dumpster diving


Dumpster Diving

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations an estimated one third of all food is wasted each year in the United States. There is almost as much food in dumpsters as there are in homes and restaurants. Enough off which to live. If there is a disaster you may need to scavenge for anything you can get. This source can be a great first start for a scavenger and one you can tap in case of a disaster. You may be down on your luck and need help to get you through tough times. Life’s burdens lift and scarcity is averted when the mountains of trash produced by our insane society become your supplies and sustenance. Everything is inverted when you as a dumpster diver score a nice find. Poverty becomes abundance. Loss becomes gain. Utter despair becomes a grand renewed hope.


Dumpsters aren’t just for trash anymore. Why in the world would anyone throw a case of fresh fruit or veggies in a dumpster? There are pressing matters at hand – that case of fruit, and the hundreds of other free treasures are awaiting you to rescue them this very second in a dumpster near you! This is an emergency! We’re talking about how to get in there, get those prizes, and get back out where you and your goodies belong.

Therefore you need to know the best places to dumpster diving. Here are some you may like.

The first step is to find out “Who has a dumpster? “If you just want to explore the world of waste reclamation, get aimless: most any dumpster will do. But if you have specific needs, do what any savvy shopper does — look in the phone book yellow pages! Chances are, if they sell it in front, they throw it away out back. So … what do you need? There’s bound to be a dumpster out there to serve you: food, bike equipment, car parts, construction materials, kitchenware, books, electronics, clothes, flowers, shoes, bread. There are even fancy nut dumpsters, you can get tired of eating almonds.

Keep your eyes peeled for invisible dumpsters without walls or lids. Don’t miss the leftover materials at construction sites, or piles of perfectly good items set out in front of houses on street curbs throughout the suburbs. You can also look on packages of specific products for manufacturing locations, and try dumpstering there. When you’re looking for specific goods, retail locations are great, but don’t overlook distribution centers. These are usually listed in the phone book.

Dumpstering at self-storage units is worth your time. Remember, everything in one of those dumpsters has been specifically chosen, moved, and stored by someone. Finally, they had to come to terms with the fact that in this world of over-abundance, they would never have space for these prized possessions, and toss them out. Here’s a glimpse: entire drum sets, VCRs, food, furniture, lumber, dishes, small appliances galore …

How about … thrift shops?  They cut the power cords off trashed appliances but these can be replaced. University theater departments are another “seasonal” harvest: wood, props, cloth, costumes. Musical instrument repair shops are fantastic. Construction dumpsters are wonderful, but look out for nails. Carpet installers have dumpsters full of cut-off pieces of carpet. Any apartment complex, especially at the end of the month, can be a one-stop shop for the taking. Yes, you can often find complete dumped computers. Don’t count out public trash receptacles for a handy snack, especially soon after lunchtime in a downtown area. You can see for yourself how discarded food can be quite beneficial.


Affluent Neighborhoods

These neighborhoods are great to search through as very interesting items can be found. Their higher standard of living means they make more purchases as well as are less discerning about keeping the old, so they discard more. This means sometimes they throw out still fresh produce and other tasty treats. Vegetables, pastries, bread and even candy will be thrown out. When you are looking for food then dumpster diving in an affluent neighborhood will reap a lot of rewards.
Make sure to do your search in these neighborhoods during daylight and do not lurk about at night. Mornings before it gets hot is often the best time to dumpster dive. You don’t want anyone calling the cops after all.

In some towns, different neighborhoods have different curbside pickup days, on which households can put out all their oversize trash. You could call the sanitation department, purporting to be from each neighborhood of the town in succession, to learn all the best days and locations for curbside trash-picking.


College Dorms

This is a great place as well to take a dive into a dumpster. If you live in a college town, you are all set. College kids throw out more useful garbage than perhaps any other class of people on earth. The biggest score is at the end of a school year when they move out of the dorms. Colleges aren’t dumpster heaven but you can probably find some thrown away material stuff or even snacks to eat if you’ld like. However the jewel of this dumpster diving locale is that you may find many novel items and small appliances. Do not be surprised if you find alcohol flasks, beer, sports drinks and even packs of water bottles. These items will rarely be found in the retail locale as they have good shelf life but will be more likely found on campus. Come spring, campuses swarm with newbies and moving students of all kinds.

