Dumpster Diving To Prosperity

Dumpster diving is the epitome of equal opportunity consumerism, best showcased by colleges during the bountiful, if not lucrative, weekend after graduation. The Times examined the seedy underbelly of capitalism through the lens of the freegans, who provide an unappetizing but compelling example to price-conscious consumers.

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

Finding furniture on the street is one thing, but we draw the line at consumables. What are your experiences and thoughts on dumpster diving? Tell us in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Not Buying It [NYT]

Comments

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  1. harleymcc says:

    I’ve found some amazing stuff.

    The best was a mounted, gimbled compass.

    The funniest was getting 2 old style kids’ desks from the side of the road. I came back to get more, and it turned out that the guy just hadn’t put out his for sale sign yet….

    whoops

  2. OptoGeek says:

    I’m sorry, I just can’t see myself using someone else’s furniture left on the side of the road. Perhaps I’m just a little OCD, but you have no idea what’s been on that or where it’s been.

  3. banned says:

    I can live with the canned goods, but fresh food is a little too far for me.

  4. RomeoPapaDelta says:

    My dad was a huge scrounge. He used to bring crap home from the beach everyday. Once, he found a weed dealers fannypack and asked me and my friend: “what’s the going price of marijuana these days? I found six lids” I later found the stash in his porn drawer and smoked it for months pinch by pinch.

  5. Scik says:

    I had some neighbors move out from an apartment next to mine, and when they moved they tossed out an amazing amount of things. We noticed some really nice dining room chairs and decided to pull them and check them out. They turned out to be basically brand new! We found that they were just tossing things because they didn’t want to move them!

    The best part: finding 5 tins filled with pennies which amounted to just under $120.

    One man’s trash…

  6. markedward says:

    My dad is a computer junkie. He does programming and stuff for various types of computers and even some websites, but occasionally when he gets off work he’ll just head over to the office’s dumpster and find anything remotely related to computers. He’s found enough parts and casings to build three custom PCs, all of which run a version of Windows, 2000 or newer. Their hard-drives aren’t very big, but it’s beyond me why people would waste so much computer hardware that works perfectly fine.

  7. gigafide says:

    Being just out of college, the art of rummaging (sp?) is something I take pride in. Some people/businesses have no idea what they’re throwing out. I think my biggest prize was a working washer and dryer that someone was throwing out after graduation becuase it was going to cost more to ship it back than what the items actually cost themselves. — I’ve also been fortunate enough to get lots of computer equipment. Our school systems are known to upgrade computer systems at least once very two years. And what do they do with the rest? Well, if they don’t scavage them for parts, they just toss them out. Gold mine, baby!!

  8. markedward says:

    @gigafide:
    That’s something I should look into doing. I own a laptop, but I’ve been looking to get a cheap desktop… our school has probably thirty computer labs scattered around campus, each with a minimum of twenty computers. I should start keeping an eye open for when they dump out perfectly good stuff… although, the way my college runs, they’ll probably sell it for more than it’s worth.

  9. Fujikopez says:

    I’ve just started dumpster diving. I found perfectly good corelle bowls and a cheap but blemish-free and perfectly good wood shoe rack. It drives me insane the stuff that people would throw out. I always donate items I don’t want anymore, if I think someone else could have some use out of it. It’s just a waste of landfill space to throw perfectly good things away.

  10. ChrisC1234 says:

    My little brother went dumpster diving for Wendy’s cups about a year or so ago. Apparently, there was some sort of promotion where you could turn in X number of Wendy’s cups for a free AirTran round trip ticket. He and a friend of his went to every Wendy’s in Baton Rouge, collecting used cups from the dumpster. He did learn though to never open up a tied black bag (rotten food from the fridge). They both maxed out with about 9 vouchers from AirTran.

    The best part about the whole thing is the fact that for one of his free flights, he cashed in 2 of the vouchers and flew first class. I just love the irony in the fact that he went dumpster diving to pay for his first class ticket.

  11. Dustbunny says:

    @OptoGeek:

    ITA — I don’t even like antique stores because it’s all stuff other people have used before. Ick. Germs : P

  12. beyond says:

    The slightly wilted lettuce may be okay, but what has it been laying next to in that trash bin??

  13. bluwapadoo says:

    Don’t they still support Waste Management?

  14. DeadPenguin says:

    My brother in law has found a lot of great yard equipment that gets tossed out because it won’t start. It turns out most of the time after a quick tune up the items work like brand new.

    My cousin heads out to the wealthy beach community near his house during bulk pick up days and gets tons of nice stuff. He has also found some quality stuff in an area near him that is going through a lot of renovations.

    I use freecycle which is a yahoo group that lets its members post items they are looking to part ways with. Other members get to look through the posts and see if they spot something they need.

    I am all for it. The more stuff we can keep out of the landfills the better.

  15. macpiper says:

    “It drives me insane the stuff that people would throw out. I always donate items I don’t want anymore, if I think someone else could have some use out of it. It’s just a waste of landfill space to throw perfectly good things away.”

    me too! that’s why my girlfriend and i donate or freecycle all the stuff we don’t need/want.

  16. strathmeyer says:

    @OptoGeek: “I’m sorry, I just can’t see myself using someone else’s furniture left on the side of the road. Perhaps I’m just a little OCD, but you have no idea what’s been on that or where it’s been.”

    I hope you don’t own a used car. Cognitive dissonance is fun.

