America's Answer to the Economic Collapse: Dumpster Diving?

The Art of Dumpster Diving

Has our ailing economy really reduced us to dumpster diving? Have financially strapped Americans really been brought down to digging in the dumpsters to get what they need to survive?

It would appear that "dumpster diving" has certainly become more popular since our economy took a down-turn! And it's not just poor, homeless people who are raiding the dumpsters; it has also become a political and environmental statement, according to the "Freegans".

The term "Freegan" derives from the terms "free" and "vegan". Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living, based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. They are not necessarily homeless, nor destitute, but are making a political and environmental statement by their opposition to a society based on consumerism, materialism, careless disregard of the environment, waste, and greed, They differ from environmentalists, in that instead of fighting the system, they simply refuse to be a part of it. They often refuse to punch a time clock, and don't want to obey limiting or regulatory rules imposed by a society that they decline to participate in.

Freeganism started in the mid 1990s, out of antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. "Food Not Bombs" is a Freegan group who served free vegetarian and vegan food that was salvaged from food market trash by dumpster diving.

What is "dumpster diving", exactly?

Well, very simply put, it's scrounging around in dumpsters, looking for things other people have thrown away, that you can use, and salvaging them either for your own use, for charitable purposes, or for reselling the items for profit. People dig in dumpsters not only for food, like the "Freegans" do, but also for other useable items - anything that is still good and can be used, re-used, or recycled.

"Dumpster diving" also includes "curbside driving", which is looking for stuff people have set out at curbs in front of houses or apartment buildings for the trash company to pick up and haul off.

Usually, in the United States, after someone has thrown something into the garbage, it is no longer their property, and is free for the taking. But dumpster divers have to be careful that they are not trespassing, or they might get into trouble.

What other problems do dumpster divers run into? Well, you have to be careful not to "get any on you". I'm talking here about bacteria, questionable substances, etc. Most divers wear gloves and old clothing, and use a pole to grab things up out of the dumpsters with. Things pulled out of dumpsters need to be disinfected and decontaminated before using!

Also, they have to bang the side of the dumpsters before "diving in", just in case there is a stray racoon, rat, possum, or skunk in there! Some dumpster divers in big cities have even encountered dead bodies in the dumpsters, both animal and human! Others have found loaded guns, knives, drugs, etc.

Sometimes store security personnel get irate when they see dumpster diving occurring, and some are responding to the nuisance by locking their dumpsters up. Compacter dumpsters should never be entered; you might get "compacted" yourself!

And, another risk is getting stuck with somebody's infected needle. So, dumpster divers have to be careful, or they might end up sick, bit, squished, arrested, bitched at, or stuck!

Professional dumpster divers are familiar with garbage pick-up days and times, and will hit the dumpsters just before the garbage man gets there, to get the biggest hauls.

Where do people dumpster dive? Behind the stores of whatever it is they are looking for is usually a good place to start. The dumpsters behind grocery stores and bakery stores yield produce, dented canned goods, and other food stuffs with expired dates. Sometimes whole bags of produce will be thrown away just because one piece is spoiled.

Other good places are Walmart stores, electronics, clothing, and furniture stores, gift shops, pharmacies, bread stores, health food stores, etc.

What kinds of things do dumpster divers find, besides food? All kinds of things! From clothing, to televisions, computers and accessories, furniture, personal care products; you name it, dumpster divers have found it

Now you are probably wondering if I have ever participated in this new "National Past Time"...

I can unashamedly admit that I have! And was kind of glad I did. After I got over being mortified that someone that knew me would see me doing it, or that I would get in trouble with angry store security workers, that is...

I wasn't worried about wild animals or bacteria. My biggest fear was that someone would catch me digging in a dumpster!

However, I had a good friend named "Dumpster Donnie", who lived in the most exquisitely furnished and decorated house I had ever seen a bachelor to live in! He had collections of the most fascinating things, beautiful antiques, and gorgeous art work and wall groupings all over the place! You could never tire of looking at all his interesting things!

I asked him where he had acquired these things. At first, he was reluctant to give up his "trade secrets", but eventually he gave up a few of them! All his beautiful white wicker patio furniture was retrieved from the dumpster behind a "Trees and Trends" store. His fancy phone came from the one behind Radio Shack. His new computer came out of a dumpster by the "Best Buy" store.

