The 3 Golden Rules of Dumpster Diving
No matter how you dumpster dive, you should follow these 3 rules. Be quick, be quiet, be clean. So what does this mean exactly? Good thing you asked! Let’s break each one of these down.
The goal of dumpster diving is to find impressive things for free while not being disrupted. You don’t want to be a sitting duck. Sitting ducks get nowhere. You should be able to hit a dumpster in under 10 minutes. If you’re taking longer than this, something’s wrong. The longer you stay at one dumpster, the fewer dumpsters you can hit in a go and the higher likelihood that you’ll be confronted. Now if you’re really good, you should be able to get through a dumpster in under 5 minutes. Now of course there are some exceptional dumpsters that’ll take you much longer to go through so this recommendation is subject to change on the fly.
No matter if you go during the day or at night, you should be silent. If you’re with a friend while dumpster diving, use voices that are between a whisper and casual conversational. If you give others a reason to confront you, they’ll confront you. Dumpster diving in itself isn’t a crime, but some people will try to find ways of dealing with you. One of these ways is called disturbing the peace. Be on people’s good side. Don’t give strangers a reason to hate you and you’ll be able to dumpster dive without much concern.
Now you may be confused. Dumpsters are the opposite of clean. They’re supposed to be filthy. Well luckily you’re not diving in those kinds of dumpsters. The dumpsters you’ll be targeting are retail dumpsters that tend to be fairly clean, but that’s besides the point. By clean, we mean that you should leave a dumpster at a minimum of as good as you found it if not better.
After you’re done picking through the scraps, take what you don’t want to bring home and throw it back into the dumpster. Nothing infuriates employees more than opening up shop the next day to find a messy dumpster. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that they likely have you on camera and can charge you for loitering. Like we said before, don’t give stores a reason to hate you. If you do this step right, most locations won’t even realize that you’re dumpster diving there. If you don’t clean up after yourself, prepare to find a locked dumpster or angry employees scolding you the next time you return to that location.
Learn Your Local Laws
If you didn’t already know, dumpster diving is legal in the United States and most developed countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many more. However, there are some municipalities with ordinances against dumpster diving. It’s important for you to recognize whether your town has laws against dumpster diving. This is relatively easy to do. Go to city hall or call them up and they’ll tell you all the information you need to know about dumpster diving.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, you should be able to dumpster dive with no issues. If you do happen to live in an area where dumpster diving is not allowed, simply look at other nearby regions that permit it and go there. It’s not the end of the world.
Now that we’ve established the legality of dumpster diving, you should be aware that stores usually don’t like people picking through their trash and law enforcement will be split depending on the officer that sees you doing it. First of all, remember that it’s legal. Secondly, know that they can’t take any legal action against you unless you’ve committed a crime.
Now what are these crimes that they could use as an excuse to dissuade you from dumpster diving. First of all, don’t trespass. If you see “no trespassing” signs near a dumpster or gated garbage bins, promptly leave. Next, don’t cause too much noise. We previously mentioned that this could be considered disturbing the peace. Lastly, don’t make a mess by leaving the area worse than you found it. Follow these instructions and you should be well on your way to dumpster diving success.
What to Wear When Dumpster Diving
Whatever you decide to wear while dumpster diving should correspond with the weather. You need to be prepared for the elements including but not limited to wind, rain, and snow. Your attire should ideally be something that is old and used. Think Walmart clothes and hand-me-downs. If you’re dumpster diving, you really don’t need to wear anything nice. Just wear something that gets the job done. Stack up on layers if it’s going to snow or throw on a raincoat if it’s drizzling.
Ideally you also want a pair of gloves so that your hands don’t get dirty. In addition, make sure whatever shoes you use have very sturdy soles. You don’t want a sharp object to protrude into your foot. Your footwear should also be waterproof to avoid any garbage juices that may seep in. Therefore, you should look into steel bottom water-resistant boots for maximum protection. These usually require a bit of an initial investment. However, this investment will easily pay itself back tenfold by the amount of things you’ll find dumpster diving and saving that one trip to the emergency room when an iron rod goes through your foot. I highly recommend this one (On Amazon). It checks all of these boxes and has worked well for me in the past.
Dumpster Diving Tools and Gear
There are so many things that you could possibly use while dumpster diving that it would take a full article in itself to list them all. If you’re wondering where that article is, you can find one that we created right here.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to give you a brief rundown of the most basic tools that you’ll need. Remember, if you want to learn more, click that link above. For starters, you’ll want a flashlight or headlamp especially if you’re going at night. You’ll also want to carry hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol since you’re dealing with trash which can be dirty depending on the store you’re dumpster diving. A pocket knife for cutting open boxes or bags on the spot is also a good idea. Here’s a great pocket knife on Amazon that does the job. Pocket knives could also be useful for self-defense. Dumpster diving is far from dangerous, but you always want to be prepared for the unexpected.