  17. Rahnee says:

    My freshman year in college my dad brought home a recliner he pulled out of a dumpster. He thought it would be cool in my new place. It was ripped up and nasty. I said no thanks to the gift and assumed he took it back to the dump. Little did I know he took it to an upholstery shop instead. Turns out it was a Strata lounger from the 1950′s. It was my Christmas gift that following year all decked out with fresh springs and new leather. My dad passed in 2001. Ive had that chair almost 17 years now. Dumpster diving has given me a memory and a piece of furniture I will cherish forever.

    Ok, was that too Hallmark? I just had to share!

  18. MaximuM_MayheM says:

    I don’t know about making a living dumpster-diving, but people throw away stuff that’s in pretty decent condition. It seems a waste to just let it sit in a landfill.

  19. Having worked in the food industry in high school and college, I think it would be pretty easy to be a freegan and never eat food that’s been placed in a dumpster. A lot of my best meals were from people who sent their food back to the kitchen because a special request was missing or whatever, and it was perfectly good food that otherwise would have been discarded. So I just stick it in a to-go container and eat it during my break. I could have easily collected enough meals to feed myself completely. It would have been a rich diet, but throw in some fresh produce from the back of a grocery store, and I can envision that being relatively healthy.

  20. Maulleigh says:

    I’m sitting on a hard-backed chair I got from the street; before that, it was another hard-backed chair that was falling apart (also from the street).

    I don’t think I’d get anything with a cushion. These I definitely “hose down” with some windex and paper towels before any serious sitting.

  21. superlayne says:

    My dad e-bays anything he finds on the side of the road.

  22. hnkelley says:

    OK, as I write this, the view counter is at 666! That kinda sums up my take on dumpster diving. I’ve ALWAYS been a clean freak (just ask my mother) and the idea of diving into such a filthy, germ-ridden place just doesn’t fit into my brain. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great thing to do. People throw away amazing stuff that’s in great or repairable condition. I just can’t do it. Used cars aren’t bad if they’ve been cleaned. Hard objects like metal, wood, etc can be cleaned well. Clothing and such… I donate because it’s good and helpful, but I don’t shop secondhand stores myself.

    RAHNEE: Ya, VERY Hallmark, but so very cool! Great note.

    Now, if we could get folks to STOP waisting so much, landfills wouldn’t be quite so overflowing. But then, the economy might collapse.

  23. AT203 says:

    A local donut-chain franchise was known to double bag their day-old wares, and set them by the side of the dumpster. The local street-punk kids made a nightly collection.

    As a (tangental) riff off of this, Panera Bread supposedly donates their day-old wares to local soup kitchens.

  24. RandomHookup says:

    @strathmeyer:

    I hope you don’t own a used car. Cognitive dissonance is fun.

    And forget about staying in a hotel room. Everything in there has been used in every way you can imagine.

  25. etinterrapax says:

    I think this is awesome. I come from a family of yard-sale junkies, and I can’t get over what people will throw away or sell for a buck. I also loved that within five minutes of putting stuff out in the alley by our place when we last moved, people had carted it off. I hate to throw things away. I’d much rather someone was getting some use out of it.

    If people are washing fresh food and only eating what’s still safe, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think that if a lot of people saw what happened to food they think is “better” that hasn’t been thrown out yet, they’d be appalled.

  26. zolielo says:

    My dumper monkey days are pretty much over.

    But now and then I will still notice something and get a great find. For example, a dumper full of copper pipe (which I melted down to make “fine art”), fairly new G4 tower macs (I only took two of the ten, one worked), and a neat samurai sword (not a wall hanger but the real deal, though it did end up on my wall).

    The best was when I was in grad school. There was a Giving Tree. Almost weekly books, text books, cookware, computer parts, and clothes showed up. I too gave or gave back what I had gotten often. It was neat.

  27. empty_other says:

    Just be careful to not end up with a place like this guy’s place: [multimedia.api.no]

    He is a friend of my family. A real nice guy. But he just cant stop scavenging stuff.

  28. Stacey C. says:

    I am totally enchanted by Freegans. I got a couple of loaves of Panera Bread from some of the locals this past weekend. It was obvious that Panera had taken care to make it sanitary when giving it to them. We also have local farmers and they had surplus greens. Farm surplus is often left to rot in the field because it takes more effort to find a buyer for it and pay people to pick it that it’s not cost effective. So if someone puts some of that food to good use…awesome! Really, we over-package things so much in this country that there’s hardly more chance of getting sick from something taken out a dumpster than something bought off the store shelf.

  29. hop says:

    we are dumpster divers from way back.also a trash transfer station was known a wal-mart annex…lots of people came to shop…..

  30. MommaJ says:

    Heck, I don’t care what people do with the trash they find, and re-cycling is great for the environment, but sheesh, for these people it has to be part of some sophomoric philosophy and they sprout dunderheaded crap like this quote from the Freegan interviewed in the article: “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism…” Does it never occur to these folks that without capitalism none of this bounty would be available for then to scavenge in the first place? You’re living in the USA, sweetie, you’re benefiting from capitalism, not “absenting” yourself from it.

  31. Chicago7 says:

    Some stuff you can find on college campuses is really good stuff.

    Here’s one theory I’ve heard. Students shoplift crap, especially designer clothes, and they don’t want to bring it home because Mom will start asking questions about how a college kid can afford designer clothes. So, they throw them out or sell them cheap at a garage sale. (Mostly, they throw them out, because college kids are too damn lazy/stoned to organize something as complex as a garage sale – I mean, really – it’s tough to go to the 7-11 to buy Cheetos!)