His luxurious recliner, coffee and end tables, antique lamps, and many other things came from his "curbside driving" expeditions. His curbside forays were very lucrative, indeed. In fact, he gave me a beautiful antique radio that everyone compliments me on, whenever anyone comes to my house!

And his beautiful new sofa came from the truck behind an expensive furniture store, where they threw "scratch and dent" new furniture away,free for the taking. (I did visit that truck many times - I came up with 2 recliners, a new sofa, dressers, end tables, a telephone table, a computer desk, and a beautiful brand new queen-sized mattress and box spring, with the plastic still on it!

Not to mention the box of abandoned kittens I found there one afternoon. There were five of them, one of which was my beloved Gertrude, an opinionated Siamese Tortie. She was only 2 weeks old when I found her. Between me feeding her and my Chocolate Lab, Joe, babysitting her while I was at work, we came up with the most beautiful, smartest cat in West Kentucky! (She did sort of think she was a dog, though. Oh, well...)

From curbside driving, I have rescued all sorts of things. Dressers, tables, chairs, pictures, a stereo, planters; so many things I can't even remember them all!

I kind of hold back on the food diving, though - I'm sort of funny about what I eat...

Dumpster diving. Could be a good thing!

Gertrude sure thought so!

"Gertrude", Beloved Dumpster Diving Rescue Kitty:

Here is "Gertrude", my beloved furniture truck rescue kitty, all grown up!  This is not the best pic, but the only.  She loved "Joe", my Chocolate Lab, and here she had jumped into his pen to be with him!  They were bosom buddies!  I adored this kitt
Here is "Gertrude", my beloved furniture truck rescue kitty, all grown up! This is not the best pic, but the only. She loved "Joe", my Chocolate Lab, and here she had jumped into his pen to be with him! They were bosom buddies! I adored this kitt

Food Rationing? Not in the Dumpster!

Popular Hangouts For Dumpster Diving Aficionados:

Yahoo Group - Dumpster Divers Paradise
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dumpsterdiversparadise/

Dumpster Diving Meetup Groups - Dumpster Diving Meetups
Meet other local dumpster divers to discuss techniques for hunting and retrieving garbage gems. One block's trash is another man's treasure.
http://dumpsterdiving.meetup.com/

http://www.dumpsterworld.com/ - The largest internet forum of dumpster diving information.

http://FrugalVillage.com - An introduction to dumpster diving

http://Craigslist.org - A great section for free stuff - -choose your city from the list on the right side of the homepage

http://Freecycle.org - List items to give away or items you need-search for your local group

http://Freegan.info Anti-capitalist lifestyle movement with a strong emphasis on dumpster diving.

http://foundclothing.blogspot.com - An online archive of clothing that has been found, washed, and worn by the site's operator and random contributors

http://trashwiki.org - a wiki about dumpster diving around the world.

Dumpster diving - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but which may be ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumpster_diving

How to Dumpster Dive - wikiHow article about How to Dumpster Dive. ...
www.wikihow.com/Dumpster-Dive

Dumpster Diving and Trash Recycling for Fun and Profit
http://www.thelivingweb.net/dumpster_diving_for_fun_and_profit.html

One click access to the best sites Dumpster Diving Sites on the Internet. The Best Dumpster Finds. Recycling Dumpster Finds and Trash Into Art.
www.thelivingweb.net/dumpster_diving_for_fun_and...

YouTube - Dumpster Diving
It's called dumpster diving - going through garbage looking for food. In the United States it's becoming a movement. You may be surprised by who is going
www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VlFJsuBjA0

 

Dumpster Diving Poll

Have you ever or would you dumpster dive?

  • Sure, why not? You get free stuff!
  • Absolutely not! Somebody might see me...
  • Maybe, if somebody went along with me..
  • Yeah, but curbside, not in dumpsters...
See results without voting

More by this Author


Have you done any "dumpster diving" lately??? 29 comments

frogdropping profile image

frogdropping 7 years ago

Magic - I enjoyed reading this. Saw a documentary on this very subject a while back. I was amazed at what people found and some of them even met up and scouted in groups. None, from what I can remember, were destitute.

I don't know if it was a hobby or a way of life.

