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Dare to Go Dumpster Diving!
You can learn to dumpster dive like a pro. Bear with me here.
Being the tightwad, cheapskate that I am and living in a busy household, any opportunity I encounter to save money, up-sell, reuse, and re-purpose is going to get my full attention.
It could be age-related, but I find the older I get, the less I care what people think of this particular behavior. I work hard; I’ve never been on welfare, food stamps, disability, or public assistance! I don’t consider myself poor or underprivileged; this is just another activity to supplement the richness of my life!
I love finding usable items that are free! The thrill is not only in the cost but in the actual search and hunt. You just never know what you’ll find!
I understand many will argue this is crossing the line of frugality. But if you have no shame, then you have game to dumpster dive! And I’m going to tell you how to do it!
Waste Not, Want Not
Americans are grossly wasteful. Most are snobby and pretentious; they feel entitled to "new" things and are unreasonably afraid of germs. Think about it; you're more likely to get sick or catch the flu from riding the local bus or subway. Because of these generalizations, most people will be repulsed at the thought of dumpster diving.
However, anyone brave enough to overlook these fears can be greatly rewarded when exploring these forbidden urban crevices, caves, caverns, and, well, to put it bluntly, goldmines!
Pros of Dumpster Diving
- It can be highly profitable. Find clothing, furniture, toiletries, jewelry, electronics, pet supplies, toys, antiques, other treasures, food, and medications!
- It's fun.
- It's environmentally responsible.
- It's a great activity for city dwellers.
- It's fun to do with a friend!
Cons of Dumpster Diving
- It can be time-consuming.
- It's messy.
- You can get in trouble if the dumpster you dive in is located within a gated space or marked "no trespassing," so be mindful of that! If you have any doubts about diving in a certain dumpster or location, call the business owner or the local police department and see what they say.
The Law About Dumpster Diving
Freegan.info (interesting site) discusses the history of the law about dumpster diving.
Supplies for Dumpster Diving
Some basic supplies should be used when going on a diving expedition.
- A flashlight, screwdriver, and folding knife.
- Heavy yet flexible gloves.
- Non-descript, durable clothing.
- A bag, backpack, or satchel to carry treasure away.
- Always wear thick-soled shoes or boots.
- A diving stick or thick broom handle to push and pick through the dumpster with because when you find a dumpster full of treasure, you want to search it thoroughly. Or a stick with a nail attached for poking and prodding. Antennas and walking canes work great too.
- A comfy well-fitted hat or hair ties to tie hair back with.
- To keep in the car: boxes and bags for sorting items and a can of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes or other disinfectants. When a dive ends, thoroughly wash your hands and clean your treasures.
Tips for Dumpster Diving
- Dive in the early evening or at night. The reasoning behind this is that households normally put out their trash at night, and business owners put it out at the end of the business day.
- Become invisible. You are most likely going to encounter strangers on your dive. Pretend they do not exist. Your activities will more than likely make them uncomfortable, so don't engage and make them more anxious.
- When possible, go with a buddy for safety.
- Do not take items located outside of a dumpster or other items not clearly labeled as trash. It's okay to take things that are clearly abandoned or discarded, but items that have not been so classified are off-limits.
- Do not make a mess. Leave the dumping site cleaner than you found it. Throwing items out of your way when diving is still littering.
- Have fun!
- Stay open-minded! Don't go looking for particular items; you're unlikely to find them.
Scout Your Location Out
Stay ahead of the expedition by scouting dumpsters you plan to raid. All dumpsters that are emptied by the refuse department have to be accessible from the road, so use the road to scout them. Take advantage of Google Maps and virtual resources and even physically view your dump ahead of time!
Find out collection times.
Know your exits.
Safety Suggestions When Diving
- If confronted by a store owner or manager and asked to vacate, consider just relocating to a new diving location. There are plenty of uncharted waters to find treasure; after all, you're seeking treasure, not trouble. If confronted by strangers, a simple "I'm looking for boxes" should send them away.
- Keep an eye and ear out for animals and other scavengers: mice, rats, and raccoons could be lurking.
- Be considerate of other divers you may encounter.
- Never get into a dumpster; this is just unsafe and a big bad idea. If you can't reach an item solo or with the help of your buddy, leave it.
- Finally, do NOT dive barehanded. Because objects such as glass, chemicals, and even potential bio-hazards can be found, ALWAYS wear gloves.
Where to Go Diving!
- Residential dumpsters in apartment complexes and dorms. If you happen to live in one of these locations, you can also have a quick dive when depositing your own weekly trash. As for dorms, go 2-3 days before the "move-out" date; call the university to get those dates, or look online. Many students throw out brand-new items simply because they lack space to take them home! Schools with higher tuition often produce better finds!
- Residential homes. Drive-by diving. Find furniture, appliances, and even scrap metal. The treasure is endless.
- Motels and hotels. Endless free soap and toiletries.
- Discount stores. Unopened vitamins, medications, household goods, clothing, and cleaning supplies.
- Wholesale florist shops. Greeting cards, craft supplies, and quick bouquets for loved ones.
- Candy and toy stores. Great for gifts.
- Garden centers. Many plants, seeds, and supplies can be revived with a little TLC.
