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Dumpster Diving Tips

Updated on August 12, 2012

How to Dumpster Dive Safely

Secret Freegan has spent 4 1/2 years living a normal suburban life. Except she dumpster dives a couple times a day. She's donated $110,000 worth of abandoned goods to charity. She has saved $12,000 in grocery bills. She wants to show you the tools, safety precautions, and rewards of dumpster diving, e.g. all about freeganism, how to be a freegan, skipping, food rescue, food recovery, food activism, food waste documenter, modern day archaeologist, tree hugger, lover of nature, daring ways to help save the environment! E-mail me for free freegan training in Phoenix, Arizona.

3 Top Reasons You Should Never Try Dumpster Diving

1. Dumpsters are obviously disgusting and filthy.

They harbor germs galore, including those that could cause food poisoning, staph, and pneumonia...and 90% of them are tainted with drug residue...oh, I was talking about United States dollar bills—not dumpsters.

The majority of store dumpsters are emptied daily by sanitation trucks, so the contents are no older than 24 hours. Most of the dumpster contents were for sale on store shelves a couple hours earlier, so they can’t be too rotten!

2. Dumpster diving is outside the norm of society’s accepted behaviors. And it just feels wrong!

Grocery store corporate policy ensures purposely wasting all of today’s leftovers from every department: bakery, floral, deli, meat, produce, and frozen goods. If there is one brown leaf on a head of lettuce, out goes the whole head. They could legally choose to donate it to charity, and receive a beneficial tax write-off for doing so. At least they could compost the food and recycle the vast sea of packaging materials. But that would entail doing things differently, rewriting policy, and taking the time to brainstorm and figure out the most efficient way to implement the new policy.

What feels more wrong—recovering the edible food and feeding dozens of families— or letting it clog our landfills where it emits methane, a gas much more toxic to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide?

3. Dumpster diving is irresponsible and dangerous.

One of my neighbors, Gus, throws a huge party every day for the whole neighborhood. The guests are treated to an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet with thousands of varieties of food. And every day he orders his staff to don sanitary plastic gloves and place $500-$2,000 worth of his gala’s leftover in clean plastic bags. Then he orders more staff to place the bags in the garbage bin beside his house.

I once asked my neighbor if he could donate the food to local charities—after all, there are 10,000 people living in their cars or on the streets in our city of Phoenix alone. He said, “And what would I do if one of those poor people decided to make some money by claiming to get sick from my food and taking me to court? What kind of publicity would that bring me? What would that do to my reputation? No one would come to my party anymore!"

He went on, "Of course, I’d have to settle out of court quickly to minimize the publicity. That could be very expensive for me. I give a truckload of canned goods to the local food bank every day, but I am forced to throw all the rest away. I just can’t take that liability risk.”

I’ve watched how Gus operates. I know his food dumping schedule. I regularly drive to his place, quietly fill up my car with the food bags, bring them home, open them up, and organize the food in my three refrigerator/freezers. The following day I distribute it to local needy people.

Oh—“Gus” is just a nickname for my neighbor. “My Neighborhood Grocery Store” is his full name. Now who is the wackiest, more irresponsible one—“Gus,” the local chain grocery store— or me, the local dumpster diver?

In the last 3 ½ years, Secret Freegan has donated $92,000 worth of recovered goods to the needy and saved over $12,000 in grocery bills. She is a suburban housewife, mother, and teacher with two Master’s degrees. Photos and videos of her finds can be viewed at

Food Waste in USA - Blues Singer Alice Tatum

See the huge waste in Phoenix, Arizona, and what Secret Freegan, 'Ginger Freebird,' does about it.

Best Dumpster Diving Tools - Must Haves for Safe Dumpster Diving

Dumpster Diver Safety Gear

You need a cap, apron, gloves, and good tennis shoes to dumpster dive properly!

The Rewards of Dumpster Diving - It messes up your kitchen!

Secret Freegan and Friend after Dumpster Diving
Secret Freegan and Friend after Dumpster Diving

Lots of boxes to unload and sort after a short food run in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photograph Your Dumpster Diving! - Cheap Cameras and the Best Expensive Cameras

How to Dumpster Dive - See "Secret Freegan" in Action

Great Photos and Videos

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    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      An amazing article! I'm going to check out your site now. Blessings. :)

    • SecretFreegan profile image

      SecretFreegan 5 years ago

      @hsschulte: Thank you for blessing my lens! Most of my new comments, photos, and articles are posted on my lens so you can look there too!

    • microfarmproject profile image

      microfarmproject 5 years ago

      I have dumpster dived for boxes, but maybe I should dig a little deeper. Thanks!

    • profile image

      kellyjones44 5 years ago

      I had the same thought as TandCrecruitment had that rescuing food would be considered illegal. Good to know it is not. I will have to research the laws in my town.

      I am about to have a Dumpster Rental San Antonio as I am planning a move. One thing I plan on discarding is can goods that I know I will not use. I will have to decide whether to donate them to charity or toss them into the rental where they will either a) go to waste or b) someone else will find and donate/use themselves. I will also have to stop by more often for more great tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You forgot the most important thing you need to dumpster dive with, white skin.

    • SecretFreegan profile image

      SecretFreegan 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi, It is legal to rescue food from the Dumpsters in most places in the USA. The legality is up to each individual city and town. It is legal in Phoenix, Arizona, and all of its suburbs. It is considered rescuing abandoned goods. Thank you for your comments!

    • SecretFreegan profile image

      SecretFreegan 5 years ago

      @hsschulte: Thank you for your encouragement!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have been so tempted to go to supermarkets and do this but it means I could face prison and I have a little one to think about... I wish I had your guts. I love what you do well done... I hope that you get blessed by a Squidoo Angel or have one of these Lenses as Lens of the day... Thank you for sharing such a wonderful Lens.

    • hsschulte profile image

      hsschulte 6 years ago

      This is a spectacular lens! I can't wait to see more. ~Blessed by the green living angel.