Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The act of dumpster diving

Dive on in!With finances being tight these days, more and more people are cutting back on their spending. Many people are even doing something they probably weren't comfortable doing before: shopping at thrift stores.

With the focus not only on saving money, but also on being environmentally friendly, it's become a little more socially acceptable to admit to getting that nice "new" sweater second-hand. In fact, there's even a sense of pride in finding a good deal.

More anonymous buying and selling of used goods through websites like Craigslist or eBay doesn't exactly have the same sort of stigma as neighborhood garage sales and have been accepted by many trying to make money selling their goods or getting a deal. So, how does this trend portend to the acceptance of dumpster diving?

Not yet having the cojones to dumpster dive (although I feel a challenge coming on), I can't say much about it aside from being scared of trying it. I don't know about the legality of rummaging in dumpsters, but I'm fairly certain it's not. Can anyone clarify that?

If it were legal and socially acceptable, I think more people would be willing to give it a try. I know some people who (out of economic necessity) have a history of dumpster diving, but I imagine that many do it these days for environmental reasons either for food or goods. There are so many useful items and still edible foods that are thrown out each day, it seems a shame that these can't be rescued from the waste stream by interested people.

That said, have you ever dumpster dived? Would you be willing to if it were legal in your area?


Anna Marie said...

Well, you know those huge recycling dumpsters they have outside of some grocery stores? One time, while we were dropping off some milk jugs, my mom noticed some plant pots (perfectly good) in the bottom. So I scrabbled in there and got them for her. That was years ago though.

And, at when we were visiting my brother at the end of school term, we got a few pots that some one had left in the garbage. Like, sitting right on top in the day light.

So, while it maybe illegal (or frowned upon), if I see something really good, I might just liberate it.

Kelly said...

a friend of mine who dumpster dives for just about everything except fruit for her family told me a great story about turning up to a shop which she had heard was 'pretty good' for diving, to turn the corner and find a queue! If you actually do the research on what gets tossed out and think that moments before it was on a shelf to be purchased the act of just being moved doesnt make something revolting or bad, just outside what were used to.

Anonymous said...

I'd be a bit scared of dumpster diving too - though its daft as why not get stuff if its just being thrown away. Why not if you're feeling brave!

I have 'skip-rummaged' but that's quite a British tradition and can be very worthwhile. We've picked up doors, windows and garden planters for free. But I guess its not so icky as there's no food garbage involved.

Anonymous said...

When we were caretakers mant years ago-I would dumpster duve right after tenants moved out. MOst were college students. Didn't even think twice about it either. They'd leave just about anything they accumulated after a year or however long. I stil have alot of the lamps, bookshelves,mugs,books sitting in my house. Saved us loads over the years. I rescued 2 complete dishware sets-never opened. I opennned them and thought okay hideous pattern. Kept them in boxes and 3 moves. My neice just moved out loved the patterns and they are hers. Never told her they were dumpster dive rescues. Actually they were sitting on the side.

Robj98168 said...

Dumpster Diving is my life! I love dumpster Diving. I am the Greg Louganis of Dumpster Diving. I have found bikes, furniture, pet supplies all in the dumpster- And from what I know it is legal - so just get on some old pants and shoes you don;t car about and dive in- the water is gross, but the things you find are so cool! Haven't dived for food so much but I wouldn't put it past me!

Anna said...

I TOTALLY did it in college. I didn't really NEED to, I suppose, but it was the in thing. And when I was a little kid, one of my friends' dads drove a garbage truck that picked up stuff from a shopping center of some kind. She was the envy of the neighborhood because he brought home all kinds of good stuff.

Would I do it now? Maybe, if I saw something I wanted, but I doubt I'd do it just to see what's there. I'm getting older and I once pulled a hamstring in a dumpster; don't think I want to risk it at my advanced age. The legal issue wouldn't bother me at all. Haven't the courts ruled that it's okay for tabloid 'journalists' to rummage through celebrity trash? What's the dif?

Mary said...

Check out this book:
It has a lot of great information, some entertaining stories, and a bit of foul language, but it's one of my favorite books. Be forewarned that the author's political leanings come through pretty strongly and he advises a few things that are illegal, but it's still a good read.
Needless to say, I'm a bit of a diver myself.

Unknown said...

Back when my sister-in-law was in college she would gift us with dumpster-dive treasures for holidays and birthdays. Now she typically gives books or hiking gear but I do miss those eclectic gifts...I still have my banana leaf umbrella and the rocking chair she gave us when I was pregnant with baby #2.

Marimoy said...

I don't mind going dumpster diving as long as you don't try to make us go Freegan. 5M4GG did a post about this a while age. While there are many cool sites about it, like Freegan Kitchen, I'm gonna go with no.

Judy T said...

We live in a college town. Every year at the end of July most of the leases are up and many are either moving or doing the Chinese fire drill. My husband goes out every year on his bike with his backpack and bungee cords. He has found some amazing stuff: computers, a trumpet, a tux (that fit him!) music (one time a duffel bag containing 200+ music CDs) and bikes. All our bikes except the small ones for the little boys are from dumpsters. He even came home yesterday with a small wooden drying rack- something we've been looking for to use for hats and gloves in this snowy weather.
You can actually have a pretty good idea of how the economy is doing by what the students throw out and by how many people are out looking.

Anonymous said...

