Do’s and Don’ts for Dumpster Divers
Here are my tips for prospective dumpster-divers:
As you walk past that dumpster in the parking lot, you wonder what could be inside. Curiosity gets the better of you, so you wander over and take a look.
Depending on who’s throwing stuff away you may find anything from building materials to clothing, books, household goods, clothing, antiques, or perfectly edible food.
But before you dive in, here are a few guidelines from a professional to help ensure the experience is a pleasant and safe one:
* Do ask permission first - if appropriate/possible. Otherwise, if an irate dumper collars you in the act say that you: (a) work with kids and are looking for materials for a school project, (b) are a Uni student doing research on consumption issues, (c) are unemployed with a large family and are in need of stuff/food.
* Beware of hazardous materials such as toxins, broken glass, sharp metal, mould, contaminants.
* Ideally wear thick leather boots and gloves.
* Move slowly as you sort through the stuff so that you can spot broken or sharp edges.
* Have a good-sized swag bag to take your haul away with.
* Carry wire-cutters a small wrench and a screw-driver - for taking things apart.
* Dig right to the bottom if you can - this is where the coins and small valuable objects fall to.
* If you have time, work the dumpster methodically. Start in one corner, shifting the stuff out of the way as you dig down to the bottom. Then pile the next section into the hole you have created, work your way around in this manner and you will have searched through the entire contents.
* Be aware that you are saving materials (the earth’s resources) from going into landfill.
* Scrap metals (especially brass, copper and aluminum) fetch good prices at the metal-merchants.
* Be very wary of spoiled food, especially meats - listeria, salmonella and other deadly pathogens lurk in food that has gone off.
* At night carry a flashlight. Wearing a headlamp will leave both hands free.
* Carry a stick, cane or one of those “grabbers” trash-collectors use. These can be very useful, especially when stuff is just out of your reach.
* Choose your time. In winter it gets dark earlier, making you less visible. In bad weather, night-time and early morning there are less people around.
* As soon as you can after your dive, wash your hands, clean up, change your clothes if necessary.
* Wear dark inconspicuous clothing.
* Don’t make a mess, spill stuff, or throw goods out of the dumpster - this gives dumpster-divers a bad name, and annoys people.
* Don’t take more than you need - leave something for others.
* Don’t break into the dumpster - people who cut padlocks off, wrench locking bars off using their four-wheel drives, or cut into dumpsters with gas torches make life difficult for other dumpster-divers.
* Don’t set fire to the dumpster when you are done - this is not cool, and besides it will attract the attention of the police.
* Take photos of your finds and/or video your dives and post them to youtube/your blog. Show the rest of the world what a wasteful society we live in.
* Be prepared to share the dumpster with other divers.
* Be careful as you jump in/out, especially with the higher dumpsters. It is easy to slip (especially in the wet).
* Don’t fall asleep in there. People have been killed when the collection truck empties the dumpster into its hopper and crushes the contents.
* Don’t be surprised what you find. People throw things way for many reasons. Just because something is in the trash doesn’t mean that it is no good or doesn’t work.
* Much archaeology in the field involves digging up ancient garbage tips or middens. What goes into the trash in the 21st Century is social and economic history.
* Recycle and upcycle the objects you find into functional objects as well as arts and crafts - make trashion (fashion from trash), clocks, wall pieces, sculptures, toys, lamps. The dumpsters are full of resources. Your creativity is only limited by your own boubdaries. Remember - there is no app. for imagination!
* Make money from what you find. Repair, recycle, upcycle. Sell your pieces at garage sales, markets, and online.
* Don’t just think of yourself. Give your useful finds to needy friends and/or donate them to worthy causes. Small community organizations can use basic stuff such as envelopes or stationary, pens and pencils. Pet charities can use old bedding. Knitters can use wool, patchworkers can use fabric. School art classes can use all manner of materials.
* Use magazines and books to make collages and zines. Use what you find to make political and social statements.
* Have fun!