Retail Stores/Supermarkets

Sometimes these establishments may have produce that might not meet a certain standard but are still edible. You can take advantage of this and get semi-fresh food whenever it’s thrown out.

If they have a dumpster outback you need to check to see what they have discarded. The may have discarded fruits, almost finished meals (only advisable if you’re desperate) and pastries that are a day or two old.

These items are usually fresher than items found in other dumpsters as they are frequently emptied. Whatever you find in there is usually no more than a day old.

Certain emergencies make dumpstering a special event. When a grocery store’s power goes out for any length of time, they are required to throw out all refrigerated perishables! My first dumpster diving experience coincided with just such an emergency. I was lying on my bed reading about dumpster diving, skeptical but ready to conduct my own investigation, when the power went out. Unable to continue reading, I puttered about in the dark, until finally I got in the car and drove down to the nearest Food Lion. Picture, if you will, rounding the comer to see a construction- size dumpster — bigger than my house at the time! — filled to overflowing with the entire Food Lion cold food section … all still frozen! After three hours of ferrying food back and forth until my house could hold no more, there was only a little dent in the mountain of frozen food. Carefully inspect all meat and dairy products. They spoil and rot quickly and can make you very sick if they are still frozen they are usually OK to eat.


Dumpsters behind or around bakeries are usually pastry heaven. If you want an occasional sweet treat then this is it. Flour, pastry batter and even imperfect pastries are some of the things you may find. These foods don’t spoil as easily as most other foods and are calorie rich. Bakeries are one of the best places to go dumpster diving. Just make sure you aren’t trespassing on their premises.



There are a few pointers that can increase your joy and prosperity; the subtleties you will learn as you go. Trust your gut, both in terms of where to go and what to take. In the case of food, believe it or not, you have built-in faculties for determining what is safe and what is not: smell, intuition, deduction. How do you think your hunter/gatherer ancestors survived? These — along with the immune system — get dull in a world that’s too sterile, but they sharpen up quickly. After a lengthy career, I still have never known a dumpster diver to get sick from dumpstered food.


Always! You have to be persistent with certain dumpsters, but it’s worth it to visit When more than a dozen times if you find one hundred pounds of granola. Keep tabs on dumpsters that seem sporadic; you may find that they follow an odd but regular schedule. In the case of foodstuffs, when a new shipment arrives it means out with the old. When does the new supply truck come?

Timing also concerns the hour of the day. Try to dive at off hours: nights and week- ends. Early mornings on weekends are particularly safe if you can hack it. Still, if I’m just looking for a quick snack, I never hesitate to pop back and see what’s cooking — many are the times I’ve gone around back while my companions went in the front, and I’ve returned with the more impressive score. Also, if you are walking across town, try to take the alleys rather than the streets, so you can play peek-a-boo as you go. If there’s a lot of something special, come back later- One more hint: during a hot summer, you won’t want to give food a long time in the heat to cook and ferment. There are timing issues related to season as well.

It serves the dumpster diver to go unseen and unnoticed. I make my rounds after store hours and try to leave the dumpster in better condition than I found it. This way my gathering causes no stress for employees who, quite reasonably, get upset if they have to clean up around a dumpster. If no mess results, your patronage is actually a service, since businesses pay for their waste by weight and frequency of pick up. Given all that, if the store becomes openly hostile you have the right to get pissed off and fight back. If they put a padlock on the dumpster, cut it off with bolt cutters and replace it with your own. If you have to, squeeze a tube of superglue into the keyhole.

Another pointer — never be afraid to get inside that dumpster. The dumpster gods do not smile on casual window shoppers. Get in there, dig holes, open bags, dump out boxes, be persistent, just because a business slips up and puts a few layers of bona fide trash in the dumpster doesn’t mean they are against putting useful stuff in there too.

What to wear? Dumpsters are mostly dark green, so go with that or any dark color will do you well. For starters, get a headlamp- it will free up your hands in the dark. Wear sturdy gloves – rubberized if you can find them — and carry a nice bag or backpack to fill with loot. All the same, watch out for “dumpster juice” — sometimes you just don’t need to go any deeper. Wearing sturdy waterproof, protective shoes won’t hurt, either. Try to get one of those “grabber poles” that are made to reach things on high shelves. They make great arm extensions for poking around inside a dumpster.


