Dumpster diving basics and frequently asked questions

Just like any other broke college kid, I’ve definitely taken advantage of the Craigslist free section. I’ve also looked through free boxes on the street curbs and let me tell you, you can find some great stuff in there. And have you ever checked the streets of a college dorm during move-out week? Kids dump all kinds of furniture! I’m a firm believer that one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

On that note, I’ve been really interested in the concept of dumpster diving recently. I have a few friends that have had some great luck with it, so I figured I’d want to do some research before I tried my hand at it. Here’s a little food for thought for you, too.

1. What is dumpster diving?

Lots of the food that is thrown away isn't necessarily 'trash'. Look at all the great finds above! Photo credit: Flickr user thirteenofclubs

Dumpster diving, if you didn’t know, is the art of finding things that have been discarded by others. It’s also called ‘urban foraging’ and ‘skipping’.

2. What does this have to do with a vegetarian blog?

Dumpster diving usually goes hand-in-hand with freeganism. Many people find all of their produce and other veggie-friendly foods this way.

3. What can you find?

The possibilities are practically endless. Plenty of people have come across various valuable items. You can also find clothing, furniture, appliances, food and more.

Plenty of fresh produce can be found by 'urban foraging' or dumpster diving. Photo credit: Flickr user opspin

4. Why would people throw out good stuff?

Many offices, bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores and factories dispose of perfectly good items.  Sometimes the location is just overstocked so they toss the extra. Other times it’s because the item is cosmetically flawed or approaching its sell-by date. I have no problems with eating day-old bagels, but most shops won’t sell them.

5. Isn’t all the food rotten?

Despite what you may think about ‘garbage’, many of the finds are usable, safe, clean and in perfectly good condition.

The dumpster diving possibilities are endless. This diver found so much food, it doesn't even fit in the picture. Photo credit: Flickr user zaneselvans

6. Why should we consider dumpster diving for food?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and Food Production Daily, the US generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year and the rate of loss is costing consumers and manufacturers tens of billions of dollars every year. Feel guilty yet?

7. Is it legal?

In the case of California v. Greenwood the U.S. Supreme Court stated that there is no expectation of privacy for garbage. They also said that trash on the side of the street is “open to inspection by animals, children, scavengers, snoops and other members of the public.”

Because some dumpsters are located on private property, dumpster diving may be illegal in certain places. The advice that I’ve heard from other dumpster divers is to be courteous, clean and to move on if you’re asked to leave.

8. Where would be some good places to go diving in San Francisco?

I’m going to try to experience this firsthand, but from my research, it looks like Trader Joes and Rainbow Grocery are both good bets. The Freegan site also included a brief list of individual places.

Do you have any dumpster diving tips/locations for me? I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment and I’ll put them to the test!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by TS on April 28, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Hi – I like your blog (and format). Please see my blog for what I am finding ‘retrieving’ at nights. I go out on ‘adventures’ 3-4 times per week to help my family, a few other families in need and the urban ministry (when there is a surplus). My favorite part of this is that I have yet to purchase bread or snacks for my kids this entire school year!


  2. Todd, your blog is awesome! I’m jealous that you get such good finds out there in NC. I’ve always been curious about that area. Keep blogging!


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