I live in a college town, so twice a year we have "big trash pick up"-I'm known for embarassing my husband as I stop to rummage through people's trash on their lawn. :) Thankfully I have a good friend who will join me. We get in the van, put on old clothes and drive around our little town looking for treasures.
We call it "redemption trash"- looking for something that needs some love, a new coat of paint, a new home....

Anonymous said...

When I lived in a neighborhood with trash pick up, I used to pick useful things out of people's trash. My high-school English teacher did the same thing. I'm still using up the last of the Christmas wrap that I rescued from some one's trash can over 10 years ago.

Would you do a post on the best ways to sell what you have but no longer need? DH will probably be laid off in two weeks and I would love to figure out how to turn our surplus stuff into some cash.

Bucky said...

Growing up my father -- a depression era kid -- took me along regularly to the town dump to find "treasure."

Not the household garbage dump, but the one where people could bring their heavy stuff to drop off.

We always came away with a find or two and when I was smaller, I thought it was a grand adventure.

The older I got, the less grand it got.

Still, to this day, I can't pass up a big pile of curbside pickup heavy trash. Particularly after someone has just moved out (as other people have mentioned). It's amazing what you can find.

Two weeks ago, I came away with a a lovely, old, seasoned with age large cast iron dutch oven with lid!

Anonymous said...

I might "liberate" something that's sitting on top or off to the side if I happen to see it (either dumpster-wise or on the curb for trash pickup).

But to just jump in and start diggin'? No way.

Lynnet said...

Seems like it would be better to work with the restaurants and grocery stores to divert good food to people in need without having to throw it in the garbage first. Has anybody been successful at this?

Green Resolutions said...

My husband has a frugal friend that lives in a very nice part of town. He often sees "trash" that someone has put out by the curb while he's out for a run. He goes out with his car later and picks up the "treasure." We are the proud owners of a slightly faded jogging stroller he picked up last year. I know he's found a small picnic table for his kids, too.

So, I don't have a problem with owning someone else's trash, but I don't know that I'd be able to pull up in someone's driveway and load up my car...

LadyCiani said...

Our old apartment was nearby a college campus, so yeah, lots of good stuff that was in reasonably "new" condition. Our bedside tables, a few hangers, and a roasting pan all saw regular use.

I have never understood people who pay for cardboard boxes when they move. Having a retail background, I just run out to our local mall and grab the cardboard boxes from the recycle. They're generally in good shape, already flattened, and all it takes is some tape, which I would need anyway. If it has rained then they're no good, then you just wait until after the next pick-up day.

Maybe it takes me a trip or two to get everything I need in my small car, but until I start packing and stacking boxes against a wall I don't have enough room in my apartment for all the boxes to lay around and fall over anyway.

Bucky said...


I'm not sure about everywhere, but there are organizations in many major cities that work with restaurants to pick up left-over food and distribute it to the homeless and needy.

It's mostly the high-end restaurants that actually cook their own food every day instead of the chain places that are just reheating something frozen (they usually don't have as much wasted "food").

It's a bit more complicated than you might think, because of legal liabilities, but it does work.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I would get in a dumpster and root around but it is common practice in my neighborhood to put out things you don't need on trash day but are still usable to the side of the trash can. People roam our street the morning of trash day and take whatever they want. I've been looking for awhile but haven't spotted anything we need. Since this is also a college town I'll probably head to that part of town in May,

When I was in college they encouraged to put all our unwanted clothes in a big pile on the first floor of your dorm. I found crazy amounts of high end designer clothes that people just tossed away. Anything that wasn't claimed by the end of school was then donated.

Greenpa said...

The dumpster universe is highly variable. When I was a kid, my dad was in the Navy- which meant we, and everyone else in the neighborhood on base, moved; every 2-3 years. When somebody on the block got transferred- they'd toss all kinds of stuff they didn't want to move. Huge riches for kids, and we were all shameless about picking over the piles left for the trash pickup.

On the other end of the spectrum; my parents moved to Taiwan for a while after all the kids were grown. And they had trash. The trash went out on the street for pickup. A local person knocked on their door; and asked permission to pick through their trash; they said , um, sure- and nearly caused a brawl as a result.

The trash-picking rights were already established; and in fact the nice polite person asking permission was poaching on someone else's territory. My parents had to bow out of the discussion, and let them settle it; the original owner of the rights successfully defended themselves.

Something for us to look forward to, as Camp TEOTWAWKI evolves.

Josef said...

Oh, dumpster diving is a favorite passtime. The best thing I ever found, a mandolin. I have always been a resistant to take anything "edible" but anything else is fair game. I am not sure of the legalities of it in my town. However I have often asked permission and received it enthusiastically.

This is especially true when I need lumber for some project. Many construction sites throw away their used wood (scraps and even some nice pieces) that I can use in one project or another. The construction site managers have generally been thrilled with this idea as they do not have to haul off nearly as much.

More often than not I find stuff that I cannot use but is not used up so I put it on freecycle or take it down to a consignment shop. Some find it vile but they never complained about my furniture.

jana said...

I dumpster dive for fun, not out of economic necessity. My tween kids think it's even funner than I do. :)

When I was a kid we learned what day of the week a nearby florist dumped out all of their old-ish flowers. We'd cruise by on that day, raid the dumpster, and make huge bouquets for friends. It was just _fun_.

I don't know about the legality of it--so far I've never had a problem.