    :D

  32. spanky says:

    Yeah, I can’t see that cleanish dumpster food could be much worse than a lot of the things you’ll get from the grocery store or a restaurant.

    But I don’t think I could make myself eat it, even though my reasons are pretty much irrational.

    Furniture and other durable goods, I’ll dive in a second.

    My house is almost entirely furnished with hand me downs and things from dumpsters and thrift stores. The only furniture I’ve bought new are a couch and mattresses.

    And seriously, I like my furniture better than I like new store bought stuff. Most of it, I’ve refinished, reupholstered, or rebuilt in some way, so it’s just the way I like it. I even get the fabric and paint and things from thrift stores and mismixes and stuff.

    It’s scary how easy it can be to live off other peoples’ discards.

  33. Ikki says:

    I once found a perfectly good (but slow as hell; 800MHz, 128MB RAM) computer laying behind an office building. The only problem with it was that the case was banged up, but that was easy to fix.

    I sold it to a friend for $30.

  34. spyglass says:

    I once posted a Missed Connection with a Dumpster Diver and got a Best of Craigslist. I got email from all over from offended Dumpster Divers.

    [www.craigslist.org]

  35. Ola says:

    Dumpster-diving for food sounds icky, but I could see salvaging the canned food, especially if one is down and out.

    Seriously, anyone who has problems with used cars, furniture, clothing, etc. – get over it! Unless it’s seriously stained or smells, if it gets some Lysol/bleach/is boiled/sits out in the sun/etc., it’ll probably be fine.

  36. clarient says:

    Dumpsters can hide absolute gold.

    One of the girls I work with fished some textbooks out a dumpster and sold them back for $80. Some kid was just too lazy to take them to the store!

    I saw a fantastic armoire sitting out by the side of the road and went to get it not an hour later – already gone. People toss out the most ridiculously useful things. I have an end table I got for a dollar at a garage sale and some really nice outdoor furniture that someone was throwing away. Not to mention a coffee table and a bookshelf that some student simply didn’t want to haul around.

    Trash is a goldmine, I tell you!

  37. JayDeEm says:

    I can certainly see why people wind up throwing perfectly good furniture into the dumpster. Speaking from experience, it can be surprisingly difficult to get rid on short notice, even if it’s in good condition. On more than one occasion I have had Goodwill and other such organizations refuse to accept furniture donations, usually due to space constraints. I wound up holding on to the furniture and selling it later on, but I would imagine a lot of folks would just dump it somewhere.

  38. ron123 says:

    i work at a book store and if you ever want free books check there recycling bins. when a book wont sell we rip off the covers, send those back to the publisher and chuck the books

  39. Chicago7 says:

    My parents used to live behind a grocery store and one day, the manager came out and said “Listen, we have to throw out this bread after a day, but it’s perfectly fine. I’ll leave it on this rack and you can pick it up”

    They never bought bread again.

  40. GirlGoneRiled says:

    I pulled two dining room chairs out of someone’s trash just the other day – well, the wooden part, anyway. I know how to do basic upholstery so it won’t be hard to complete them. Since we’re in need of a few more chairs it was a totally great find.

    We trash pick or shop used for as much as we can. Yard sales rock and our local hospital thrift is the source of most of my kids’ clothes and household items. We had a great used book shop for a while but the guy retired and now I do half.com. Seriously, there’s so much in our waste stream that there’s very little reason to buy new for almost anything (plus, old stuff was built to last and a 40 year old whatsit will generally be more durable than its brand-new cousin, not to mention the packaging and other waste that comes along with buying anything).

    My own life isn’t freegan-friendly, but I certainly understand the impulse and appreciate their approach to the problem.

  41. JohnMc says:

    I’ve been known to dumpster dive even now. Couple of select sites I know that routinely throw away computers. Usually only pieces are dead. So I salvage the bits and cobble a worker out of it. Most of it is Pentium I/II kinda of stuff. I put a fresh copy of Linux on it and gift it to a worthy family with kids.

    My hometown also has a dents and cents store to this day. They buy less than wholesale the stuff that the retail grocers don’t want. A dented can of good corn for a dime. When I am around there I still stock up.

  42. JohnMc says:

    GirlGoneRiled,

    Here’s a good book tip. Go over to http://www.bookmooch.com and register. There are books there for the taking. Yes as in free.

    The idea is ‘give a book, get a book’. They manage it on a point scoring system to avoid excessive takings by a few.

    Fact I have a book to mail out to a member Monday. Its a pretty neat idea. But it does need more members. Sometimes you might have to wait several months for a book to surface that you want.

    Try it.

  43. GirlGoneRiled says:

    @JohnMc: Thanks for the tip. That’s a new one to me and I’ll definitely check it out.

  44. snowferret says:

    You know I’ve heard of freegans and vegans and all that and wondered Is it sustainable? Do thies people really live like that? Or do they get sick after a few months and say ‘Whoa? What was I thinking’ and adopt a less extreem aproach.

  45. shades_of_blue says:

    @ChrisC1234:

    That’s really gross, I hope he at least wore dishwashing gloves or workers gloves. Sure did beat the system though, good for him.