Interesting hub :)


MagicStarER profile image

MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky Author

Some people do it as a political or environmental statement.  Others do it as a way to make money.  I did it cuz I saw what my friend Donnie got!  Awesome!  Thanks for coming, Frogdropping!  :)


MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Curbside "diving" has been amazing. I got four nice matching plates, a beautiful picnic basket, a big bag of new hardback books, an insulated bag I use in the car to carry water, a quilt for my bed - and I can't remember what all else. It's a blast when you find first-rate stuff for free. Great hub, Magic. I'm all for it! (And your dear kitty was a gift from the gods, I can tell.)


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

Thses are sad facts. But then, I don't blame those poor divers! They have to live after all.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 7 years ago from Australia

I've taken furniture off the side of the street before when its been out for collection. That is if it looks decent enough. It's better in my house than in the dump, after all!


tony0724 profile image

tony0724 7 years ago from san diego calif

Really Interesting stuff here Magicstar . Thank you for a good read !


MagicStarER profile image

MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky Author

You are very welcome! I enjoyed writing it!


Anita Stewart profile image

Anita Stewart 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

Thanks for all the resource links. They are great. I started the Freecycle here in Tampa several years ago, someone else runs it now. A couple of years ago when the economy started getting really bad, me and my partner made a vow that we would not buy anything new if we could possibly help it (there are definitely exceptions to this rule)...big ticket items like computers, etc...we buy new for the warranty, food, underwear, etc., but anything else, kitchen appliances, furniture, etc...we buy used and second hand. We recycle when we can and repurpose everything almost all of the time...


2C's 7 years ago

I won't


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America

Friends got free fairly NEW computers from dumpster diving once, so that was good. The company just didn't like their computers any more and bought new ones before the economic downturn.

Anyway, although dumpster diving helped many people here a couple months ago, most companies are now putting chains and locks on their dumpsters after a newspaper story told how 3 college kids were surviving on new food and clothes thrown out. They feared gangs of people would be diving every night.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Curb shopping is what I call it.  The biggest and best item was my 7-ft sofa, but I've picked up lawn chairs, lamps, the cabinet that I store DVDs and VHS tapes in, a bookcase...all sorts of stuff. I'm absolutely shameless about stopping and putting a treasure into my car.  If I don't, someone else will!

Don't do dumpsters any more, but a friend and I used to troll the nicer neighborhoods because there'd be no rotten food in their dumpsters, only "dry trash".  Bags of designer clothes, wall hangings, thick bath towels.  Stuff they should've taken to  Goodwill, but these were not neighborhoods where donators and recyclers lived! 


Ashley Joy profile image

Ashley Joy 7 years ago

I was watching Wife Swap a couple of weeks ago and one of the families enjoyed finding trash that had contests and prize codes. To them it was a game to see what they could win.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Very interesting... :-) Congratulations MagicStar, did you know, The Hubnugget Team dove into the pile of hubs and discovered Dumpster Diving! LOL Click this link and dive yourself: http://hubpages.com/community/HubNuggets-Biggie-Si

Be sure to vote and ask all your friends to vote for your hub. The more the merrier. Promote and promote. Good luck! And all the best. :-)


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Haha, interesting hub.

You might find this video a good add to this hub, too

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUH1cnwKkys

I've been dumpster diving, but usually it's outside a telephone company looking for manuals...whoops, they're on to me!

If the Fed ever ask, you've never met me. ;)

Keep it up!

G|M


MagicStarER profile image

MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky Author

G/Media: LOL! You made me laugh! Hey, I am not even going to ask you why you want those old telephone books, but I will be happy to let you have all of mine! If you take them off my hands, I promise I won't tell the Feds! :)


SEM Pro profile image

SEM Pro 7 years ago from North America

GREAT hub MagicStarER! Well written and glad you added the links. Your information inspires recycling, and maybe we can all make a more conscious effort to donate to these folks rather than simply to the Salvation Army.

As a Canadian, not tossing garbage anywhere is ingrained. They even charge you now if they notice something you're tossing as regular garbage that could have been re-used and put in the appropriate recycling bins. Moving to Venezuela, my system almost went into shock with it seeming to be a weekly past-time to drive for a day searching for a free spot by the side of a road to dump one's trash. 

Appreciate you getting the message out. In the US, we're somewhere in between our neighbors but more wasteful than either I believe. The dumpster divers are proving it.


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

Very interesting information. I can't wait to try some of the links!


