Picture this it’s 10:30 at night and I’m outside getting ready to toss the trash into the dumpster. I hear a slight rustling… could it be a rat? (I hate rats!) And then, an older gentleman popped up out of the dumpster holding some glass bottles. Yes, this actually happened to me recently! While this can be the negative side of dumpster diving there are a lot of every day people who cruise dumpsters looking for treasure. A few days after my run-in with the guy popping out of the trash, I met a college student who had just arrived in San Diego– she was near the dumpster pulling a nice bookcase away.
Here are a few rules to keep it classy when you’re cruising dumpsters:
Look before you “leap”
Scope out your options before heading out on your first official dive — take a walk, bike ride or drive around your neighborhood. Note which stores and apartment complexes seem like good places to stop. If you are feeling extra enthusiastic, plot out a map of the stores or neighborhoods you plan to visit.
Keep an open mind
Dumpster diving is different from a trip to the department store. View your dives as treasure hunts for free stuff and everything you find will seem like a small victory.
The right equipment is essential
Bare minimum, pack a flashlight, rubber gloves and bags to hold your loot. A change of clothes is also a good idea (especially if you are heading somewhere after your dive).
Don’t bring an entourage
Find one or two trusted friends to dive with, and make an agreement beforehand to be discreet, quick and respectful to the places you visit. No need to trash out the trash can!
Trust your instincts
I’m not a fan of diving for food, but if you choose to go that route, bring a cooler for perishables.
Foods that tend to be particularly safe include bread/bagels/baked goods, packaged products (chips, cookies), boxed juices, canned goods (avoid bulging or dented cans) and fresh fruits and vegetables.
When diving for furniture, avoid mattresses at all costs (the potential bed bugs–not worth it) and take care to inspect upholstered items like chairs and couches for stains or dampness. Consider getting upholstered items professionally cleaned before bringing them into your house.
Don’t dig too deep
Dumpster diving requires a certain mind shift. Dumpsters can be gross. Decide in advance how far you are willing to go.
Also, if accessing a particular dumpster requires jumping a fence or somehow “breaking and entering,” just don’t do it.
Personally, I’ve found a few cute things near the dumpster in my apartment complex– everything from a nice patio table to a nightstand. Last week someone left 2 dressers in “like new” condition down there with a sign that said “free to a good home.” I so would have taken these if I wasn’t downsizing in preparation for a move. I’ve also discovered the Freecycle community website. I’m on their email list for the San Diego chapter and have noticed there are some great items out there people are recycling amongst themselves. Again, I can’t fully participate in this until after I re-settle.
Remember the rules- dive with dignity and keep it classy!