    Personally, you’d never catch me sifting around in one of those trash containers. I worked at Goodwill one summer and you would not believe what people would donate. Try soiled diapers for starters, and it all ends up in that dumpster. yuck

  46. Lee2706 says:

    I once found a brand new postal scale when I worked next to one of those mail centers. Brand new, in the box. You could load up to two hundred pounds on it – came in handy when I was shipping things to relocate to the East Coast.

  47. chrisbacke says:

    Let’s see… In my living room /office alone, I have a black desk I cobbled together (all it needed was to be assembled with some new screws), a heavy-duty office chair that was just thrown out, a long and heavy filing cabinet, an entable, and a coffee table I use to do some of my artwork on. I also work as a paper carrier, so when it’s trash day I keep an eye on what’s put out by the curb.

  48. TangDrinker says:

    For those of you who are squeemish about dumpster diving – try shopping at Goodwill on a sunday afternoon. I’ve noticed that once people are done with their yard sales they’ll bag up the stuff and drop it off at the goodwill -and then they process as much as they can and get it on the floor that Sunday.

    Yard sales in the south start at 6:30 am and most are finished by 10:30 am – that’s way too early for me to get up. By using the above tactic I was able to outfit my son’s nursery(except the new mattress) for around $200. That’s less than the cost of a crib, new. Maybe I should have been checking the dumpster out behind Babies R Us, though!

  49. Starfury says:

    I don’t dumpster dive but the guy across the street had a bunch of stuff out for a free pickup. There were 6 of the white plastic yard chairs there plus a table. I asked if I could take them and he said yet. Took the 5 non-broken chairs and left the broken table too; now I’ve got 13 (6,2,5) of these resin charis to use for when I have a BBQ.

    As for my “stuff I don’t want/need” I’ll put it on Craigslist and try to get a few $$ for it. If I can’t sell it then I’ll give it away, but only if it’s good to use.

  50. For some reason, I hate these people.

  51. MonkeySwitch says:

    When Mountain Dew was doing “dew” points or whatever, my friends went dumpster diving every trash night for a month and collected enough dew points to get an Xbox, three or four games, a year of Xbox live, and two or three t-shirts.

  52. Lee2706 says:

    Also, when we were moving out of our apartment three years ago, we placed a shoe rack, a fabric clothes hamper with wood frame (sans fabric bag), and a couple of assorted items on the curb. I went inside to get one more thing and someone already snatched up the shoe rack and wood frame thing! Glad someone could use it.

  53. Parttimesaint says:

    I love that the two people in the article who were against capitalism – one thinks it’s unethical and the other isn’t “down with it” – both live at home with their parents. I have nothing against freegans in general, but the ones who don’t have a job and don’t provide anything for society are just parasites.

  54. DieDieDie says:

    The idiot who lived next to me dragged up a couch she found on the street. Then she mysteriously moved out and the bedbugs migrated over to our place — how much has her little dumpster diver cost her neighbors so far? Over eight-thousand dollars — and when we took our own bedbug infested furniture down to the trash, within minutes all of it had been scavenged, despite the dayglo spraypaint warnings.

    People throw stuff out for a reason, and ‘Freeganism’ puts you, your loved ones and even your neighbors at tremendous risk. Please don’t do it.

  55. silenuswise says:

    A former housemate used to work as a manager for a yuppie bakery/restaurant and also volunteered at a local homeless shelter. He finagled a deal where he took all the leftover bakery goods in several garbage bags to the shelter, since they’d otherwise be thrown away(!) by the next morning. Of course, it was only natural to reserve an extra bag for the housemates, so we’d dine on delicious scones, eclairs, and danishes for breakfast, and then $7 loaves of olive pepper parmesan bread with our dinner meals. For poor recent college grads, this was absolute nirvana!

  56. North Antara says:

    DieDieDie: my wifes uncle once put out a non-working range/stove/oven/thing for some salvage folks (the people who would take it and melt most of it down) to pick up, and the next week, I noticed that a house in my neighborhood had burnt down…care to guess what was sitting outside of their house?..

  57. reznicek111 says:

    I haven’t had the opportunity to try trashbin food and I’d probably take a pass unless I was heaven forbid, homeless. If it’s biodegradable or consumable I’ll generally leave it (unless it’s a good book, for example)
    but the dumpsters in my ‘hood have yielded some surprising treats over the years, like a Peavey guitar amplifier (a 2 x 8 from the late 1980′s) in good working condition, A vintage 1960′s purple vinyl upholstered chair, and a working DVD player sans remote, which fortunately had front-panel controls.

    Our apartment laundry room also has an swap table – people can leave used books, clothing, electronics, etc. for their neighbors they would otherwise discard. I hardly think our ‘economy would collapse’ if dumpster divers recycle this stuff rather than always buying new.

    Not a pleasant thought, but consider this: even buying “brand new” clothing from retail doesn’t guarantee that somebody hasn’t already put it on their bare germy skin in the fitting room. What if the last person to try on those new jeans you’re buying was ‘going commando’?

  58. VA_White says:

    I think that if you can lick the private parts of another person and stick your tongue in someone else’s oral cavity, you can wash off a chair or a desk well enough to put in your house.

    Sorry to be so blunt but people are selectively grossed out by the most banal things.

  59. RebekahSue says:

    With the exception of a very few authors (Andrew Vachss being one whose new books I pre-order), I haven’t bought a new book in years. The local cancer center has some racks where I can help myself (I drive a patient there) and I’ve donated a few bags so that it’s “even”. A local church has monthly book sales where the books are a quarter. (I NEED to box some books for them to donate!!) When I’m done with books, I often donate them but I also include them in boxes I send to soldiers.

