Guide to Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving simply means that you are searching through trash for something useful which can be any number of things. When the SHTF there are going to many people needing to dumpster dive just to survive and there is a very good chance that you will need to too.

It’s strange but when I was growing up a dumpster was nothing more than something that was filled with stinky garbage that was no good to anyone. Nowadays people throw all kinds of things away without even a second thought. Things that you can use. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for food, clothes or something that you can sell, with a little bit of time and patience you can get what you need. A large portion of the food thrown away is not even dangerous or inedible.

In the UK alone, homeowners are throwing away £13bn worth of food each year that could have been eaten. Add in the businesses to that figure and it must be astronomical.

Get Your Equipment Ready

There are certain bits of equipment that can make dumpster diving a lot easier as well as some items you should use simply because dumpster diving can be a messy job. We recommend gathering the following equipment:

  • Gloves – Ideally you should always wear gloves when dumpster diving
  • Plastic Bags – You are going to need some way of carrying your finds back home. If you have nothing else, a few plastic bags will do just fine.
  • Headlamp – It can get suprisingly dark depending on where the dumpster is located but we recommend a headlamp so that you have both hands free.
  • Multi-Tool – A knife would be fine but a multi-tool would be better for dismantling equipment if you only want certain parts or for opening bags and boxes.
  • Hand Sanitizer – You are going to always want to use this after digging through trash.
  • Transport – Having some form of transport will help if you plan on spending all night out dumpster diving. Even a bicycle will help you move around much quicker.

Before getting into the guide I do just want to quickly ask that you please clean up after yourself and don’t leave a mess around the dumpsters. If you take bags or boxes out of the dumpster make sure that you put them back in when you have finished.

Is Dumpster Diving Illegal?

When it comes to the legality of dumpster diving, unfortunately, there is no straight yes or no answer. In most countries, dumpster diving itself is not illegal but if the dumpsters are on private property then you could face trespassing charges.

Doctor Sean Thomas, senior Law Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, has explained that a freegan cannot be prosecuted for stealing abandoned goods because abandoned goods cannot be stolen. The problem lies in proving that the goods have been abandoned. A freegan, taken to court, could argue that there is a moral right to take rubbish because it benefits the environment and that they believed that the owner would not mind.

Wherever you are in the world, do check your local trespassing and scavenging laws so that you can strictly adhere to them and not end up on the wrong side of the law. If stopped by the police while you are dumpster diving, be honest and respectable towards them and do as they say. Early mornings and late at night are often the best times to go dumpster diving as they are usually the quietest times meaning that you have less chance of running into any employees or other people.

  • If you see “No Trespassing” signs posted, promptly leave the area. (“No Dumping Allowed” is completely different to “No Trespassing“)
  • To avoid the police possibly using “disturbing the peace” against you then try not to make too much noise when you are dumpster diving.
  • Lastly, don’t make a mess by leaving the area worse than you found it.

Places to Dumpster Dive

Okay, so you have your equipment and have familiarised yourself with the local laws so next you need to start thinking about where you are going to dive. You are pretty much only limited to your imagination but here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Supermarkets – If you are after food then these criminals are the worse for throwing out a lot of perfectly edible food every day. Remember, the sell-by date or use-by dates are not to be taken any notice of. Most food items are perfectly fine well past this date as long as they are stored correctly (more on these dates below). Most supermarkets now sell much more than just food so you may surprise yourself at what you can find.
  2. Colleges – When students move out of their college dorms, they throw a huge amount of stuff out which can be everything from bedding to furniture.
  3. Stores – There are stores for everything and they all throw trash out. About 8 or 9 years ago I hit the dumpsters behind our local PC World and it was absolutely packed with returns and broken electronics.
  4. Construction Sites – Workers often find that they have too much of something and just throw the extra away. This could cement, bricks, wood, wiring and tools, etc.
  5. Apartment Complexes
  6. Pet Stores

When it comes down to it, it really depends on the kinds of things that you are looking for.

  • Best Before Dates – these have absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the food. These dates are only an estimate as to how long the food will retain it’s best flavor and texture.
  • Sell Before Dates – used by stores to track inventory and give an indication of when this food should be removed from the store.
  • Use By Dates – indicate a manufacturers estimate as too how many days a product will be safe to eat. While you should take some notice of this date it is not gospel. The food won’t be perfectly fine one day and then totally inedible the next.

What to Look For When Dumpster Diving

When it comes to what you are dumpster diving for, it depends entirely on why you are dumpster diving in the first place whether it be for something of use to you or something that you can turn around and sell. Some obvious things to look for include:

  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Food
  • Furniture
  • Books
  • Returns
  • Wood or metal

Need some inspiration? Check out this article on the Sun website about a guy who netted £20,000 of iPods, Xbox’s and more.

What to Wear When Dumpster Diving

Ideally, you want to wear old clothes that you don’t plan on wearing elsewhere. Dumpster diving can be a messy business so you don’t want to wear your best clothes. You will also want to wear a pair of thick gloves for protecting your hands and keeping them clean. In addition, make sure that whatever shoes you choose to wear have very sturdy soles and are waterproof.

Staying Safe When Dumpster Diving

You have to be careful when dumpster diving especially if you are doing so for food. Be very careful about the food items that you decide to keep so as to avoid picking up any illnesses. Another thing to take note of is where the dumpsters are located. If they are in direct sunlight then the heat inside could get incredibly hot which is not good for any food items. Use a little common sense and you will be fine.

Canned goods and boxed cereals are usually fine to take but I would never take food items such as seafood, meat, dairy and unpasteurized juice but this is personal choice.

When taking fruits and vegetables, make sure that you clean them properly. We recommend using a mixture of 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water to wash them well. Rinse them under water afterwards.

Dumpster diving can be dangerous – if someone has thrown something sharp away and you aren’t careful and handle it carelessly, you could end up getting seriously hurt. Make sure that you handle everything with care and look out for any objects that could cause you harm such as broken glass, used needles, and sharp metal.

  1. Never get into a dumpster that has medical equipment or toxic waste inside.
  2. Be careful of the lids as with a gust of wind they can slam down on you and believe me, they hurt.
  3. Always watch out for any sharp or hazardous objects before entering a dumpster.
  4. If the dumpster smells bad, find a different one.

Dumpster Diving Maps

Tips for Dumpster Diving Success

  • Never break a lock to access a locked bin or climb fences or gates when it is clear that you are not allowed to be there.
  • Clean up after yourself and leave the area the same, if not better than you found it. Leaving a mess can lead to the store locking the bins or pouring chemicals over the items inside.
  • Only take what you can use and leave some for others that may need it.
  • Bakeries and sandwich shops throw food out daily so ask inside near closing time if they have anything they are throwing.
  • Avoid high risk foods such as: Dairy, eggs, Fish and meat, it’s too much of a risk to your health.
  • Cans, bottles and tins will normally be put in the bin due to the items being out of date though many of these items are fine well past their date.
  • Items might be put in the bin for a reason, maybe a returned item or its been spoiled, make sure you check the colour of the items and do a smell test before you consume.

You never know what you might discover and save the planet and your wallet all in the process, super!

Good luck with your dumspter diving journey!


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