What is Dumpster Diving?

Dumpster diving is the activity of salvaging food, materials, or other items from designated garbage receptacles prior to their being disposed of by a trash collection service.

  1. Dumpster Diving is not theft or stealing. In a 1988 Supreme court ruling, California vs. Greenwood, when a person throws something out with the intention of it being garbage, the item becomes part of the public domain, having “no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
  2. The activity of Dumpster Diving can actually be very sanitary.
  3. You can and probably will find items in near perfect and working order that have been discarded by others.
  4. Dumpster Diving is not limited to the poor or desperate as some might believe.


Why Do People Dumpster Dive?

Each individual decides that for themselves, however here are a few reasons why people dive:

  1. Freegan: “Freeganism is a lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.” (taken from subreddit)
  2. Anti-Consumption/Anti-Consumerism: “Anti-Consumption is socio-political ideology opposed to consumerism which discourages … purchasing and consumption of material possessions … concern[ed] over modern corporations or organizations that pursue … economic goals the expense of environmental, social, or ethical concerns…” (taken from Wikipedia)
  3. Food Not Bombs: “A community [of] free distribution of surplus food (Vegan or Vegetarian) that would otherwise go to waste.” (taken from subreddit)
  4. Opportunity: Others may simply be in the right place at the right time and ask or take something that someone else was going to throw that they could use or want.
  5. Profit: Let’s be honest, people throw out working consumer goods that are in perfect working order what simply may have become outdated. There are those who are willing to dive and sell.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of reasons to Dumpster Dive ranging from social, political, activist and personal use.


How to Remain Safe While Dumpster Diving

Safety is a priority when dumpster diving. Some of the major concerns that most divers relate are: sharp or dangerous objects in or around the dumpster, contaminates on retrieved items or in the dumpster, and possible engagements from non-divers. To stay safe as a diver you can follow a simple set of guidelines that will help protect you from unintended consequences; by staying alert to your surroundings, moving slowly, and using common sense you can enjoy this exciting and engaging activity.


Apparel for Dumpster Diving

Most divers agree that proper clothing is paramount especially if you enter dumpsters. Long sleeve shirts and pants are essential for protecting yourself from objects in or around the dumpster area. Some divers choose to wear old sneakers when entering the dumpster while others choose to wear boots like steel-toed or combat boots for additional protection from items in the dumpster. What you wear is likely to be determined from the type of items you dive for, how you dive for it, and whether you enter a dumpster or not. A short-sleeved shirt and shorts might be sufficient for curb-diving for example but heavy boots and thick jeans with work gloves would be best for construction debris dumpsters to protect from nails and other items. Gloves are an important consideration; some divers choose to wear disposable gloves to protect their hands from contaminates (food divers especially) while some wear leather or cloth work gloves, again mostly depending on the type of items and the condition of the dumpsters you frequent.


Equipment for Dumpster Diving

The flashlight is the tool of the trade more than any other. A bright, LED flashlight is the most common flashlight among divers. Head-mounted, palm-sized, or traditional-shaped are all matters of personal preference to the diver. Office supply stores or online typically have the least-expensive LED flashlights of good quality, but investing in a decent flashlight can benefit you more than any other piece of equipment. Astronomy flashlights tend to have a red-light option in addition to white because the red-light does not inhibit night vision as much as the white light which may be a consideration if you are in low-light areas or not desirous of attracting attention.
Some divers prefer to dive with an extended clamp or diving-hook (a metal hook at the end of long pole). These tools are excellent for getting things from dumpsters without entering.
Having a small pocket knife or multi-tool is also common sight among divers, especially those who dive for specialized content requiring disassembly or inspection. A knife can cut through a bag more quickly and quietly than tearing at and fumbling with a tied-off bag.
At the end of a long night diving, be sure to sanitize and clean everything you were wearing as well as yourself. You can keep a bottle of hand sanitizer available if you get into something nasty.


Dumpster Diving Techniques

Stay Alert. Move cautiously slow. There is a lot to pay attention to when diving:

  1. Before approaching the dumpster, inspect the surroundings for people (suspicious or otherwise).
  2. Before approaching the dumpster, check for cameras or other security systems that can identify you or make your presence known.
  3. Before approaching the dumpster, check for “No Trespassing” signage or other indications that the property owner does not want you to enter their property. Respect this always.
  4. Be alert to items around the dumpster area that present a hazard to you or those around you. If diving with others, alert them as well.
  5. Be alert to items in the dumpster that can cause you or others harm. You do not know all that is inside even when you enter.
  6. Before you leave the dumpster area, inspect the surroundings again to see if the situation around has changed.


Getting Caught Wile Dumpster Diving

If someone sees you, they might stare at you, but most will never engage. If police or security guards catch you in the act, remember the cover story (“I was looking for cardboard boxes because I am moving”). When engaging with police or security guards be polite and courteous; doing the opposite will arouse suspicion and make you look like a punk. Know possible laws pertaining to dumpster diving beforehand in your local area so that you can reference them if the police officers attempt to take you for a ride if your cover story doesn’t work; if you entered an area that was restricted or posted no trespassing, you might have to go downtown.


Best Places to Dumpster Dive

Research, patience and luck. There are many factors that contribute to finding good dumpsters, but these are the core elements that can assist you in finding good dumpsters to dive in.

  • Locate – Prior to driving around and hunting for a good spot, try go online and looking at a map satellite view of the locations your are interested in. Doing this initial research will help you identify areas that will help you find good spots faster.
  • Investigate – Also known as casing. Stake the place out, there are a couple of things you might want to look out for:
    • How late do employees stay after closing?
    • What day of the week is trash pickup on? (Note: Case the place once per day for a week. When the dumpster is empty, you know the pickup is on that day.)
    • Is there public or private security?
    • Is there a security system in place to deter/prevent unauthorized access?
    • Is there any other dumpster diver already hitting the dumpster?
  • Find – Look in the dumpster to see what you can find.
  • Track – A diving log or journal is very helpful in marking locations and making notes about what locations you hit, when you hit them, and what you found.

Set your expectations now: don’t get upset if you didn’t find what you were looking for on the first dive. You are most likely going to have to dive at a location multiple times before you find something useful or what you are looking for. The real secret to dumpster diving isn’t about finding the best location; it’s aboutcreating opportunities for finding something. If you keep diving at a location, you’re statistically creating more opportunities for finding treasures. Another pro-tip: don’t have you heart set out to find any single item (e.g. if you are hitting Verizon dumpster for the latest iPhone, you’re gonna have a bad time). Go with the intention of finding useful things.


Dumpster Diving Luck

Let’s be honest here; you are not going to find it unless someone throws it out. Do your research, have patience, and with a little luck what you want will get thrown out. Remember: dumpster divers are masters of opportunity.

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