    When I was in school, we organized a quilt drive for a local shelter. I drove the stuff over; we had filled my back seat with perectly good quilts that no one wanted, which went to homeless people instead of into the trash.

    I love the Goodwill and thrift stores, but can almost never find clothes in my size (which keeps varying). I draw the line at shoes; I don’t like to even walk barefoot in a hotel room.

    I also support eBay and half.com – I’ll help individuals make some money before I will help a corporate chain. In today’s economy, we’ve got to help our neighbors – and getting my mom the new Maeve Binchy, large print, for $9 with shipping just made her day!

    I love shopping online, but I’ve found that the best clothing clearance is in-store. (I like oversized men’s shirts. I go to Big Men’s stores, where I’ve gotten $75 embroidered shirts, perfect for the office over slacks, for $4.99.)

    After reading this article, I wish I could bring myself to dumpster-dive; there is so much that I need and can’t afford! I WILL tag sale…. my massage therapist just got a new Gucci bag where a handle had lost a screw. She repaired it with wire. (Crafty people do great at collecting and refurbishing – it’s a skill I covet…)

    We’ve gotten into the habit (my idea) of not boxing or bagging some of our trash that we just don’t need, and leaving it out for anyone who wants to take it.

  60. lesbiansayswhat says:

    I’m sorry, but what is so amazing about this trend and why is it called being a ‘fregan’? I’m pretty sure the 60 year old homeless man in the nearby park has been doing all of this for decades for survival and better than any hippie who just hopes he’ll find an iPod.

  61. Ookseer says:

    I throw all of my old shit out. You all are free to take it or fuck in it or whatever, but don’t expect me to be impressed. After all it’s garbage to me.

  62. TechnoDestructo says:

    @markedward:

    If it’s anything like where I went to school, you’re not looking for the stuff that just came out of the labs. That goes to graduate student offices (or in some cases faculty, but they’re more likely to get new machines). You’re looking for the stuff the grad students inherited 2 or 3 years ago.

  63. Her Grace says:

    @MommaJ: Seriously. I’ve dumpster dived for office supplies (we didn’t buy notebook paper for, like, a year–I was in 7th grade at the time). I don’t think I could do it for food, but I really don’t see an issue with stuff like chairs or computer parts.

    The two people who expressly commented on how anti-capitalist they are also live at home with their parents, and if circumstances were mildly different, they’d be the jackasses in the mall wearing Che Guevara shirts. Those people drive me nuts, as a political theorist type. They know enough about the issue at hand to sound cool to their friends, but they’re also using the capitalist system, themselves, even if they’re not purchasing first-hand. Also? Che’s a jerk. He only gets shirt-cult following status because he’s anti-American and it’s cool among these kids to be anti-American/anti-Capitalist (same thing, in their minds).

  64. missdona says:

    I can’t see the sense in not buying used CDs or books. I once worked with a woman who would splurge on new CDs every paycheck, it just seemed so wasteful to me, when you could get a used one for half the price.

  65. Snakeophelia says:

    As a kid, my friends and I used to dumpster dive all the time. There was a company near us that made stickers to be used in industrial settings. Those were great to dig out of the trash – rolls and rolls of them. In graduate school, pretty much all my furniture came off someone’s curb. All my clothes were second-hand, though I tried to restrain myself and not steal from the thrift store’s drop-off bin. And I still want a bigger car someday so I can better carry bookshelves and the like when I see them being tossed.

    Fun fact: The Manson family girls often went dumpster-diving in Hollywood since they had no source of income but had to feed all those hippies up on the ranch. On at least one occasion, they took Dennis Wilson’s limousine to do so.

  66. gabi says:

    The best thing to dumpster dive for? Books and magazines. The chain stores around here mostly throw out books if the covers or pages get torn because they can’t sell them. And if you don’t mind reading month-old magazines, watch for the store employees to switch to the new mags and then hit the dumpster a few days later.

    I got a pretty sweet photo book one time because an employee cut too deeply when they were opening the box and sliced the cover in half. The rest of the book was fine, but they had to throw it out after a while because no one would buy it. I don’t think I’d dive for food, and I’d worry about bugs in furniture, but books are pretty safe.

  67. cryrevolution says:

    I don’t dumpster dive necessarily, but whenever I drive by and something catches my eye, I’ve been known to snatch it up. I’ve gotten a perfectly good bookshelf and two vacuums that way. And just recently, I bought all new furniture and was getting rid of the bookshelf. Put it out there at oh say 8PM at night, by 6AM the next morning it was gone. It’s interesting to think that it will probably be passed from family to family and where it will be in a few years. I stop at mattresses and furniture. Like DieDieDie said, you don’t know whats in that used sofa.

    The produce thing is just a bit gross.

  68. synergy says:

    @JohnMc & @GirlGoneRiled: There’s also [www.bookcrossing.com”>http://www.paperbackswap.com”>[www.bookcrossing.com which has some members who do trades… which also does something like what you mentioned, with a point system which the bookcrossing site doesn’t have.

  69. synergy says:
  70. synergy says:

    Sorry. I think I have it figured out. I didn’t know what Consumerist did with URLs….

    [www.bookcrossing.com]

    [www.paperbackswap.com]

  71. infmom says:

    I was just mulling this over and figured out that there are only four pieces of furniture in our entire house that were purchased new, and they’re all desks from Ikea. Oh, we built our waterbed frame ourselves and it’s still going strong, 30 years later.

