Dumpster Diving Basics

It is often said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – this is the basis for the activity of “dumpster diving”. Dumpster diving requires neither a dumpster or diving equipment, rather it involves perusing other peoples’ discards for items of value, either for the diver’s own use or for resale – in other words, scavenging.

Dumpster Diving 101

Before you begin dumpster diving, there are a few things to keep in mind:


The laws on trash ownership vary, depending on locale. In some places, trash is not considered private property, and is considered fair game for scavengers – in other places, dumpster diving is considered a form of trespass or even theft. In some areas, particularly in the U.K., it is against the law to “skip dive,” and in Australia officials are less than tolerant of dumpster diving.

The bottom line is, before you dive, check with local authorities.


If it is legally acceptable to dumpster dive in your area, the next thing to consider is whether the “owner” of the trash is agreeable to you pawing through their garbage for treasure. You must also establish whether an item is actually trash or something the property owner considers to be a decorative item. For example, that broken pot with a few attractive artificial flowers may be waiting for the trash collector, or may be brightening up the area around the mailbox. If in doubt about an item, ask!

And certainly if you make a mess, clean up before you leave!


Dumpster diving is not a new activity, and many people make good money collecting items for resale. Competition can be fierce, and you may be stepping on another “divers” toes if you suddenly start going through curb-side garbage cans or back-ally dumpsters. Study the area you want to work, and try to determine if someone beat you to it – if so, walk away and look elsewhere.


When you look is as important as where you look. Depending on your location, early morning may be the best time of day – in other areas, early evening may be the best time to do your diving. In some areas spring and fall may be more fruitful than summer or certainly the depth of winter.

Don’t become a hoarder

Hoarding is a real risk when you dumpster dive, and you may end up just moving real garbage from one collection point to another. It’s important to know your limitations, understand the value of the items you collect, and to have a plan for their use, sale or redistribution.


Having the right equipment is essential to successful – and safe – dumpster diving. Heavy duty gloves, sturdy shoes and protective clothing are all practical items, and if you’re scavenging for larger items (lawn equipment, appliances or furniture) a trailer and even an assistant may be necessities. Consider taking a flashlight, spare trash bags, hand sanitizer, tarps, blankets and tie-down straps too.

Storage and organization

Before you start collecting your treasure, you may need to consider storage, especially for larger items. Shelving, boxes and labeling will make organization easier too.


The Freegan movement is a specific sub-set of dumpster divers, basing their activities on moral issues rather than financial gain or entertainment. Freegans are anti-globalization, anti-establishment, anti-consumerists, who strive to live solely by foraging for food and other items from the trash. The Freegan philosophy also includes the issues of freedom, environmental concerts, cooperation, generosity and community.

This is just a brief introduction to dumpster diving – when combined with research, experience and imagination, dumpster diving can be an engaging hobby, can supplement any income or can become a new way of life.