With the end of my lease in September, I did a lot of preparing to move, which included taking an inventory of all the items I currently own and what I would need in my new place. I used to live in an apartment with six people but now live in an apartment with just two! This means that I had to do some searching for furniture, particularly free furniture (because who wants to pay for it when you have to pay first and last month’s rent and a safety deposit). Tim previously wrote a post on Shopping Alternatives that mentioned various forms of freeganism, but I’m diving head first into the topic (pun intended).
My version of dumpster diving doesn’t actually involve getting in dumpsters thankfully, but I’m not opposed to it (I actually planned a dumpster diving excursion with a few friends to get the experience, although my supervisor has asked me to make it clear that this is a personal choice and not a work related activity). The way I “dove” was by taking the things left next to the dumpster in my old apartment building, grabbing things we no longer need at work, and finding things left on the side of the road (specifically in the ritzy neighborhoods around Seattle). So far, I’ve been pretty successful and have acquired some stuff for my new apartment:
So you might be saying “cool, but what’s the point?” and the point is that dumpster diving doesn’t only have to be getting free stuff for yourself, but it can be about so much more. My problem is that people are throwing away perfectly good stuff to begin with. That is the problem for most people who become dumpster divers too; their goal is to reduce waste in landfills and help out people who can’t afford the wasteful culture we live in.
There are many people using their dumpster diving skills for good! They are not only bringing awareness to the problem of wastefulness, but are also taking their finds and sharing them with others! A few have been successful for themselves, and others have wanted to share their finds openly, though doing so isn’t always easy.
Sharing food: A goal of a group of college students was to share their dumpster diving finds with others and provide a community meal for free. Although their community café didn’t get off the ground, they still shed a lot of light on dumpster diving and became the center of national attention. One man continues to do this though, in his bicycle tours around the states he has shared dumpster dive meals and shown people in various communities how much waste is there in their own neighborhood.
Providing shelter: A few particular people have gotten attention as the tiny house movement swept the nation, but one man used his dumpster dives to build tiny homes for homeless veterans and others in his community. While there has been some pushback from different city governments about this solution, it to me is a great way to do something awesome with what others consider garbage!
Here’s some basics on how you can make the most from what others reject. The best part is that you can use your finds however you want.
Legalities: Knowing your limits has been the key to success for many people who dumpster dive. The law is often a large concern for anyone who dumpster dives. In short, don’t go on private property or ever try to get into something that is locked, gated, or clearly blocked. Garbage in a public place is usually fair game. Most peoples’ experiences have been great following these rules, some say cops even laugh or just walk away when they tell them what they’re doing. As long as you let them know that you’re interested in preventing waste and not out to steal someone’s identity you should be just fine. There were numerous articles and forums I found on whether dumpster diving is legal or illegal and there can be some grey areas. Be sure to check if there are explicit laws against dumpster diving in your area.
Tips from the experts: It’s important to have the right tools, and the experts have a very particular list, including:
- A flashlight (either with a magnet attached, or a headlamp)
- Sturdy gloves
- A stepstool
- The proper clothing (grubby, long sleeved shirt or jacket and long pants)
- A pole to poke around the dumpster or move bags out of the way (optional)
- A large vehicle to tow away your finds (or be willing to walk and carry your treasure)
- A buddy! Never dive alone as a beginner, you never know who’ll you meet and you want to stay safe.
Well, I hope now you can at least see that dumpster diving can be for everyone, and there are great ways to help people by reducing, and reusing people “waste”. Comment below with some of your finds or thoughts!
P.S. It’s not just in the US, check out these Australians enjoying a great dive!