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Dumpster Diving

Who, What, When, Where and Why?

by Nikki Willhite

Dumpster Diving is not for everyone. However, Dumpster Diving has become very popular, and is considered a great resource by many people. We live in a time of excess and waste, and I don't think we should look down on those who find a way to use discarded items.
When we moved a few years ago, we found a store that didn't crush all their boxes, and spent a month checking their dumpster every day for boxes that we could use in our move. That dumpster served us well!

I decided to do some research on this latest craze of Dumpster Diving. Here are some things I found out.


Dumpster Divers are people who search for things that other people have thrown out that are still useful, can be recycled, and have value. Dumpster Divers will not only pick up discarded items left at the curbside of people's homes, but they will climb into dumpsters at apartment buildings and behind shopping centers.

However! Most don't actually get in the bins. Most people have some sort of long pole which allows them to just lean over the dumpster and pull the items up to them. People enjoy this hobby. It's like a Treasure Hunt.

If you think about it, at one time or another we've all been lazy and thrown away something that we could have given to Goodwill or recycled. If we've done it, think about the people who don't watch their finances carefully. They are throwing away things right and left!

Dumpster Diving can also be profitable. You can make money with everything from aluminum cans to items that can be resold at garage sales. People have been known to give up their day jobs to do this!

Common Finds

Many interesting and unexpected items can be found when diving. Here are some of the more common:


Food:  Meat, Pastry and Fruit and Vegetables are the most common stale our dated food put in dumpsters.

Outdated inexpensive items, from dishes to greeting cards.  They are too much trouble for the store to return.

Great Finds

Computers, Accessories, Telephones and Answering Machines, Televisions, VCRs and Radios, Vacuum Cleaners, Power Tools,  Lawn Mowers, and bicycles.


If you are going in the evening, you are going to need something to light up the dumpster. Some people carry a small flashlight. They attach a cord to it, and then hold it in their teeth to keep their hands free. Others wear a headlamp. You can find them at reasonable prices in the bike area of discount stores.

You need something to pull stuff to you, like a pole with a hook at the end. A hoe will also work. You can buy long poles that will pick up a quarter in the corner of an empty dumpster.

A stepping stool will help you reach over the top.

You will need large and small plastic bags to collect items. Duct tape is useful for bags that spilit open.

Wet wipes and anti-bacterial soup are used to clean hands when done.
Bring basic first aid kit, in case you hurt yourself.

Potential Hazards

Never climb into a Dumpster with Medical and Hazardous Waste. Anyone can throw out a needle that could jab you. Wear protective clothing.

Lids that suddenly slam shut when windy.

Sharp Objects

Icky stuff- like dead animals.

Legal Implications- Make sure that there are no ordinances that make this activity illegal in your area.

Favorite Spots

Apartment buildings where people move often and leave stuff behind. Dumpsters behind stores that sell merchandise you are interested in. 

Dumpster Etiquette

Don't go behind a closed fence to reach a dumpster.

Don't leave a mess. Leave the dumpster better than you found it so those who enjoy this hobby can continue.
Don't take paperwork with people's confidential records.

Take only what you can use, and leave the rest for someone else.

Other Resources

Here is a website by a real pro: The Dumpster Lady

Maybe next time you go by someone engaged in this hobby, instead of looking the other way, you might ask them if they found anything good today?

About the Author: Nikki Willhite, mother of 3 and an interior design graduate, has been writing and publishing articles on the topic of frugal living for over a decade. Visit her at where you will find hundreds of frugal living tips and articles. Frugal Happy Families- more than just money! 

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