Anonymous said...

Here in Paris, people are always putting stuff out on the curb to be hauled away. I've picked up chairs, a bookshelf, nice boards for building other furniture with.... So I've always got my eyes peeled. Anytime, we can pick up cardboard for boxes or for building party decorations (volcano, spaceship, castle, depending on the party theme for my kids - we never BUY decorations!).

As for diving into the trashcans that are set out, I'm not there yet. Too mixed up with yucky garbage.

It's amazing what some people will throw away. But I will point out that if they weren't so wasteful, we wouldn't have all that bounty for the taking. Better enjoy it now!

Corinne in Paris

Karen said...

Yes, we've dumpster dived. Winter is the best time, I think, because I don't worry so much about germs. We've taken some really great hauls of artisan breads, fruit, veggies, etc.
I don' think it's illegal, though...

Green Bean said...

Are you kidding me?? I do it all the time. I can't let that great stuff go to landfill. I can't pass up a free deal. I actually posted about my trash to treasure adventures over a year ago at my old blog here. It's too big a thrill to pass up. :)

EJ said...

I have.
* lots of clean, empty egg cartons once (we have chickens)
* dozens of roses that we tried to give away but people were mostly suspicious
but not looking for food.

Willo said...

My Grandpa is notorious for this. He didn't actually get in the dumpster, but there were many-a-time when we would have to stop suddenly to get "the perfectly good thing" someone was throwing out. His basement is full and every time he can get rid of something by giving it to someone else, my Grandma is so grateful.

Anonymous said...

I work at a university and after the kids move out, me and my co-workers go dumpster diving. I found a bunch of plastic organizer type containers, a wash and they were as good as new. I also took a bunch of stuff that was perfectly good to the thrift store.

MKD said...

Crunchy I would visit the freegans website as they are the masters of dumpster diving

Here in WA I do believe in some parts Dumpster diving is illegal. And if you haven't already noticed most trash cans behind stores are the ones that have cameras or you can't get to them because the opening is inside the store.
Good Luck.
I know I've tried dumpster diving but around here in the great city of Puyallup all the dumpters are locked or you can't get to the opening. Oh well...

Farmer's Daughter said...

Since both my husband/his family and my family are builders, we got many many materials out of dumpsters, or saved them before they went in the dumpster. Much of the trim, all of the beaded board, our decking, or front lamp, and many more things I'm forgetting were salvaged from the dumpster.

In terms of food, we've occasionally caught people going through our dumpster at the farm market. However, we consume the foods that are perfectly fine but not pretty enough for sale or feed it to our animals, so what's in our dumpster is the stuff that's really bad, moldy, etc. Not to mention, my grandmother will often spray the dumpster with fly spray in the summer, and we frequently have a bee problem there so we spray for them when needed (I've been stung quite a few times trying to dump rotten fruit). So needless to say, people shouldn't ever eat the produce out of a dumpster if they are unsure if it's been sprayed or not.

James said...

I always spy into the dumpster at my warehouse and have salvaged an item from time to time. It's pretty sad to see how many usable items are tossed out in our disposable society.

Erika said...

My most recent dive wasn't really for good stuff... someone at my work couldn't tell the difference between the trash and the recycle dumpsters, nor did they know how to break down boxes... anyway, I went in, got all the little bits of recyclable and non recyclable stuff out and put them in their respective bins.

My DH and I have rescued brand new carpet (about 26sqft), hand tools, and other stuff, but the best find was a 1960's ish, still wrapped in plastic board game; it went on ebay for nearly a hundred dollars!

MY DH happened by a business that had closed and was in a LINE to get to the dive point! He didn't get anything because the business had SAWED THEIR TABLES AND CHAIRS IN HALF before putting them in the dumpster, but the guy in front of him took half a dozen light fixtures.

If dumpster diving is illegal, don't you think you'd get a warning first... what cop would want to spend their time ticketing/booking(?!) someone for dumpster diving!


Kiran said...

It was kind of a tradition at my college to go recycling dumpster diving behind the cafeteria to get cardboard boxes for moving out at the end of the year. And I once went diving for some perfectly good carpet outside Pier One, but that was with their permission.

Anonymous said...

I have! It started with searching for lettuce leaves for my livestock, and I turned up so much edible food I kept going back. I only stopped when I ran into someone who was doing it because he really really needed that food and I was a little embarrassed that I might have been taking food from people who needed it more than I did.

Kristen said...

I can't say that I've actually gone dumpster diving, but I did something semi-similar at the end of the spring semester at the university I went to my freshmen year. All the dorm buildings would have overflowing trash cans and dumpsters during move-out week. My old roommate and I picked through a few of them as we didn't leave until the last day. Some people put a whole box of Ramen noodles in the hallway (we're talking about 20 individual packages of the stuff). It was insane and so wasteful. I understand if someone can't bring all of their stuff home, but if its usable they could have at least donated it to the thrift store.

My sister lives in Brooklyn and tends to "find" things when people put their trash out. She did do some dumpster diving and found an Ipod in college, but now she just seems to happen upon awesome finds sitting next to people's trash cans. Once she found a bag full of clothing that was all her size.

Oh, and the incinerator in my hometown (yeah, my hometown just burns everything..which isn't too good since the town doesn't have plastic recycling) has a section near the newspaper and aluminum recycling piles to leave items that are still usable but unwanted. We've found many great things there.

