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The Delights Of Dumpster Diving

My girlfriend came home from the city the other night all excited “Come and see what I’ve got in the trunk…I went dumpster diving!” We carried in armloads of the most beautiful exotic flowers – orchids and roses – all with those little plastic tubes attached to the stems. What a treasure, and thrown away like trash without a second thought! Admittedly, the flowers were no longer in their absolute prime, but once we took off the few dead blooms and removed the outer petals of the roses, we were able to fill 5 vases with the most beautiful arrangements. Then my friend reminded me that she used to get all the flowers for her parties from dumpsters in the flower market.

This incident got me all excited to know more about the curious activity of dumpster diving. So I decided to do a little “surfing” before attempting any “diving”.

I was amazed to find a whole lot of information on the web, and one site in particular, www.wikihow.com , has six pages of information on “How to Dumpster Dive” complete with helpful tips, safety measures, sources for more information and lots of other useful suggestions.

There are rules of etiquette among serious dumpster divers (DD’s), and after reading several blogs on sites such as www.groups.google.com/group/alt.dumpster and www.allthingsfrugal.com, I concluded that many of these people are actually decent eco-minded individuals doing a public service by recycling useful products that would otherwise end up in landfills. Mary “The Dumpster Lady” also believes that, according to the Law of the Universe, as a responsible DD you should “tithe what you dive” by donating some of what you find to worthy causes such as churches, food banks, crisis assistance centers, thrift stores and friends.

Counteracting a Wasteful Consumer Society

America is a wonderful country, and I am proud to be a citizen, but we are also one of the most wasteful consumer societies in the world. In 2006 America dumped 26 million tons of food into landfills according to statistics posted by The Food Policy Institute. (www.foodpolicyinstitute.org) Less than 3% of this food is diverted into recycling or animal feed, and the Nation spends 4.8 billion dollars a year disposing of it! This is astounding, especially when you consider that as many as 27 million Americans are hungry, homeless or at poverty level, and that some of the food found by dumpster divers is still packaged and edible, and very often has not even reached its expiry date. Wouldn’t it be nice if more supermarkets, groceries and bakeries, for example, made arrangements to donate this food to homeless shelters and other people in need before tossing it in the dumpster? According to dumpster rental Pomona, ca, there are tons and tons of excess food being collected everyday from several restaurants and supermarkets. It is so regretful to see such great amount of food going to waste where there are a lot of people who don’t have much food to eat.

Treasure Hunting To Turn Trash Into Art

I began to ask other friends if they had ever been dumpster diving, and what kind of treasures had they found? Many of my friends are artists, and they consistently find all sorts of discarded objects that can be turned into paintings, sculptures or costumes.

My friend Tia in Florida scavenged old fence posts after the last hurricane and made fabulous collage paintings on them which are worthy of a high-end art gallery show. Scott Munsen, also known as the “TheTree Man”, a former dedicated DD, brought rolls and rolls of beautiful fabrics he found during a dive to my friend Kitty, who was able to make curtains and costumes and still have enough to pass on to other friends. Another artist friend in New York found a quantity of discarded Styrofoam and used it to make elegant sculptures which he exhibited in a gallery in Soho.

Geek friends in SiliconValley have found all sorts of equipment like computers, VCR’s, televisions, telephones, radios and other techie items that can be easily fixed or updated and re-used. Most electronic equipment is considered toxic waste, so re-using these resources is an admirable “green” activity

Dumpster Diving for Profit

While many DD’s are performing a public service by recycling the usable items in dumpsters, some of them also turn a profit by selling them at garage sales and flea markets. Experienced DD’s do their research and find out when and where the best items can be found. Favorite spots are apartment buildings (people moving), shopping centers (ends of lines, imperfect or damaged items), bakeries (day old bread and pastries), grocery stores (especially Health Food Stores), bookstores and florists. All these discarded items have a value to someone, and, chances are, the people who need them most could not have afforded to get them any other way.

Local Laws and Hazards

Before you consider becoming a Dumpster Diver, you should check to find out what the local laws are in the area in which you are going to hunt, because in some communities dumpster diving is illegal. Use common sense and common courtesy – be quiet and respectful, don’t dump your own trash in someone else’s dumpster, and stay away from locked enclosures. Obey signs, do not trespass, and always clean up after you. If you are diving at night it is a good idea to take a buddy along, or go in a group. There are newsgroup websites such as alt.dumpster where you can network with other divers and find new friends to go diving with.

Try to pick the times of day when you are less likely to be confronted. Stay away from the hazards of compactors and hospitals (dangerous and contaminated items), and if confronted while diving, you can always say you are moving and looking for boxes. If you are asked to leave and never come back, be polite and respect that – there are plenty of other places to go.

Useful Tips, Safety Measures and Equipment

Some of the best times to dive, according to “The Dumpster Lady”, are late at night when the last of the store trash is dumped, or on Sunday mornings when the stores are short-staffed. Try to take no longer than 5 – 7 minutes for each “dive” she advises. Have your diving buddy stand watch, and make sure the dumpster lid does not slam down on you in a sudden gust of wind. Actually, most DD’s don’t often literally “dive” into the dumpster, they use a pole, a hoe, a broom handle with a hook on the end, or a grabber to retrieve the treasures they want. Using a grabber is safe practice as there could always be sharp objects or broken glass in the dumpster, and it is very important to take off your jewellery, empty your pockets and wear the right clothes. Wear long sleeved shirts, old jeans, work gloves and thick fully enclosed shoes or boots, whether or not you are going to actually climb into the dumpster.

Essential equipment should include a stepping stool, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, duct tape for split bags, a flashlight or headlamp for night diving, and a first aid kit. When you get home wash everything carefully and take a good shower to remove any germs. If you are retrieving food items, use proper caution and learn how to recognize when canned goods have spoiled – botulism can be fatal. A tetanus shot would also be a sensible extra precaution in case of an encounter with a rusty nail.

In conclusion, Dumpster Diving can be many things: an economic necessity, a social activity, a “green” public service i.e. recycling usable items and keeping them out of landfills, a charitable gesture, a small business, or just plain fun. We are really enjoying the flowers!

I would love to hear your stories and comments – so please feel free to leave feedback. Happy Diving!






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