Dumpster Diving

Dumpster Diving

Are you familiar with the DIY ethic? It’s a state of mind that says you don’t have to buy what you need. You can make it, take it or swap with friends. The DIY ethic is anti-consumerist and pro thinking for yourself. And it’s way more fun than television.

Dumpster Diving

Have you heard of skipping (europe) or dumpster diving (US)?

So many companies throw out perfectly servicable goods because they are getting an upgrade when that computer still works, or because the food is on its last sell-by date but it is still boxed and delicious.

There are many dumpster diving communities, and just as many people who keep an eye on where the best skips or dumpsters are in their areas and visit them on a semi-regular basis to see what they can find.

Ask yourself these 3 questions to see if you have what it takes to be a dumpster diver:

1) On your street you see someone has thrown out a perfectly good chair/table/lamp/sofa/cute voodoo doll that would look perfect in your room. You can’t believe the person threw this thing of beauty away. Do you like the idea of taking it home, and maybe phoning a friend to help you carry it?

2) You are bored one night and looking for something fun to do. You want to do something adventurous and different. Are you willing to venture into dumpster diving for cheap entertainment?

3) It’s your friend’s birthday and you see a florist has thrown away the most beautiful wrapped flowers you’ve ever seen. They would cost a couple of days’ wages to buy, but they’re sitting there, ready for the taking. Do you give them to your friend, telling them the truth about how you found them? It’s not that you are selfish, after all – it’s just that the universe loves you enough to give you free flowers to make your friend smile.

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you have a firm grasp of DIY ethic. You’re ready to become a dumpster diver!

Now, let’s look at the practicalities of dumpster diving:

Where to dumpster dive

Skips or dumpsters can usually be found in the centre of town on a regular basis. Sometimes you will see them in residential streets when people are moving house, but you can’t rely on this. Good areas to look for when trying to find a skip are:

  • Florists
  • Supermarkets or grocery stores
  • Department stores
  • Residential areas
  • Expensive food stores (mmm… free lemon tarts and vegetarian caviar!)
  • Video stores
  • Bookstores
  • Toy shops
  • Electronic stores
  • Craft shops
  • Recycle bins
  • Hotels

When to dumpster dive

Most seasoned dumpster divers prefer to do their devil’s work in the early morning (think 5.30am) or late night (think 10.30pm onwards). Dumpster diving is legal on the whole, but life is so much easier when you don’t have to explain yourself to interested passers-by.

What to do if someone confronts you while you’re dumpster diving

It’s a good idea to say that you are looking for boxes. Usually, people who work in stores and ask what you are doing with their dumpster are far more worried that you are putting stuff in their skip (they paid for it, after all) than taking stuff out. Don’t be ballsy or defensive. Politeness and a sense of humour always win! You can always come back later. Usually you won’t be dumpster diving in your immediate local area so don’t worry about making a fool of yourself – after all, you’ll probably never see these people again, and anyway you’ll leave them wishing they could be as cool as you.

Is dumpster diving legal?

In most instances, yes. Most areas consider rubbish to be a public domain. Think of anorak-types looking for pennies on a beach with a metal detector – what they’re doing is perfectly legal, and they’re just on the hunt for very, very old trash! So long as you don’t rummage around in any fenced-off skips or dumpsters protected by a no trespass sign, you’ll be fine. Again, if someone doesn’t want you there, don’t argue the case with them – just go. You’re not doing anything illegal, but you’re diving to have fun and get things for free, not to create any misunderstandings.

How long should a dumpster diving session last?

Keep it to about 15 minutes. The longer you are there, the more you are drawing attention to yourself. Also, if you have brought a car (optimistically hoping to find a brand-new wardrobe perhaps?) it makes sense to keep it parked nearby.

What sort of thing can you expect to find?

Many interesting and unexpected items can be found when diving. Here are some of the more common:

Furniture, wrapped and perfectly safe food products that are on their sell-by date, dishes, greeting cards, computers, DVD players, power tools, telephones, bicycles… anything that is considered outdated for some reason and is not worth the shop’s time to return to its initial producer. It’s worth bearing in mind that food that has reached its sell-by date is usually tasty and edible for weeks afterwards in most cases, but has to be removed from the shop for legal reasons. It’s not your problem – you can still eat the food.

Dumpster diving equipment

If you see a dumpster by chance, no problem. Just make sure there is no chemical or hazardous waste in there and jump right in, but make sure you have a friend to pull you out!

If you want to dumpster dive properly, here are some things you might find useful:

A torch or flashlight (if you are going in the evening). You can hold it in your teeth to keep your hands free, get your friend to hold it for you, or buy a cheap and most very adventuresome and groovy headlamp from a bike shop!

A stool to help you get over the top of the dumpster

A long pole with a hook. This is good for pulling things up if you don’t have a stool. Some die-hard divers use a hoe.

Bags to store your booty in. Make sure the bags are strong enough to store a large heavy box with sharp edges – sure, you might find a printer or maybe a computer, but don’t expect it to be a light and tidy little MacBook!

Safety stuff – wet wipes, anti-bacterial lotion and a basic first-aid kit. You know it makes sense.

Dumpster diving is pretty popular nowadays so make sure you always follow dumpster dive ettiquette:

Don’t go behind a closed fence or past a no-trespass sign to reach a dumpster. ‘S bad.

Don’t leave a mess. Leave the dumpster better than you found it so those who enjoy this hobby can continue.

Don’t take paperwork with people’s confidential records. It’s unethical unless you are a serious political vigilante and might lead to legal trouble somewhere down the line.

Take only what you can use, and leave the rest for someone else. This is more about fun, DIY ethic and recycling useful items than out-and-out consumerism!

And enjoy. Dumpster dive and the world smiles with you…

What people say about dumpster diving

shannon23n from minnesota


Funniest and scariest time i had was behind a thrift store in MN around 5:30 a.m. I was in this dumpster finding all kinds of neat stuff, I was trying to grab as much as i could before i hopped back out to leave, it was real windy so i closed the lid execpt for a small opening, it was kinda chilly so i was also looking for some gloves, found this really shiny object and started to pry it out when i heard this noise ,so i stopped ad listened for moment then continued pulling and yanking then all the sudden the dumpster made this really loud clashing sound and then it started thrashing around, so i threw open the lid to find the garbage truck forks starting to lift the dumpster, the driver about had a heart attack myself included, I jumped out and walked over and said i had lost my cell earlier when i made a dropp off and asked if i could have few more moments to try ad find it, he just nodded yes with is jaw still dropped , so i went back over and dug around a bit trying to calm my heart rate, then finally walked over and said thanks then bolted right out of there

Bev Harris


Black Box Voting has launched a year-long initiative to protect election 2006. One component is citizen dumpster diving, which should start now (January) and continue throughout the year.

Right now, elections offices are taking delivery on new equipment, some of which is uncertified and from questionable vendors. Financial transactions are very surprising — huge inappropriate payments. Staff lists found in dumpsters reveal convicted felons handling ballots and programming voting machines.