TDP said...

I think I have left more stuff for divers than I have taken as a diver. I once left a broken leather IKEA chair in a dumpster and it was gone before I got back to my apt!

The luckiest find I can recall diving a dumpster: a huge amount of bubble wrap in a dumpster at a gas station, which was 100 ft from my storage unit where I just happened to be repacking boxes for shipping out. I saw a bit of bubble wrap sticking out of the lid of the dumpster, jumped out of the car, opened the lid and jackpot!
I filled the entire back seat of the car they had thrown away so much. That saved me soooo much money!

GreenieJoy said...

I use to dumpster dive Good will dumpsters. I lived in a college town and pretty much every good Will has dumpsters full of stuff. Like, a brand new "fake" xmas tree still in the box, never opened, brand new shoes that had never been worn, books, books and more books, bags of clothes in which the bags hadn't even been opened (meaning the workers were lazy and threw bags upon bags of clothes into the trash without looking in side to see if anything was sellable)

Every state probably has its own laws but I know in Florida at least, the only way you could get arrested for dumpster diving is if the owner of that property calls the police. If you're dumpster diving and a police officer happens to see you they can't arrest you. I'm sure they'd tell you to stop but thats about it. I'm not sure about other states but I'd imagine its about the same.

This is why I don't like donating to Good Will. It really irked me that they would throw away so much brand new or good usable stuff!

It may sound gross to some (and depending on what dumpster you go into it could be dangerous) but for the safer ones, why not dumpster dive! You can find cool stuff for free or find items that you needed which would keep you from buying it used and it keeps less stuff in the land fill.

Alison Kerr said...

I'm veering off the topic here, but I just don't understand why people put so much stuff in the trash. The only things I throw in the trash are non-vegetarian food scraps, non-recyclable paper and packaging, the yard waste that I can't compost without buying a shredder, and absolutely hopelessly broken stuff.

Most weeks I have less than the equivalent of one trash bag to put out, while my neighbors have 3 or 4 trash cans full. Every trash day I wonder what on Earth they have in there! When I have stuff I don't want there are masses of charities who call me regularly because they want to come and pick up anything I don't want anymore so I just wait for the next call.

What is wrong with these people who throw out stuff? Oh yes, and I do think I'd consider dumpster diving if I needed that to support my family, but not otherwise. I would like to know if it's legal... just in case.

Anonymous said...

We've always shopped at thrift stores, and no, not "vintage" or "retro" stores. I am not above picking stuff off of the street (our pillow cases, printer, a chair, a little table, some books, a couple bowls, cups, etc). I have a friend who only owned two pair of pants in school, and when she grew out of a pair, she found a pair on the side of the road that just happened to fit! Being poor is totally environmental! And now that we are not as poor, I still have my old habits.

I wouldn't ever randomly dumpster dive, especially with people throwing their dog poop in there, but if I knew there was always good stuff in a particular dumpster, I would consider it, as long as I knew that I wasn't taking something away from a homeless person or someone who needed it more than I did. "Take what you need, give what you can."

Anonymous said...

We do! We sometimes fish the Starbucks coffee grounds out of their dumpster (we compost those, not eat them!). And when we go to the landfill to dump our trash and recycling (nothing makes you more aware of what you trash than dropping it off yourself) we go by the "reuse section", and always get something. Does that count?

ruchi said...

Crunchy, I dare you to go dumpster diving for food, freegan style. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a lifelong dumpster diver, dating back to the days I was embarrassing mmom by digging construction supplies out of the neighbors trash for my treehouse. For a long time, the majority of our food came from Food Not Bombs (pre-dumpstered) or from dumpsters. There's a local bakery whose bread dumpster used to practically be a social gathering.

For stuff that's not food, is there really that much stigma? The vast majority of my furniture was bought used or picked up from the curb. Plus in my neighborhood large items often sit on the curb with a sign for scavengers (like "FLEAS DON'T TAKE" or "Needs new gaskets") We've gotten rid of two couches that way - set them out in the front yard with a sign that said "Good couch, needs home."

Legality is totally different city to city, jurisdiction to jurisdiction - one of the really good local food dumpsters, about twice a year they call the cops and everyone who gets caught gets a ticket. I assume it's just to show everyone they don't approve of the dumpstering.

TheNormalMiddle said...

I have mixed feelings on it. One year our artificial christmas tree (brand new, nice prelit one) went kaput, but not until it melted the plastic and caught on fire. I put it out by the trash, and before they could come get it, someone "stole" it. I hope to God they didn't burn their house down with this "find"....

If you see something out by the trash and you want it, it might pay to knock on the door and ask first...

Kristijoy said...

If you live near colleges, you are foolish to not dumpster dive at them of terms. I am in a community of dumpster divers and freegans. (heh there is a challenge for you Crunchy!)
Food not bombs is also a group that usually has some sort of free boxing at the meals and gathers free and dumped food from local eateries and groceries to feed people.
I have to say, I am already bummed that I have to fight for my thrift shop find with more people using them, but I am glad more people are buying used.
When my S.O. and I are biking around the neighborhoods, he will always pull over to a freebox to see what is there, and we freebox a lot rather than donate to thrift stores. Haven't dumpster dived in awhile, but we don;t need anything anyways.
It's fun, like archeology.

Anonymous said...

