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The joys of dumpster diving

Updated on July 11, 2007
A motivational poster from that epitomizes the art.
A motivational poster from that epitomizes the art.

Full length mirror: $20

Combo DVD/VCR player: $80

Desk hutch with cabinets: $120

Finding this stuff for free: Priceless

“Waste not, want not.” For those who dumpster dive (or for the elite who go urban foraging), this is an absolute truth.

Defined by Wikipedia as the act of “sifting through commercial or residential trash to find useful items,” dumpster diving is an economically-sound practice. Especially, supporters argue, in this age of material surfeit.

“We live in a time of excess and waste, and I don't think we should look down on those who find a way to use that ‘waste,’” Nikki Willhite writes on

A Google search for “dumpster diving” yields 616,000 results, including forums where users discuss their “treasures” and sites that list prime diving locations and tips.

“I needed a new printer cable for a new computer,” one diver, nicknamed “Doc Dumpster,” begins. “They don't include all the cables, so they can charge you $39.95... after checking about 10 places, I found the printer cable, and other merchandise I sell on eBay.”

How much has the good doctor netted? “To date,” he says, “$9063.00.”

So, why dive? Some enjoy the “thrill of the hunt,” while others, like Vincent Jones, create art from discarded computer circuit boards and other refuse. Many claim reusing discarded materials makes DD eco-friendly. “Changing Rooms,” a home-renovation program that features salvaged materials in every episode, is a BBC favorite. Finally, a large percentage of divers cannot afford the latest and greatest for their humble abodes (yours truly, a college student, included).

Oh, and it’s legal… at least in California.

In California v. Greenwood, the Supreme Court ruled there is no common law expectation of privacy for discarded materials. In other words, dive all you want.

Etiquette & Rules

* Don't scramble over a fence, or ignore that “NO TRESSPASSING” sign to reach a dumpster.

* Don't leave a mess, i.e. put what you don’t want back in the dumpster.

* If someone asks you to leave, politely explain what you’re doing. If they still insist you vacate the premises, do so.

* Please, don't take home people’s confidential records if they forgot to shred them.

* Do NOT enter a dumpster when garbage trucks are in the area; if a truck approaches, get out of the dumpster immediately… no one is that good at holding their breath.

Things You'll Want to Bring

* Comfortable clothes you don't mind getting dirty (no jewelry or little things that can fall out of pockets)

* Closed-toe shoes (I recommend a pair of old sneakers with good traction)

* Plastic bags

* Flashlight (the inside of a dumpster is dark, even during the daytime)

* First aid kit (remember, this is trash you’re digging through)

* Gloves

To conclude, the blatant (and perhaps cliché) MasterCard rip-off that began this article describes things I found behind the dorms after my classmates escaped for the summer. To come full circle:

Having extra cash after paying for textbooks? Unbelievable.


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    • profile image

      Jk. ammana 8 years ago

      Good article, Thank

    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 8 years ago from NW Indiana

      Don't you just love all the good stuff you find? I have not done the DD in some time but I hit my neighborhood trash night pretty steady just cruising. I know it saves when I bring home ladders, BBQ Grills, Usable furniture and so much wood for my art projects. Nice write, thanks for sharing.

    • mattd241 profile image

      mattd241 9 years ago

      I'm notorious for hitting my local Circuit City dumpster in the early morning hours. It's at an area where I have about 20 minutes before doing my driving job, so I'm in a vehicle. It's amazing what they throw out that is good. VCR's, TV's, Microwaves, Carrying Cases, connectors for electronics, etc. They won't let the employees take it for some reason. Can we say, "eBay," boys and girls?

    • brianabee profile image

      brianabee 10 years ago

      I could read your articles all day, and marvel at your writing skills Megan. My ex-boyfriend and I would do this to find wood and other cheap canvas for him to paint on. I always felt like I was stealing, but I guess not! Good to know.

    • profile image

      BT 10 years ago

      Wow! Well-written and informative ...

      It's apalling what people throw away!