You have to learn the applicable laws which vary by location. In most areas it is permissable to go through the trash as long as you don’t trespass on private property and you don’t leave a mess pulling things out of the dumpster. Here is an example of an intelligent law.

The City of Houston Texas recently passed a new amendment that decriminalizes the act of going into public garbage cans in search for any items. This legislation, nicknamed the “dumpster diving ordinance,” allows people to search through any public trash bins without the fear of citations or even arrest.

This amendment to the Houston’s laws is mainly a result of a situation that gained national media exposure early on in 2013. A Houston police officer ticketed a homeless man for rummaging through a trashcan in the city center. Although the officer was well within his rights, the negative publicity, which sided with the homeless man, was enough to put the amendment to a vote.

There are quality points that have been displayed from both sides. The city of Houston still prohibits anyone to trespass on private property. So for those interested in concealing their waste should not put it in public containers because that is now fair game.

Many people and a main contributor to why this received national media attention was this was potentially an attack on homeless, simply on the search for their next meal.

“Dumpster diving” is a part of a worldwide movement known as “freeganism.” This practice of relying solely on food that is found or free of cost is a branch of the anti-consumerist ideology movement that started in San Francisco but has now spread all over the world. Dumpsters are not the only source of their food but since over half of all food is wasted, it does provide a good majority. Freegans also rely on sharing and producing their own food gardens.

In the end, this legislation will make the City of Houston a more sustainable place with less waste. As long as those who are entering the dumpsters have good intentions, this amendment will provide a great deal of benefits. Hopefully, Houston can become the example as freegan friendly city.

Making Peace with Your inner self

Dumpster diving can be rough for the recovering bourgeois. There is hardly anything so deeply ingrained as the middle-class fear of having to go in a trashcan to eat — the ultimate in social failure. Recognize what you may be up against in that regard, and remember, it’s a path of a thousand steps. One day you will be able to proudly walk right up to a public trash can, dig out some Chinese leftovers, and eat them right there in front of all your ex-classmates — with such ease and confidence that they’ll come over to ask for a bite. It may help to explain to the dubious and disgusted that you’re not actually taking trash, you’re intercepting perfectly good materials on their way to the trash. Don’t be shy about your means of acquiring supplies, however critical or snobbish your friends may be. The issue of dumpstering tends to provoke defensive responses — for if it isn’t unpardonably disgusting after all, then those who have been paying for things all along are straight-up suckers. Flaunt your loveliest dumpstered wares, make a delicious feast of pristine trash-picked cuisine and only tell where it came from afterwards; they’ll come around. Excessive squeamishness is counter-revolutionary if anything is.

Dumpster Diving as Surveillance

We learned this one from the FBI. We use it to keep tabs on hotels that might host events for offending corporations or, for that matter, the police, on corporate offices where nasty plots are laid, on the houses of fascist organizers or others whose plans are interesting to us. Look for schedules, notes, anything that gives away secrets. Big scores in this department have provided serious intelligence resources for effective actions, believe you me.

Is That All?

You can make gift packages for the needy, or walk through the streets giving things away. In most neighborhoods, useful things left on the curb will disappear swiftly. Waste is everyone’s problem if it makes its way into the landfills to pollute our earth and crowd out our future — hijack it on the way and make sure it gets back into circulation.

Warnings and Hints

You’ve got to watch out for scabies and bed bugs. Sometimes those seemingly nice matreses or cushions are infested with little bugs that get in your skin and try to eat you. This is a condition to avoid. Another thing to watch out for is rat poison. The odd shop owner will sometimes pour chemicals, bleach or other lethal substances onto the edible goodies outback to deter the presence of our fellow dumpster divers, rats. Sometimes you can smell it, and sometimes there will be discoloration on the packaging. Be sure to carefully inspect your food before eating it.

Don’t feel pressured to use or eat everything you retrieve from the trash — it’s not your job to metabolize away the sins of our civilization. In the case of those nutrient- free sugar cookies, remember — some things are in fact trash, from the very moment they’re produced. Don’t put them in your body. A juice distributor will throw out all its juices long before the expiration date, when there isn’t time for them to be sent to retailers, sit on shelves until they’re purchased, then sit on shelves until they’re consumed before that deadline finally arrives — not that expiration dates usually indicate much about food safety, in my experience!