Dumpster diving in the economic downturn

dumpster diving

Dumpster divers go nuts at an Arizona event. Image: Lunauna/Flickr/CC BY

I recall a neighborhood family from my childhood who went on dumpster diving excursions every weekend. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” the matriarch of the family used to say. If I am honest, we sneered behind their backs about how “gross” the habit was. Yet the neighborhood kids all enjoyed hanging out at their property, which grew into a veritable theme park of play equipment fashioned from found “treasures.” In these hard economic times, it is hard to begrudge any honest method that eases the pocketbook.

Almost-trendy “freegans”

In “The Scavengers’ Manifesto,” Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson said that Americans throw out about 200 million tons of stuff every year. Many of those items are still in good condition. As jobs remain scarce and wages low, the socially-frowned-upon habit is looking more appealing to more people.

Dumpster diving — also known as “skip diving” — has become so common in the economic downturn that it has become nearly trendy. Many new-school dumpster divers now call themselves “freegans.” The activist group Food Not Bombs openly encourages its members to dumpster dive.

Environmentally friendly

Beyond the economic advantages, some pursue the habit in an attempt to live simpler lives and to reject consumerism.  Others still view the habit as environmentally responsible.

Author Lawson said:

“The less you consume, the smaller your carbon footprint is. When you scavenge, you’re opting out of that entire cycle. You end up saving the world just by not consuming.”

‘Amazing’ what people throw out

Between them, the two authors have spent an estimated $10 for clothing in 2011. And yet, their closets are filled with fashionable garb.

Rufus said:

“It’s amazing to us how much, and what, people throw away.”

Is it legal?

But there are a few things a would-be “freegan” needs to consider before going forth. First, is it legal? In some areas it is, and others it is not, so it would be wise to consult your local regulations on the matter. Often, it is in violation of trespassing laws. Although thwarting dumpster divers is probably very low on the priority of law enforcement anywhere, avoiding areas where it is prohibited is probably wise.

Appropriate attire

There is a danger to rooting around in trash bins. Serious infections are a real possibility when digging through trash that may contain sharp objects or who knows what else. Wearing thick gloves, long-sleeved shirts and pants is essential. A disposable respiration mask is also not a bad idea.

[Punch up your spring wardrobe with a personal loan.]

Plan excursions

If you know what you are after and target appropriate dumpsters, an excursion will likely be more fruitful. For instance, if you are looking for edibles, target grocery stores and bakeries. These retailers are required to dump food that has passed its expiration date. However, food does not instantly turn bad the day its “shelf life” ends. But if the packaging is in any way compromised, do yourself a favor and pass the item up.

Keep a record

Keeping a record of where you have been and what you found there will help for future excursions, especially when looking for something specific. There are also online forums when you can see where other dumpster divers have been successful. It’s only fair to share your triumphs as well, though, if you go there.

Clean, clean, clean

After diving into a dumpster, be responsible and clean up after yourself. Being a nuisance for the property owner could lead to stricter bans, and that hurts other dumpster divers, too.

It may seem obvious, but thoroughly cleaning the items you bring home after an excursion, as well as yourself, is essential.


The Economic Collapse 
Chicago Tribune 

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