- Bookstores. You'll never be without a cheesy romance novel again!
- Grocery stores. Dented and bent canned goods, boxed goods, bakery items, bread, recently expired prepackaged food, and even fruit and produce! However, anything leaking, bulging, or obviously opened should be avoided.
All of these locations can be absolute goldmines during holidays when people are more wasteful than normal.
Why Do Households and Business Owners Throw This Stuff Away?
Most of the time, the cost to repackage, resell, reuse, or dispose of outweighs the profit. Individuals, especially younger people, are lazy and less likely to recycle or donate. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
© 2014 Rebecca
DumpsterDiver1 on June 24, 2020:
Love Dumpster Diving. I have been struggling to find the best supplies until I found Dumpster Hunt, which is loaded with dumpster diving accessories: https://www.dumpsterhunt.com/
mactavers on October 05, 2015:
I'm not into dumpster diving but your Hub is very interesting. Many cities have days where larger items can be placed by the curb for disposal and I've found several nice pieces of furniture.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 27, 2014:
Finding treasures at dumpsters works for many people but not for me. Great hub with interesting thoughts.
Rebecca (author) from USA on January 24, 2014:
Hi Healthyannie...yes google plus away. Thanks for asking and I'm glad you enjoyed this! :)
Annie Messeri from Spain on January 24, 2014:
This is a really great article, I love up cycling stuff and you have inspired my to put some of my ideas in an article. Thank you. May I Google plus this article please . . .
Christy Kirwan from San Francisco on January 22, 2014:
I'm not brave enough to dumpster dive, but I do occasionally curb shop. I'm pretty impressed by some of the neat you can find from your suggestions!
Margaret Fiona from New York City, USA on January 21, 2014:
That's a very interesting subject you choose and very nice hubs
Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on January 21, 2014:
What an interesting subject! I have often been guilty myself of putting things in dumpsters that others could use...and I'm a rabid op shopper, so I know the thrill of getting bargain, cheap or FREE goodies! Here in Australia they have a hard rubbish day, where people throw out furniture on the street and millions of people help themselves. Is there a similar scheme for this where you are? Voted useful and rated.
Rebecca (author) from USA on January 21, 2014:
Thanks Glassvisage & Klw1157...I love comments!
I figure if you can disinfect it or wash it, why can't we reuse it? My neighbor dives other neighbors, she's saved tons on kid toys-the huge Step2 type of stuff, tents, all kinds of things. The metal collectors in my town are quick. We put a bike out years ago before recycling metal and it was gone in 10 minutes. I've gotten clever about only going to thrift stores on days when I can get %20 off, plus use a discount card for another %35. I think I'm starting to squaek when I walk I'm so cheap
glassvisage from Northern California on January 21, 2014:
Very interesting! I am all about being frugal and I have somewhat dumpster-dove in college at the end of the year when the students are moving or graduating and throwing out perfectly fine belongings (by somewhat, I mean I would pick up what was left outside the dumpsters but never went for that extra step of going inside the dumpster ;) I'm glad you included a lot of information about staying safe while doing this.
Kevin Washburn from Macon, GA on January 21, 2014:
Interesting article, while I wouldn't say I consider myself to be a dumpster diver, certainly not certified, I do classify myself as a junk man and have made a living (at least partially) over the last 4.5 years by redoing and selling much of what others have discarded. It is a terrible shame how much we waste in this country as opposed to other lands. Perfectly good, usable, wearable, edible items are thrown away every day. I am with you in concept and since my focus is mostly furniture and home accessories, I can say with certainty that my heart does beat a little faster when I see that someone has left an old chest or chair out by the street for the trash man. I have no shame in taking it cleaning it up, repairing it if need be and selling it. The money I make doing that spends (or saves) just as well as any I make doing anything else. Again this was good work I will enjoy following and reading future hubs!
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 21, 2014:
Terrific hub on an entertaining and unusual topic. I'd love to link this on my Frugal Engineering hub if you wouldn't mind. My dad has come home with some real finds as a result of scoping out a high income neighborhood on trash day. If it's at the curb, it's free game. I don't dumpster dive but was almost tempted when during the Xmas season I returned excess, unopened tree lights to Target. I was told all such items went in the trash, even if unopened. I hope someone went diving and used them. Great hub, again. Up+++ and sharing, pinning.
Rebecca (author) from USA on January 20, 2014:
Same here! I have not done food either, but...I'm not against it. I've got a task list to call a few of my favorite hotels here soon and make sure I can dive there! LOL. Idk why, but this entire topic just makes me laugh and smile. I'm so past the disgust of it. When others are starving to death and generally going without (everything) in 3rd world contries, any negativiy on this topic can just be ignored instantly!
As for the furniture comment you made...I've found a $5 can of epoxy paint can fixe anything lik e new the stuff is amazing! Thanks for your ccomment! Hope you have a great day.
Mackenzie Sage Wright on January 20, 2014:
I live in a complex where there are big dumpsters and I will occasionally pull furniture out to refinish and paint decoratively-- some I've sold over the years. I have yet to take any food out of a dumpster, though, but you make it almost seem tempting. I'm totally a waste not, want not kind of person. Great hub!