1964human profile image

1964human 7 years ago from Smallville Kansas

Anything that reduces waste, and buck the system that is so full of greed and irresopnsibility is a GREAT thing. Many people throw away things that are so great to someone else. I love craigslist as it helps encourage people to give things away instead of throwing them away. Thanks for this post!


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

What a wonderful hub...I am reminded that whatever our initial thoughts are about 'junk,' there are always people who make the most of situations and will surprise us with their resourcefulness!


WildEyes profile image

WildEyes 7 years ago

There's a lot to be said for the junk in dumpsters. I have seen, Walgreens throw away hundreds of pair of discontinued pantyhose, still in their packages, straight to the dumpster because they "don't donate" due to insurance reasons. There's also any number of tons of expired or discontinued food items trashed yearly in this country. It should be criminal to be so wasteful. A country that has so much should have more respect for its resources and treasures.


MagicStarER profile image

MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky Author

Amen to all, WildEyes! I agree with everything you said. And I hate insurance companies! (Especially the health care variety!) Thanks for reading!


rnmsn 7 years ago

Where my family is currently living is relatively rural and the people will put a "Free" sign next to whatever they want taken away on the side of the road...my favorite haul was one spring I got 3 trunk loads of canna lily bulbs from one house...they were making room for a trailer (probably for family) and man did myself and the other nurses at work have a field day (ha a pun intended) with those flower bulbs!


MagicStarER profile image

MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky Author

Hi rnmsn! A fellow RN, yay! :)

That's nice that people where you live put a "Free" sign on their curbside stuff. Not only lets people know that it's ok to take it, but also makes you look better as you are taking it! LOL ;)


Sciantel 7 years ago

I am a dumpster diver! People can be so rude to you too, like GET OUT OF HERE! Let them walk one day in my shoes. They'd sing another tune if they did too.


norah73 profile image

norah73 6 years ago from San Manuel, AZ

Great hub. I have two couches, a recliner chair, two beds, a compupter desk, kitchen table & 4 chairs, toaster oven, washer & dryer(matching set!) tv, 1 dresser with mirror, 2 night stands, a book shelf, 2 lamps,3 cats and lot's more...all someone's trash, my family's free treasure. People throw away the nicest things. I refuse to buy these types of items when I know it is only a matter of time before I find what I need in the trash. Again , great hub!


kirstenblog profile image

kirstenblog 6 years ago from London UK

As a teen my mom would dumpster dive for all sorts including food, I was mortified! She would usually ask for permission before going through dumpsters and actually could talk grocery stores into ignoring her. The stores have a valid concern, that someone might eat something from the dumpster and get ill and come back and sue. By talking to them they didn't need to worry about being sued. I have had homeless friends who dressed better then me because of dumpster diving! I never actually climbed into a dumpster before but I have taken discarded electronics and if they worked selling them at a pawn shop for food money (I was extremely poor at that time), much of my furniture in my early adult years were found next to dumpsters, even just recently I spotted a couple of unusual sofa cushions. While I was eyeing those cushions the guy who dumped them came up and asked, do you want those? I said I was thinking they might come in handy on our sofa and he said to take em! Better then them going to landfill really. I expect stuff gets thrown away that someone could sell on eBay and make a killing with lol.


Allied Time 6 years ago

It is particularly popular in apartment communities, no matter how nice they are. Although I understand that some do it for survival, I find that it is really an invasion of privacy. One neighbor nearby was always first to the dumpster every time they saw something thrown out. It makes me wonder how many people are going through your tossed mail, personal effects, etc. It really is an invasion of privacy.


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

A good read! Things thrown out were a source of my apartment furnishings after my discharge from the Marines in California.

I pretty well furnished my apartment from things behind stores and the Salvation Army. If I'm in town I still can't resist the urge to walk behind one of these new strip malls and peek in the dumpsters.

I don't understand why somethings are thrown out instead of donated to organizations that reuse them.


RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

I got a friend of mine some great livingroom furniture when a downtown bank was re-furnishing. It was great! I've dumpster dove for myself too. I've even got good veggies out of the dumpster behind the local grocery store! It was fresh enough to eat, so why waste it? (Free tastes good)! I picked up the kid's computer desk off a curbside, and if I listed everything I've gotten from diving, I'd run out of room!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working