Dumpster diving is a great way to get your hands on a bunch of perfectly good and free material, terrific for all sorts of projects. There are dumpster divers who stock their kitchen with what they find in the trash; I'm not that type of dumpster diver. I don't open garbage bags, hunting for perfectly good food, mainly because of various concerns unless things are in sealed packages.
I don't advocate dumpster diving for food, because I know that pushes the boundaries of people's acceptability/norms even more than cloth diapering or the suggestion to make vegetarian meals; even some of the most extremely frugal and environmentally conscious people would feel that they literally had to be starving before they'd resort to eating food rescued from the trash.
The type of dumpster diving that I do recommend is a type that is a bit more palatable to most; utilizing the availability of garbage treasures.
The best places and times to dumpster dive are:
- In affluent communities on or before trash pickup day. The items being tossed often are of very high quality; the residents can typically afford to upgrade frequently and their things become available for trash pickers.
- In or around dumpsters behind second hand stores, especially used clothing stores. Many times the store's inventory is overflowing and they have no more room for anything else, so all donations end up straight in the dumpster, including terrific things. I got an entire years' wardrobe for my son for free within one dumpster dive there.
- In dumpsters near college dorms at the end of the semester. Many students purchase furnishings and textbooks for themselves at the beginning of the semester, and when they go home, everything, even those things in perfect condition (and often unused), goes straight into the trash. For squeamish people who are wary of germs with dumpster diving, you can be rest assured that these dumpsters don't contain any household waste; they're pure treasure. In fact, many people who never trash pick the rest of the time will load up pickup trucks with their finds and proceed to sell them on ebay for a handsome profit.
- On curbs before trash pickup day in the spring, especially during spring cleaning season. Along with the typical cleaning thats going on, this time of year is also when people tend to replace their wardrobes and household furniture, making it the perfect time to trash pick.
- Near construction sites. Construction sites are the perfect place to get wood, old windows, bricks, and most things you'd need for your own construction projects. My husband and I picked up half full buckets of paint and joint compound which we then able to use to fix up our house for free. (Make sure to ask permission before dumpster diving in this type of location; many times things that look like trash are actually going to be reused.)
- In grocery store dumpsters. I generally look near the grocery when I'm in need of cardboard boxes for any sort of project or for a move. This is often the best location to get clean, unbroken boxes for any personal use.
If you're open to having less than perfect things, you can usually find lots of usable things there. When my husband and I first married, we only bought one new piece of furniture (our bookshelves) and everything else was either bought second hand or found in the dumpster. The things found in the trash were often of much better quality even than the stuff we bought second hand.
Before starting to make any project, keep an eye on the trash for a few days or weeks. You just might come across exactly what you need to help you make your project, lowering the cost even more.
Why People Toss Usable Things
- An item was purchased, used as needed, and the extras were tossed.
- Upgrading and replacing with a new model.
- Moving, and don't want to bring the item along.
- Spring cleaning and decluttering what they no longer use.
- It broke, and they have no desire or knowledge or ability to fix it.
In most of these cases, the items being tossed are still very much usable and could probably even be sold second hand or donated to a thrift shop, but people often are too busy to be bothered with bringing the item elsewhere or posting a for sale notice, and instead do what is simplest- place it on the curb for trash pickup.
In my mind, if I can buy something second hand for the same quality as the item sitting there on the curb, I see no reason why not to take it (so long as I'm in a location where dumpster diving and trash picking is legal).
- Non pourous, washable surfaces that can be cleaned with strong cleaners to kill any possible germs are your safest, most germ free bet. Clothing or other fabric that can be washed in the machine are also usually fine.
- In order to stay safest, never actually enter a dumpster- just take things that you can reach from the side, or things placed along the curb for garbage pickup.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after touching anyone else's trash.
- If bed bugs are an issue in your location, learn what items are suspect and how to tell if something is infested. Paying for professional bed bug cleaning may be worthwhile if the item is in decent enough condition that paying for cleaning would still be much cheaper than purchasing new. (Note- you'll want it cleaned before it enters your house!)
Do you dumpster dive? What types of things do you usually salvage from the trash? Would you get anything from the trash that is broken with the plans to fix it? What are your rules for dumpster diving? Where are your favorite places to dumpster dive? Would you dumpster dive for food?