    We have gotten furniture from thrift stores, from friends who were giving it away, from the surplus department at the university where my husband used to work (USC denizens, check it out) and from the trash. I clothed my children throughout their childhoods with name-brand stuff purchased for 50¢ an item out of bins at the thrift store. Most of them, you couldn’t tell from new.

    The thrift store is my first destination when I need clothing that’s likely to be pricier than the norm. We live in California and when I needed a winter coat for a late-fall trip to western New York, I got a lovely green wool 3/4 length coat that looked absolutely new for $4.95 at Goodwill.

    When we have some household item that we want to get rid of (like our burnt-out, nearly dead gas grill when we bought its replacement) we don’t even bother calling the city for “bulky waste” pickup any more. We just put the item out beside our trash bins on the regular trash day. There is a crew of scavengers that comes by one step ahead of the trash truck and it’s a rare item indeed that they don’t take.

    When we replaced our circa-1987 refrigerator a year ago, we put the old one behind the gate in the driveway with its door off, waiting for trash day. A few hours later some passer-by knocked on our door and asked if we were discarding the fridge and asked if we’d mind if he took it. We told him honestly how old it was and he said he didn’t care, so we told him sure, haul it away.

    Freegans. Never heard that term before, but I like it. It’s the only way to go.

  72. Chris says:

    * might be interested in [www.freecycle.org]

    Most of the dumpster diving goodness without the actual diving!

  73. andre060 says:

    Woah, did anyone else notice the article’s description of their way of life as “anticonsumerist” ?!

  74. moniker42 says:

    Like a magician, a good dumpster diver never reveals his secrets.

  75. AnthoMacP says:

    I’ve had similar experiences as some other users with finding computers/ computer parts. I found a computer outside my old residence on the day everyone was moving out. Most of the parts were junk and the machine wouldn’t boot but the 100 GB hard drive and motherboard were saved and re-used. Interesting stuff on the drive as well. People really should destroy or format drives before they toss em.

  76. roothorick says:

    I’ve never actually gone on a dumpster diving excursion, but I once found a $400 set-top DVD recorder on a curbside, sans remote. I bought the remote for about $20 off an electronics supply store online. That very DVD recorder is part of the TV setup in my room, resting beneath my dying PS2 waiting for my friend to come over with his newest anime collection.

  77. roothorick says:

    Also, if you’re going to be picking up furniture off a curbside, save yourself (and your neighbors!) a lot of money and effort and wasted furniture and learn about bedbugs, how to detect them, and how to deal with them. Wikipedia is a good start: [en.wikipedia.org]

  78. SaraAB87 says:

    Its fine to do this as long as you excercise some common sense, like not picking meat. When stores throw out stuff they usually throw it out just cause its missing a part or for a similar reason. They often throw out stuff like bottled water when its just missing one bottle of water or soda when the package is missing a can, the stuff is the same stuff thats sold in the store with the same dates and everything. My grandpa dumpster dives and I am currently drinking water that was found, all still sealed but the package was just missing a bottle. Usually this stuff is set outside of the dumpster so you don’t actually have to dive in to get it. My favorite is checking the coinstar machines for the leftovers that people forget to take, my collection of arcade tokens is growing steadily.

  79. janileigh says:

    I have a couple of favorite dumpsters I frequent. One is behind a used bookstore. They routinely throw out perfectly good books. Then there is a vintage/gift shop that is notorious for tossing merchandise with small (and I mean small) blemishes. Also, I drive down alleys prior to the city’s trash day to see what the week’s offerings are…

  80. jefuchs says:

    A friend of mine calls these finds “road kill”. He’ll stop for anything that looks promising.

    Yesterday my wife and I picked up an antique door someone was throwing out. There’s good stuff out there. When I toss good stuff, someone inevitably takes it.

    It’s the best form of recycling.

  81. bnissan97 says:

    People throw out some of the best stuff that should actually be given to a charity thrift store. I wish people would just call for the thrift store to come pick up the stuff or people would drop the stuff off at the thrift store. Think of all the good that can come from the thrift store selling the stuff versus the stuff going into landfill.

  82. wakela says:

    Consumerist: FDA fires a bunch of people.
    Commenters: Lame!

    Consumerist: People eat food they dig out of the trash.
    Commenters: Cool!

    WTF, people?

  83. econobiker says:

    I draw the line at food from a dumpster. Not knowing if rats have run over it could be a good reason.

    Now as for furniture you have to consider the area. Got two great chrome base doctor exam office style chairs from a doctor’s office complex dumpster.

    Best dumpster finds were from a motorcycle dealership’s dumpster when they cleaned out their damaged parts storage area, got a bunch of slightly dented tanks and turnsignals which I refurbed and sold to a local club (pre-ebay days).

    Craiglist rules for “curb alerts” for free stuff and those into goodwills should check for the local goodwill outlet in their area. Yes, this is the place where all the stuff goes which does NOT sell at the goodwill “retail” stores. But take precautions such as wearing gloves when going through their bins…

  84. olegna says:

    I have a “gleaner” (that’s what they’ve called “freegans” in Britain for decades) friend who often finds stuff that was just thrown away because it looks junky, didn’t match the new drapes, or was replaced, particularly analog electronic equipment — form perfectly good tube amps (from old HiFis) that can be used to power electric guitars to old eight-track equipment. He also gleans for food. My grandmother used to “dumpster dive” and “go garage sailing” with the grandkids for fun. Getting food is basically a matter of figuring out when the grocer gets the weekly shipment. If you go that night, the stuff been recently discarded and you’d surprised to find a lot of food that’s still good, but that was thrown away simply to make room for the new shipment. I don’t this myself, but I’m glad people do. To waste is waste.

