This article is designed to help anyone get started with the practice of dumpster diving. It will teach you the best places to get free stuff, what you are likely to find and how to stay safe and on the right side of the law.
Disclaimer: Dumpster Diving may be illegal in your country so please check the legal section. We accept no responsibility for any illegal actions caused as a result of this guide.
What can be found?A common misconception is that dumpster diving is mainly used as a way of getting free food, which naturally puts people off who don’t want to eat food that has been in a bin. However there are many more prospective treasures you could find – just think about all the things you throw away (especially when having a clear out of your house) and you get the idea.
In theory you could find anything but here are nine of the most common items you’re likely to find:
- Building materials
- Recyclable materials
Can I eat foot from a dumpster?On the occasions you do find food it’s a scary prospect for the uninhibited but it is possible to eat everything from canned food to meat, you just need to be careful. Check best before dates and for signs of decay. Ran Prieur is an expert at this and his guide explains this well.
"You would be amazed at the quality of food that gets thrown away, and the reasons. As I draft this I'm making soup with a can of coconut milk that was thrown away for having a dent. This morning I had cereal that was thrown away for a tear in the box, even though the inner plastic bag was intact. Often produce gets thrown out for purely cosmetic reasons, like a funny-shaped bell pepper or an apple with a rough patch of skin."
Where can goodies be found?You don’t have to look far to find a trashcan or dumpster, however the best places to look are in less public places, otherwise you can attract a lot of unwanted attention.
So if you’re drawing up a treasure map here’s seven places to mark with an X:
- Department stores
Is it legal?As you can probably tell by the disclaimer at the top of this article there is a very thin line between dumpster diving that is legal and that which is illegal and often it depends on which country you live. Emoware has a great summary which found it ok in the US so long as only a reasonable amount is taken and it doesn't contain sensitive information (e.g. personal data / documents). In the UK is can be classed as theft and there are far stricter laws (although scroll down for one solution).
One sure fire way to break the law is to break the lock on a dumpster. That's an absolute no / no if you want to stay on the right side on the police. Also scouting round in bins outside people’s houses is a sure fire way to get yourself reported (and not very nice for them).
How to ensure you're 100% legal every time:The main reason dumpster diving can be seen as illegal is when it's taking things without asking, however there is nothing to stop you asking. For example if something has been left on the street to be collected. You can ask the owner for permission to take it.
Likewise you can ask businesses for permission to remove their rubbish. If you get permission from someone in charge it's 100% legal every time. I can’t believe more people don’t take advantage of this loophole. Sure it won’t get you as many free things, but you’ll be sure you’re not breaking the law and you could end up building a relationship with someone who actually wants you to take their goods away time and time again!
Types of Dumpster diversMost people who take up dumpster diving tend to fall in to one of five categories, and this depends on what type of items you want to find:
"Binners" - collect items and then sell them to recycling banks in order to build up a small but steady profit (they’re also helping the environment so it’s win-win.
Rag and bone men - You've probably seen already travelling round collecting scrap to sell. As with “binners” they profit from stuff you don’t want, and you get the benefit of them taking your stuff away.
Profiteers – Profiteers will take anything of value and then sell it on. This is generally seen as unfair by most dumpster divers, as it means less choice for those who genuinely need it.
Freegans – Practically live on dumpster diving as a primary source of food and other items required in day to day life. A hard option to sustain.
Collectors – Always on the look out for a particular type of item that they keep as part of a collection. It could be something as big as furniture or as small as jewellery.
Make FriendsThe best dumpster divers realise the importance of building a network of friends who can help them spot the best items. It also means if you need something in particular you can ask someone else to find it, and vice versa. Trashwiki is a great place to start making connections.
Likewise if you find something good and don't want it, drape something over the dumpster so others can find it. E.g:
How do I get to the goodies?The first rule of dumpster diving is to not dive in! You normally don’t have to climb in at all and can just reach items off the top, or just climb up the side. As dumpsters can be very deep it’s never advised that you dive in, or place your entire body in there if you can’t see the bottom.
Another top tip is to wear shoes with a good grip, so if you do have to climb up the side you can stay on.
For personal hygiene reasons it is recommended you wear gloves, as well as clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or potentially ruined.
What should I do when I finish?So you’ve followed this guide, stayed safe and found a dumpster with some amazing trinkets. However you aren’t finished yet. Don’t ever leave a mess, and always clean up if you make one. If you find a dumpster someone else has made messy then clean that up as well. It’s important that the image of dumpster diving isn’t continually tarnished by messy people so be sure to do your bit.
SummaryI hope that’s helped you discover the basics of dumpster diving. Be sure to let us know how you get on via the comments below, or if you have any of your own tips we’d love to hear them.
Image source: 1 and 2, 3, 4