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Dumpster Diving Gross or Green?

Updated on November 6, 2013
Dumpster diver
Dumpster diver

Dumpster diving

Dumpster diving is one of those things that is looked down upon, seen as dirty and associated with lowliness. On the other hand there are things that can be recycled, re-used and saved from a landfill in there, isn't that a good thing to do? What are the rules regarding these activities is it allowed or will you get arrested? These are just some of the things that potential dumpster divers or gleaners are wanting to know. Is it ethical? These are all debatable topics but you will find the answers here.

Dumpster full of food
Dumpster full of food

Whats really in there

Dumpsters are for trash a place to get rid of garbage. The truth is that a lot of this stuff can be reused, re-purposed and isn't garbage at all. Some of these items are brand new, some are lightly damaged and others are worn but still good. There are different kinds of dumpsters and this determines what you will find.


This kind of dumpster or garbage can belongs to a person or family. These usually contain things you would find in a home like used housewares, appliances and clothing. It really depends on the people. They also harbor things like rotten leftovers and diapers yuck!

Apartments and alleys

These contain all kinds of treasures. People are always moving in moving out, redecorating. They leave behind furniture, electronics, clothing, gifts all kinds of things. Again you will find the yucky stuff too. Don't forget the recycling you will see lots of it misplaced in these dumpsters.


Many stores have reusable and recyclable items in there dumpsters. You will find returned items that have been tossed and hings that won't sell. You may find banners signs and as usual some of the yucky stuff mixed in too.


This is a bit more tricky. Grocery stores throw away returns sometimes. Depending on the store they may throw out produce. This depends on whether or not they participate in donating to food banks. If they do that is great! If they don't you will find plenty. You should be aware that not everything here is safe to eat because of the other things that were mixed in with it. On the other hand if you have chickens or other animals this stuff is pretty safe if rinsed off.


Many construction sites have dumpsters filled with reusable building materials. These are usually perfectly good. The major down side to these dumpsters is that they may contain sharp items like nails and screws or broken pieces of wood.

No trespassing
No trespassing

Rules and laws regarding dumpster diving

If you are considering gleaning or dumpster diving you should research the rules and laws where you live. Every place is different. For starters there is some basic stuff.

  • Stay away from locked dumpsters
  • Stay away from dumpsters that are concealed behind walls (especially with locked gates)
  • If you are asked to leave do so without arguing and politely explain what you are doing
  • Always clean up after your mess if you make one
  • Look for trespassing signs if you find one keep out
  • If security or police show up comply and politely explain what you are up to

In many cases people and businesses are trying to avoid trouble and liability. If you are polite and respectful they often don't mind. If they do respect there wishes and move on. Explaining that you will clean up after yourself and that you are trying to help the environment causes some unusual looks but helps.

Did you know question marks
Did you know question marks

Did you know

A fun but sad little fact is that once the garbage that is in the dumpsters reaches its final site and hits the floor it can no longer be recycled even if it is recyclable material. It is considered waste at that point by law and will end up in a landfill. This is why putting recyclables and re-usable items is such a big deal. There is no magical place where they do this sorting for us. The truth is some stuff gets sorted but not nearly enough.

Make a difference
Make a difference


Some of the great things about this activity are listed below

  • You minimizing waste
  • You can find free art supplies
  • You can sell some of this stuff
  • Some places pay for recycled bottles, cans and metals
  • You can save money by using the items you find instead of buying new ones
  • You are keeping good items out of landfills
  • Less waste equals less polution
  • You can save recycling by putting it in the right bin
  • you can take things like batteries and mattresses to the right disposal organizations
  • It feels good to help



Some of the negative aspects of this activity are listed below

  • There may be dangerous objects in the trash
  • Dumpsters are full of germs
  • Dumpster diving is commonly frowned upon
  • People may be angry or confused by what you are doing
  • You may risk being arrested if you trespass
  • Dumpsters can be located in some shady places
  • You might risk embarrassment

Dumpster diving

Would you ever go dumpster diving?

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Thick boots
Thick boots

Tools and clothes

If and when you try dumpster diving out there are some helpful tools to use and clothes to wear.


When it comes to what to wear stay away from clothes you like and favor. Wear fitted clothes you don't mind getting dirty because they probably will. Boots and old tennis shoes are the best footwear. The thicker the sole of the shoe the better it can protect your feet from pokey things. Long sleeves and sweatshirts. The more covered up you are the less grime you will get on you. Another tip is to wear your hair up or in a hat to keep it clean.


Tools can help you stay safe and make things easier on you. Goggles are great in case you get all the way into the dumpster and step into something smiley that splashes. Gloves keep your hands from getting cut and reduce grime. Trash nabbers and pickers are like long tongs that are great for sorting and grabbing things that are hard to reach. The very best tool of all if you can find one is a buddy! Bringing someone with you is not only fun but safer. They can help you get in and out, can get help in case of an emergency not to mention be a look out so you are prepared to explain yourself.

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