  85. @Stacey C.: “Farm surplus is often left to rot in the field because it takes more effort to find a buyer for it and pay people to pick it that it’s not cost effective. So if someone puts some of that food to good use…awesome!”

    I guess this is sort of like (farm field) dumpster diving for Jesus:

    [www.endhunger.org]

    (going on a gleaning with them is really fun, everyone should try it!)

  86. hop says:

    another comment on food….i’m lucky, so far, i haven’t had to dive for foodstuffs…..i could be risky getting food…unless you know why it was dumped,should leave it alone…..one of the best sites to dumpster dive are military bases….the dumpsters around the warehouses are good…..you wont find any weapons or munitions, but usually computer and office stuff…also electronics….of course the gov. doesn’t want you to recover the property you paid for…..the waste is great….also the contractors on the bases chuck a lot of useful things, by the way we paid for that stuff also….

  87. sleepydumbdude says:

    About two years ago I went to a friend’s house which was right next to a college campus. We seen two older guys probably in their late 50s walking computer equipment to the dumpster. His neighbor saw it too and commented on taking it all once they left. So I waited til he went back inside and went over to the college and just asked the guys if we could have it. They said sure if we hauled it.
    I ended up getting like 12 full computers that were 1.2 gig and 20 gb harddrives and a bunch of random cables, three scanners, and a copier/scanner/printer.
    We also stayed and helped them clear out the rest of the room which took about 3 hours. The guys were even trying to pay us 30 each for helping but we declined since they already ordered pizza and gave us tons of free stuff.

  88. jeffj-nj says:

    It would take a very special kind of hunger – one I have never experienced, and hope I never do – to lead me to take food out of a dumpster. But, as for furniture on the curb, oh yeah, I’m right there with ya. To me, that’s no different than just getting to the garage sale late.

    My first apartment was furnished almost entirely (and quite completely) from pieces acquired this way. I would often find something, bring it home, and the throw something else out to make room for it. Owning a pick up truck, of course, helped greatly.

    Now, there’s only one piece of furniture left in my apartment which I found and took from a curb. It’s a recliner, and was always the best piece I had ever taken. In fact, it’s possible I stole it, but that’s only a theory, and if true, was entirely an accident.

    In any case, yes, furniture is okay. Food is not. I don’t know where the line is, but it’s definitely very much between those two.

  89. wezelboy says:

    In Santa Cruz they have dumpster diving down. The anarcho-punks have keys to all the dumpsters and a communal fridge where they keep all the perishables for everyone to share.

    The best thing I’ve scored out of a dumpster was a whole case of blemished (on the outside) ice cream.

  90. FuturShoc says:

    I’m a big-time freecycler. (www.freecycle.org) I give away more than I take from it. I’m also a huge fan of auctions. There is a weekly auction in my town where it seems everything goes just before the landfill. If you want some “stuff” cheap, thats the place to go. Truckloads for a couple of bucks.

    I’m a big handyguy, tinkerer and woodworker, too. I’ve outfitted my basement workshop on the used market – quite happily. The best place is my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Used building materials, salvaged cabinets, lights, etc. I probably paid $100 for a shop full of cabinets.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt a bit like I was living an episode of Sanford and Son, with my pickup loaded up with usable stuff I’d soon be putting into service for myself.

    I just think there is entirely too much waste in the world.

  91. mac-phisto says:

    a few contractor friends of mine collect “throw-outs” before they even hit the dumpster. some lady in westport is renovating her entire mcmansion…there’s 4 plasma tvs she is just throwing away (hopefully 1 will end up in my living room).

    contractors are the best source for virtually anything you need for renovations – sinks, toilets, windows…i’m building a stone wall this summer with gorgeous fieldstone that “wasn’t the right color”.

  92. bohemian says:

    Most of the local businesses have started using the sealed dumpsters. The local contractors are paranoid about theft so even dumpster diving their throw away building materials will likely land you talking to the police. It is really sad. I see tons of good large pieces of plywood and boards just tossed out.

  93. mac-phisto says:

    @bohemian: you can often work out a side deal with contractors…if you see them moving in for a renovation, let them know what you’re interested in. i’ve seen guys give entire lists (complete with model #’s sometimes). if they know they can make a few bucks on the side, many of them will definitely play hawk for you.

  94. toddkravos says:

    Last summer I got an antique desk from a neighbor as he was placing it on the lawn. Heavy has heck, and built well. 7 Drawers. The hardest part was getting it in the house. I still use it to this day.

    Nothing beats my dad though. Once he found a box on the tree lawn and in it were old player piano rolls. Some dating back to late 1800s. They still work in my grandparents player piano. They’re worth about 100.00 a pop.

  95. butrneggss says:

    When I was down on my luck, had carpal tunnel and couldn’t work, I dumpster crawled. I went to the dumpster behind a thrift shop with such volume of donations that they threw away decent used stuff simply because they didn’t have room for it. I got household knick knacks, some clothing, and books that I then sold at the used bookstore, sometimes getting as much as ten bucks for one book. This was in a college town. There, you could also pick up any item that was left on the sidewalk – people expected it. I’d dumpster crawl again if I had to – but I do draw the line at fishing out food items. I’m pretty sure my mother taught me not to do that.

