the dumpster diver is a valuable recycler. And while there are laws regarding the re-sale of these items most divers are interested in keeping it for themselves, except for those who collect aluminium cans and other recyclable materials.

Favourite spots to dumpster dive are outside factories, supermarkets, college dorms and apartment buildings. Factories throw out less than perfect items, and residents who are moving usually discard what they cannot or don’t want to take with them. As night falls, you can find dumpster divers patiently waiting outside supermarkets and bakeries for the day’s ‘trash’ to be taken out. Although it does have its safety concerns especially with regard to food poisoning, dumpster diving thrives. In some countries or areas within, the practice is illegal mainly because of trespassing and safety concerns. For example, in 1987 in Brazil, an event known as the Goiania accident occurred where a radiation therapy machine was scavenged from an abandoned hospital site – 249 persons had significant levels of radiation in their bodies and 4 persons including a 6 yr old girl died as a result of radiation exposure.

Dumpster diving has its own ethics as well.

– Don’t rip apart bags and packages – open them carefully so they can be re-closed.

– Don’t take everything – especially if you know others frequent that dumpster.

– Don’t leave a mess  – everything goes back into the dumpster.

So now you’re interested? Think you can have a go at this? Here are some tips for successful dumpster diving.

– Take proper equipment – a few bags or boxes (to keep meats separate from fruits etc), a flashlight if diving at night, perhaps a penknife to open pesky packages and something to help you fish out items like a pole or tongs.

– Work in teams – not as much as a football team but at least two people. This way you save time and have someone to probably bag the items while you dive.

– Go at night – if you might be embarrassed because some dumpster divers actually operate during the day.

– Plan your technique – use the first night to scope out various dumpsters and note the times that items are dumped. Make a schedule of which dumpsters to visit first.

– Be safe – do not dumpster dive at hospitals or factories that use dangerous chemicals. Wear gloves, take food that can be sanitised easily, cans that are not swollen or severely dented and only take how much you need. The food is already discarded so why take excess that will have to be stored for long periods.

– Remember that dumpster diving is illegal is some places so find out if it is in your area. Do not argue with or threaten owners who don’t want you diving in their dumpsters, simply move on to the next one.

Hopefully you’ll be able to reap the benefits widely touted by veteran dumpster divers.