Making and Executing a Dumpster Diving Plan
Now that you know the basics of dumpster diving, it’s time for you to make a plan.
1. Choosing a Location and Time
In order to dumpster dive, you need to know where you want to dumpster dive. For beginners, it’s best to dumpster dive at stores that are closest to your residence and places that you’ve shopped at before. This is meant to ease you into this hobby since you have the most familiarity with your local businesses. If you can, look into things like a store’s garbage schedule and hours.
Once you’ve ironed out where you’re dumpster diving at, set up a time to do it. This could be at night, during the afternoon, or in the morning before the store opens. To facilitate you with this process, we’ve outlined a guide which you can find at this link detailing what times and days of the week are optimal for dumpster diving.
2. Method of Transportation and Storage
The second thing that you want to have in mind is how you’re going to get to the dumpster and get the goods back to your headquarters. It’s best to have a vehicle with plenty of storage room like a van or pickup truck. If not, a smaller car works fine as well. Consequently, you may have to do more loads with it if you’re having a good night. Don’t have either of these? You can always ride a bike or walk as a last resort. If you’re going to bike, consider getting yourself a bike trailer (Amazon) so that you have an area to stock and haul your finds back home.
3. Dumpster Diving Alone or with a Friend
You need to decide if you’re going to dumpster dive by yourself or with someone else. New dumpster divers should try to go with another person if it can be arranged. A helper can prove to be extremely useful even for experienced dumpster divers. While you’re scoping out a dumpster and loading up the goods, they can keep watch and alert you to anything that you may be unaware of. A friend could also help you by looking through a dumpster and loading alongside you which would definitely increase your speed.
If you can’t find someone else to tag along, don’t be concerned. Dumpster diving can be done alone. Just try to be more aware of your surroundings if you decide to take this route.
4. The Infiltration and Getaway
The last part of your plan involves how you’re going to get in and out. When you get to your dumpster diving location, look around to see if there’s anyone else in the area like employees of the store. If there’s someone there, skip the dumpster for now. If you’re clear, you can begin the infiltration process.
When parking your car, bike, or whatever mode of transportation you used to get there, don’t block any roadways or alleys. If someone has to swerve around your vehicle, you’re drawing bad attention to yourself. If you can, try parking next to or even side by side with the dumpster using it to block out as much of your vehicle as possible. Moreover, position the trunk of your car toward the dumpster so that you can load faster.
Once you’re done rummaging through the trash, it’s time to leave. There’s no point in dwelling around a dumpster that has nothing left to offer. While you’re leaving, check your mirrors or look around to make sure that no one’s following or tailgating you out of there. This step should be a piece of cake.
What to do if Confronted When Dumpster Diving
If a store manager or the police show up, try to stay calm. After all, what you’re doing is completely legal if you did your research on your local laws. An informed dumpster diver won’t get into trouble. Depending on the person you run into, they may allow you to continue, tell you to leave, or try to intimidate you or accuse you of false charges.
Start off by kindly and calmly explaining your reason for being there. If they tell you to leave, obey their orders immediately as staying around any longer is considered trespass. If you’re unfortunate, they’ll make up falsehoods about you such as fabricating a story about how you were illegally throwing trash into their dumpster, littering, disturbing the peace, or blocking the roadway. No matter what they throw at you, patiently hear them out and confidently deny it. Eventually they’ll give up and let you go on your way. If they continue to insist, reason with them and show them evidence that what they’re saying about you is untrue.
Now what happens if they still don’t allow you to leave? This is very unlikely to happen by the way, but if it does, call them out on their bluff and tell them to provide evidence such as the security footage or a witness. You probably don’t need to think too much about this scenario if at all since I’ve never personally experienced it or know of anyone who’s gone through it. Don’t let the insignificant chance of running into a douche stop you from practicing your right of dumpster diving.
What to Watch Out for While Dumpster Diving
- Don’t climb into dumpsters with medical equipment or toxic waste. There’s probably nothing to find there and even if there was, it’s not worth the risk. Remember that protective clothing goes a long way.
- Watch out for the wind. Dumpster lids can unexpectedly close and slam your head or hands if left unguarded.
- Look for sharp or hazardous objects before jumping into a dumpster. Ensure that there’s enough space in there for you to get a firm footing.
- Don’t get into a dumpster that smells bad. This could be from rotting food or dead animals. You don’t want to be in close quarters to any of these.
- Never get into a trash compactor. These can easily crush and kill you.
Dumpster Diving Etiquette and Mannerisms
- Take only what you need or can reasonably use. Leave the remaining stuff for other dumpster divers.
- Avoid ripping open trash bags if necessary. If you can, try to untie them and bind them back together when finished.
- Don’t tamper with locked dumpsters.
- Leave a dumpster cleaner than you found it.