  96. pestie says:

    I haven’t done it regularly in years, but dumpster diving kicks ass. My best-ever find was when I was about 14 or 15, dumpster diving at the local cable company. I found an intact (but slightly wet) descrambler. The magic chip inside was missing (the one that decides what channels it’s allowed to descramble), but some poking around inside with a bent paper clip eventually led to the magic combination that allowed me to descramble everything – including the Playboy Channel. To a teenage boy, this was better than finding a bag o’ cash. Sure, the sync went out when the scene got bright (no doubt why it was in the trash) but it worked well enough!

    God, how I miss the days when descramblers could be unlocked with a bent paper clip! But I digress…

    My latest find wasn’t actually in a dumpster, but next to one. I keep seeing old-school big-screen TV’s on the side of the road, presumably because people are throwing them out when they get new, high-def TV’s. What most people don’t realize is that the projection screens for these things are basically giant lenses, like an enormous magnifying glass. Ever light dry leaves (or, you know… ants) on fire with a magnifying glass as a kid? Now imagine the power I have at my disposal when I focus the sunlight from a good square yard or so into a 1/2″ point! It easily melts most metals. It’s like my own personal death ray.

  97. Gloria says:

    @Parttimesaint: I didn’t have time to reread the article, but living with your parents doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unemployed. Maybe they are, so I could be wrong about that.

    I still wonder about this stigma around not living out on your own. It’s really common practise in a lot of countries to run multigenerational households.

  98. caseykoons says:

    My most lucrative dumpster diving adventures involved the ends of institutions.
    The first was when a local theater was closing to move to a larger space. Despite the fact that they had much more room in their new space, the budget surplus that was financing the move encouraged them to update their equipment. THEY THREW AN ENTIRE COSTUME LOFT AWAY. My friends and I collected dozens of yards of cloth, several nice period costumes, even a theatrical sword. I, myself, scored a working telephone and several nice bowls that I use to display sea glass.

    A few months later, my high school also moved to a larger space. The things they threw out were disturbing. There was a limitless supply of very high quality typewriters and Apple II computers in one bin, and out of another I got a completely functional Macintosh IIci, along with monitor, keyboard and cables.

    Since then I’m spoiled, I tend only to dive at renovation sights. The bins almost never have biological waste in them, and if you hit them at the right time they can be full of perfectly usable equipment.

  99. James says:

    I watch the trashtruck guys rummage through the trash as they pick up the trash on our street. Usually by the time they get to my house the front seat of the trash truck is FULL of stuff that they are scavaging.

  100. hmart316 says:

    I picked up an original xbox in near mint condition from a college dumpster recently.

    Xbox Media Center here I come!

  101. Brazell says:

    I throw away a lot of stuff just because if I am not using it at a given time, it’d probably be easier for me just to buy it again in six months rather than store it some place for 6 months and then use it again.

    It warms me to know that what I consider trash, youthful New York City communists consider treasure. This would similarly apply to their philosophy, but… well… we won’t go there. Good for them, good for me, good for all of us.

  102. TurboBrick [LIGIER] says:

    Someone once scavenged used motor oil from my yard – This dude just came up on a bicycle, looked around, yanked my 5 quart Mobil 1 jug and took off. The funny part was that the contents were about 70-30 mix of freshly changed oil and the remains of about 9 month old used oil + water that had seeped in to the catch pan.

  103. CumaeanSibyl says:

    One thing that kind of bugs me about freegans is that a lot of them have access to forums and websites where they can trade information on when stores throw out their stuff, which places have the best food, and soforth — so they can get the good stuff before homeless people show up. It seems to me that the impoverished ought to get first dibs, not the people who have money but choose not to spend it on food.

    Definitely a fan of regular non-food dumpster diving, though. Curbside bulk pickup days are the best for that. The scrappers around here make their living off other people’s old appliances and other scrap metal.

  104. Paulos says:

    I am a newcomer to dumpster diving, and my recent dumpster excursions have been very rewarding. Just this past weekend I recovered a painting, some towels, rubbermaid boxes, at least a year’s supply of laundry detergent and a couple satisfying meals. Some fast food joints throw away entire salads in the original boxes, clean fresh and free. Food abounds in the dumpsters and I can even afford to be a little picky with lunch.

  105. linoth says:

    @hmart316: Definitely a good investment of my time when I did the same install myself. I do wish it had a little more guts when it comes to video decoding, but who can complain for the price?

    As far as freecycling, I’ve been trying to get a job working at the local college, since it should be fairly regular and solid work. Usually for every two to four buildings, you just have to know the “dumping spot” and you’ll find all sorts of interesting things thrown out. So far an office chair that just needed junk pulled out of the castors, a 3GHz P4 w/ Hyper threading, a working LCD monitor, a pair of microscope lenses that might be useful someday down the line, and plenty of SD RAM for myself and a friend that does computer repair on the side.

    In addition to that, there’s a local not-for-profit that operates out of a storage area for the ScienceCenter in town. Computer repair, refurbished computer sales, office furniture, etc. They’ve got a few volunteers that watch the drop-offs like absolute hawks.

  106. Ayleron says:

    @markedward: If it’s anything like my college, they should end up in the school surplus where they are given away if you happen to be on the school payroll. You can also find those nice projectors they use in class rooms for 1/10th of the original cost ^^