I have never done it. I read that portion of "The Complete Tightwad Gazette" with interest, but it's not for me. I can't overcome my aversion, and my fear of breaking the 'rules'. I do love my second-hand stores, though.

Anonymous said...

I've never gone "freeganing" since there aren't any divable dumpsters at nearby grocery stores or bakeries, but I've always loved finding things people put out on trash day. It's usually just piles of stuff on the curb rather than dumpsters, so I don't worry too much about contamination. I've found a great chair, several styrofoam coolers for root veggie storage, some fun dishes, and lots of canning jars from recycling bins (one of these days, I'm going to leave a note for the neighbors asking if they'd mind just leaving their pasta sauce jars on our doorstep...I'd be happy to give them some applesauce or something in exchange for the trouble).

Anonymous said...

A few years back our city used to have big garbage days once a year where you could put out sofas and other stuff. On these days I would run around and pick up anything I could find of use. Great finds included a mirrored mahogany dresser, 4 bags of dresses and clothes for kids, halloween costumes, bikes, plant pots and outdoor furniture. I loved those days and I still keep an eye out on regular garbage days.Now my city has a recycle site which I also check out.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Manhattan in the seventies I did all that hunting and gathering stuff, every permutation, and since I lived near all the great restaurants, food too, really good food. Now I live in a rather poor place, and we have no dumpsters here. Second hand clothing we do have, but I really don't need any.
I am in the plant business so I now satisfy my freebie instincts by gathering plant cuttings and repropagating them into new potted plants I sell. Money does grow on trees.
Crunchy, you must try the dumpster thing. Just like robbing banks, after the first few it's pretty easy and you won't feel like people are staring at you any more.
Plus, the diving is not a Federal crime. But please be careful of your back.

Anonymous said...

Totally, always, whenever I see something good. Someone else's trash . . . I got several hundred dollars worth of granite from a construction skip a few years ago, now it's part of my patio. Right now I'm building a bigger chicken coop (frantically, before my girls start laying, which will be any day now) and so far it's 100% recycled except for the screws (some from construction skips, some from the street). Yesterday morning I dropped the kids off at school and drove back towards home to pick up a big pile of discarded fence wood -- in full office gear, wool trousers, burnt orange boxy jacket and boots with 2" heels (and leather work gloves). Gave myself quite a chuckle at image.

Ashley said...

I use to work at a gas station and voluntarily set up a system to track what needed to be pulled from the shelves because of their sell by/expiration dates. A lot of the stuff was snack items that were still good, or products whose packages were tampered with by customers. We would write it off and toss it in a box. After the list of items in the box was checked off by the assistant manager (she kept up with it on a weekly basis) we were free to take what we wanted because it would otherwise be tossed.

I still stop in (I no longer work there) but only to pick up large boxes to put donation items in. I volunteer myself out to people wanting to clear out spaces. I use the boxes to pack up anything to be donated (I'll even make calls to arrange for the stuff to be picked up, or connect people with places that will let you ship things like e-waste free of charge to be recycled). If I come across things I like or can use, I'll grab it too (so long as it was going to be tossed or given away, and with permission). I've managed to pick up CDs, brand new towels, bedding, storage containers... you name it!

I read somewhere that people who dig out recycleables from trash cans are "stealing" from the city/county (that the recycleables collected help pay for the recycling program), but I try to get permission and go in when things are clearing out (before put into the trash can).

Ashley said...


Our town still has one! It's our annual community clean up day. It's a big event and fun to see the families driving around, gathering up things they can fix (or are still in good shape).

We have more people on our street the night before the pick-up than we do on the 4th of July!

I honestly can't wait for the next one... unfortunately I have to wait a while for it to come around.

Anonymous said...

I work at Earth Fare - a natural food store chain in the Southeast.
The store I work at in Asheville, NC has had some success (within the confines of food safety laws).

1st- Prepared foods such as rotisserie chickens (which cannot be be reheated whole and resold) are 'stripped' and used in soups and dishes on the 'hot bar'. Cold salads, veggies, cheeses & meats from the deli often end up on the salad bar before going out of date.

2nd- Grocery & bakery items which are out of date and so-so produce are donated to local food banks. (The problem comes with getting stuff picked up regularly by the food bank volunteers [which gives me an idea for a possible solution].)

3rd- At the end of the night, the 'hot bar' stays open an extra half-hour to allow folks to put hot food in to-go containers and buy it at half-price. (Both feeding folks and reducing waste.)

Earth Fare will be switching over to wheat-based compostable to-go containers in the next month or so.

Throughout the day as the juice bar's compost buckets fill up, they call out over the intercom and offer it to our patrons. (Folks seem less interested in the winter which is great for me - I have been bringing home several bags a week of carrot pulp, cutdown wheat grass, coffee grounds, etc.!)

There is a dumpster-based county recycling center set up behind our store [plastic, metals, cardboard,
mixed paper, glass]. I have picked magazines, wrapping paper and excelsior out of the mixed paper dumpster and picked up olive oil containers & large tin cans outside of the metal dumpster.(The glass & metal containers have holes only large enough to put your arm through-for safety; as the site is unattended.)

I have a friend[Grocery] who saves the buckets from the bulk nutritional yeast for me. Most of the other food buckets go back to the companies who sent them (ie: tofu buckets). Another friend[Specialty] saves the big glass jars that bulk olives come in for me. After reading the blog 'Ramping Up the Garden', I am on the look out for styrofoam fish boxes.

The employees at my store maintain a 'free box' in our back room. It is an old grocery cart in which folks put clothes, body care items, supplements, knick-knacks, books & magazines, etc for other employees to pick through.

As a papermaker and mixed-media found artist, I glean all sorts of interesting items from the free box and various trash & recycling bins in the store. Other folks who know my tastes save interesting items they come across for me.

Happy Gleaning - Colleen

Anonymous said...

Yeah it's not legal, but it's overlooked generally. My best dumpster score was two 10 lb blocks of provolone cheese and a gallon tin of olive oil, all perfectly fine, just a day past the expiration date. We go into the stores and look to see when stuff we like is about to expire, then go behind the store the day after and look for it. You have to be diligent, and choosy (dumpstered mushrooms, bad, very bad) but it's fun and can be worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

We dumpster dive for our wood heat -- our local lumber yard used to have to pay to get the wood scraps hauled away and disposed of, but now we, and other enterprising wood burners, dumpster dive in their HUGE dumpster for kiln dried untreated hardwoods like oak. It's free heat, it burns hotter than any firewood I've ever had, never has bugs in it, and it saves a local company money. All in all, a very good thing! Of course, there is nothing in the dumpster other than wood, so its not gross or anything.

Every spring and fall we also "free-cycle" on bulk pick-up day in the ritzy town next door to us. We drive around in my husbands truck and get all manner of free things: worught iron benches, antique chairs, propane convections stove, tables, shelves, radio flyer bikes and wagons, plastic jungle gyms for little kids, gas and push-reel mowers, small pools, chandeliers, peat seed pots, purple martin birdhouses, modern windows, and much much more -- and ALL in new or great condition, and ALL free. It is like Christmas!

We don't have too many actual apartment places here, so dumpsters are sort of restricted to businesses, where I would feel weird going in most of them -- but a lot of people I know do go to the transfer station and pick things out there... Especially plastic toys.

Sharlene said...

I have a cousin who is a garage man and has brought us some incredible finds. I leave the dumpster diving to the expert. It s amazing what people will throw away. Its like nobody has heard of Goodwill.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I should go dumpster diving next time I'm in the US ;)
We just don't seem to throw so much away here in NZ. Generally all the bakeries will have an arrangement with something like Women's Refuge or some charity to donate all the day old bread. I think there is a charity 0800 Hungry that picks up expired food from stores for distribution - so I'd be dubious about how much usefull food you could actually come up with that isn't already accounted for. Starbucks puts their used coffee grounds in bags in a basket near the counter so you can just help yourself there, no need to go rummaging around.
When I was a kid most of my clothes were second hand which never really bothered me until I got a sweater that had another kid's name sewed in the collar. For some reason it always worried me that I might meet them and they would recognize the sweater :)
Back then, too, I had an arrangement with a neighbourhood grocery store to get the bases from cauliflours and trimmed off cabbage leaves for my pet rabbit.
These days I do pick up the odd thing that people leave out on the street - got some good biscuit tins last year, and some wood for a chicken run. And I collect jars for jam making and coffee cans for food storage. Now, if I wanted a couch, I could have brought several home last year, if I had a car to put them in.

Mel Mazz said...

Here in Chicago we have a back alley system (where the garbage trucks pick up trash, etc.). There is an established network of recyclers who go through the alleys multiple times per day. They will definitely haul away anything metal, etc. Everything we could not re-purpose from our recent kitchen renovation was taken immediately by these folks. What a great service!! I would be too concerned about spoilage to take food that from the garbage, but I also consider myself darned lucky that I don't have to find food that way.

Jason C said...

Yes...I've dumpster dived. For many reasons and many items. Unfortunately, right after I started hitting a great freegan spot for groceries, the store closed. Most grocery stores have dumpsters from inside - but not this one. It's amazing how much food gets thrown away. The bread company comes to the store and throws out about 50 loaves of perfectly good bread - ones that didn't expire for sometime. I used to get $4 12 grain bread by the trunk full.

I used to sell on ebay a bunch, too. The best place to get boxes was in the dumpster at Factory Card and Party Outlet. Always tons of boxes. Linens-n-Things had the packing materials. Bubble wrap by the bags.

It's really unfortunate what wasteful society we live in.


Kristijoy said...

To anon who works at earth fare!
People who are allergic and/or intolerant to wheat will NOT be able to use/eat out of your to go containers! It will contaminate their food. Unlers they contain absolutly no traces of cluten, which I am having a hard time imagining.

Please please please make sure that you customers are aware they are wheat based or switched to a different compostable container. =( Corn maybe? compostable wood pulp?

Cave-Woman said...

My whole college apartment ( except for the bed and it's linens) was furnished with Dumpster Dive fare.
At the end of the semester the best places to scavenger hunt was at the fraternity house dumpsters. These rich kids rather put items in the garbage instead of find a way to take them home during the summer season. After all--they'll get a new "something" next year.
I've gotten a bicycle this way---a standing wardrobe, a chair (which I steam cleaned and used for years), plants that were left for dead that were reviveable, clothes, trivets, dishes, etc...

I never looked "hard" for items. I would just walk or drive by the choice neighbors for waste, and then see if anything was propped by or obviously sticking out of the dumpster.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I would jump into a dumpster but I would certainly pick up something non-edible that was at the side of the road and usable.

Case in point:
We furnished my husband's ex's apartment for free. We gave her our old bed and some other assorted things we weren't necessarily using. From CraigsList, we got bunkbeds, shelving units, blender, chair, dining room set and so on and so forth for free. We also picked up a microwave and couch from the curb.

We have also picked up little chairs for the kids and some other small items from the curb. I didn't give two thoughts about embarrassment. Perhaps it was because I also grew up in a college town where picking up other people's leftovers at the end of the semester was normal.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever dumpster dove, but once when I was a kid, I got a 29-gallon aquarium with a broken bottom. Good as new after I bought a piece of glass from the local glazer.

One thing that riles me is that a nearby supermarket discards all their stuff into a locked trash compactor, and threatens to fire any employees who try to rescue anything. Perfectly good (though blemished) fruit, dented cans, slightly stale bread... That sort of waste should be a crime. Unfortunately, when the dumpster is locked, "breaking and entering" is a crime. :-(

Anonymous said...

In milder weather, a kid in my subdiv drags a cart around on the night before trash day. He scoops up any cans or bottles to redeem the deposits. Since I almost never buy soda or beer (yuck), there's nothing for him in my recycling tub. (Sorry, kiddo.)

Anonymous said...

I've never understood the "stigma" or ick factor of buying from thrift/consignment stores or garage sales. Then again, I grew up in garaged saled stuff. :) Sure, I've never met a consignment/thrift store that didn't have *that* smell, but a good wash is all the clothing needs. Most of my stuff is thrifted or handmade -- I have a few things that out of necessity were purchased new, and a few that I have splurged on, but mostly not.

Dumpster diving has given us some very nifty, supposed to be temporary bookshelves, and the big cork board that I have in my studio. I will occasionally snag things if I see then in the alley near the garbage cans, but haven't done a huge amount of dumpster diving on purpose. I don't think I'd have huge qualms about it, though, for non-food items. For food items, if I were desperate enough to consider dumpster diving, I'd first go ask the management at a food store if I could pick through the stuff they throw out at the end of the day. Most of it isn't bad, just blemished or past "sell by", which can be VERY conservative in terms of food safety.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for quite some time, but want to chime in here: as long as dumpster diving is not for food, but for "stuff", I have done it quite often. In my hometown, Alameda, CA, each homeowner can get a big dumpster box for free once per year, and people really take advantage of it. I have found great items that needed only some (I have to admit not very environmentally friendly) spray paint) and looked like new. I got garage stools, patio chairs, flower pots and such. My home country, Germany, has a long history of "Sperrmuell", which is the yearly collection of junk by the garbage company. That's how I furnished my first appartment.
Aside from that, the greatest source of all things cheap that are not clothes are architectural salvage places: just yesterday, I bought two really cute kids lawnchairs (heavy metal, not plastic) for two bucks each ...

Thanks for your wonderful blog - many healthy vibes to the hubbie.


Tara said...

I just can't imagine why it should be illegal, or why retailers lock up their dumpsters. It makes me angry that people will waste perfectly good things by sending them to the landfill because of stigma (and I'm sure that's all it is - store owners thinking that it "just looks bad"). ARGH.

I've always been amazed, too, when I've asked retailers for their empty boxes (because I was packing to move) and they flat out tell me "no". WHY?? I don't get it.

We've set many, many things on our curb over the years and are always thrilled when someone picks them up.

Anonymous said...

My partner and I own a large house near a university and rent the additional rooms in a co-op sort of situation. Dumpster diving has been our main food supply for over a year now. Aside from cooking oils, spices, coffee and dairy, all of our food is reclaimed from high-end and bulk grocers. With a refrigerator and full-size freezer, we rotate a constant supply of breads, staples like dry beans and rice (recently found a 50-lb. bag of flour), fresh fruits and vegetables (often organic), eggs, and surprise items like a bottle of maple syrup or fancy cookies. We also eat meat from the dumpster, something I'm sure only a minority of dumpster divers do. We've found every cut of steak, whole chickens, big 25-lb pork roasts, lamb, sausage, bacon and more. Surpluses we pass on to others or preserve into dried storage or jams or turn into baked goods. Discarded food is composted.

Our standards for processing the food are high. We wash everything in scalding water and soap, and are very selective about what to keep or toss. We have never had a food-caused illness.

Since we started diving, I have never eaten better. The quantity and quality of the food we find is way beyond what we could afford to buy, and we slashed our grocery bills. Varied and changing ingredients are encouraging to cooking, and the large amounts make it easy to store food. Combined with a garden, it's a very effective way to eat healthy for free and to avoid economically supporting the industrial food system.

Jenn said...

@fullfreezer - what is "the Chinese firedrill"?

@Bucky - I think your score was best by far on this list!

Things I have picked up from the curb, trash piles or the side of the road include: a small cast iron skillet, house plants, full set of sharpies markers, like-new-sewing machine, furniture, chicken wire (for potato condo), 25' tape measure, untreated kiln dried wood for burning in campfires (those doug fir and cedar scraps burn up great!) lumber, umm... ahhh...

I'm not so much with searching dumpsters for food when there is so much food hanging from trees that I can forage equally free.

Thrift stores don't charm me as they smell bad and I don't always find stuff that fits me. It seems like mostly clothing for short/small people.

Ashley said...

I work for a school and food (snacks) are always a welcome sight for the staff. One of my fellow IAs has a husband who works for a chip company. When he pulls all the past code foods, he can't sell them so he gives them to his wife to bring to us. We just got a variety pack (the box of 24 or so that fit in your lunch box) and we average about a large bag or two a week. They don't taste bad and it doesn't matter which flavor is brought, it tends to dissappear by the end of the day.

I also love the end of the school term. Some teachers will give away unused books of worksheets or other materials (old crayons and such). I've collected workbooks, extra copies of booklets and worksheets that were unused and were going to be tossed, and give them to people I know who have children in or getting ready for kindergarden.

In the same vein, I met a guy (he's maybe 14 now) who will go around to schools and collect discarded books and materials and donate them to needy families and programs in the area.

Going Crunchy said...

I raise my hands in victory at Goodwill! I'm thrilled that thrift is makin' a comeback.

I've never actually dived "in" a dumpster, but I've pulled stuff off the top of them, or things that were outside the dumpster.

I've never actually thought of if it was legal or not.

I lived with a dresser that I got "diving" for three years. Good shape, looked nice, saved it from an untimely death in a landfill.

Anonymous said...

i usually get my treasures out of local used books stores. somethings are actually worth something, while other times, worth nothing at all. so, with the things that are worth something, they go straight up on my amazon account. $$$$$ !! everything else sits in my basement until it gets slightly ugly-- then it all goes to goodwill!! they make a profit off of it, and i get a tax return!! yayaayaayaay. and it is legal, as far as i'm concerned; some legal court case in 199? made it fine by me. :)

Anonymous said...

Not illegal in fact. The court cases you are referring would be:

Greenwood -V- California
United States -V- Hall

Both were heard by the US Supreme Court. Removal of disposed property from a dumpster is in fact Legal. Your trash or discards are no longer yours once you dispose of said items.

Anonymous said...

Well here goes nothing...
When I was ten I collected aluminum cans one or two summers from the gutter, street and some and dumsters. I also ust to get flowers for my mom that were still fresh, arrange them and carry them home proudly, on my bike. Then about two years ago age 40, I went to a local craft store, to buy some more clearance Christmas items, that were 90% off for a local christmas charity I am part of.The girl said "we threw it all out". So I thought hmmm? So I looked in the dumpster for the first time ever, since age ten/ eleven. Sure enough, omg right off the shelf there was about 200 bolts of high end wired ribbon, christmas wreaths, christmas cards nip, and many other items. Not dirty trash, as they bag there trash. Just all new items tossed in, for a land fill. If I were to hurt myself I would not say anything to anyone, so no liability in my opion. I often would pick up and throw away reminents left outside the trash and always close the can. Many people would dump their trash and even appliances, even in the alley. I felt and feel I did nothing wrong. I donated to the Good Will, several charities, and some of the items I did sell, I took the money and did charitable things for strangers, inlcluding any A site where U.S. soldiers are in need of things and or morale. Yesterday, some nosey citizen took it upon them selfs to call the police. My family and I think it is someone who also frequents the dumpster. (I was not the only one.) Those who dump their trash and go shopping at the same time are a few. So the police show up (I have a squeaky clean back ground) Never even had a speeding ticket, done any drugs, smoked or had any chemical dependancy issues,and have been in the health care field 22 years. Home owner, no dependants, and a credit score of a 780/840. Also there is no signage posted at all and I am sure. The little police man that I stood a foot taller than, he was short. Acted a fool and lets just say over kill. Three squad cars pulled up, 3-4 of them. Told me I was stealing, had me put it back or he would have charged me? So if your caught stealing from Walmart you have the option to just go put it back? I have never stold anything and that was saving it from a landfill!Then he even got handcuffs out (give me a break) as I felt/feel strongly I did nothing wrong, I was not beligerant in any way. I did say, when the third cop showed up, "doesn't he have a donut to go eat"? LOL!!! I will not respond to any negative comments, so you know!!! I feel they should put a sign on the dumpster and or pay to have it enclosed or lock it, or get a shoot. Myself and my family feel it was a major waste of tax payers dollars. I only wish to hear from supporters and or anyone with a similar experience. Also I am not getting personal information, identity type stuff, nor is there any or would I be interested, and not food. Thanks for reading if your positive and agree with me. Then he told me that I could not go to the shopping center at all or any of the stores. Add. one of the cops asked about my ring,and where my husband was? And again where I live? I do not see that being any of his concern, relavent or professional. Again if you post a negative commemnt I won't reply. Everyone have a great day. Ps. they also toss out brand new scrap books, costly candles, yarn,school supplies in bulk, (which I donated to Sleep Country) for the Foster kids. Another charity, I also biu stuff with my own money, aside from any items sold.

metal said...

I make three to eight hundred dollars (once) dumpster diving and scrapping the wires,copper,brass stainless,computer/cell phone boards etc. a week. The national law passed by the supreme court reads "Once any item is put out as trash or thrown in a dumpster , it is no longer owned and is public domain.I won a court case when i was charged with theft and won the civil suit for false arrest. I have beaten 3 scrounging tickets at jury trial with the simple "Police and detectives have gone through someones trash for evidence in this city _# of times. Are the police and detectives in this city bound by the same laws as everyone else ? How many of these police and detectives got scrounging tickets ? gl