Dumpster Fun!

Yesterday I visited some of my boyfriend’s friends in Fairfax. They’re lovely people, and we had a great time. (One is a crafter like me, and she showed me these neat coasters that she made out of floppy discs, but absentminded person that I am, I forgot to photograph them. They may appear in a later tutorial, if I can convince her to send me a photo or two. ) The point of this story is, this morning as we were leaving their apartment, we spotted a huge dumpster full of neat-looking things in their complex’s parking lot.

I’m going to tell you right now that I am not above dumpster diving. I love looking in trash. I avoid it if it looks like the trash is all paper or food waste, or if there’s a foul smell coming out of the dumpster, but when I see a prime awesome thing sitting right on top of a pile of clean stuff, there’s no way I’m not taking it. For example, this lovely basket:

See, it even still has its lid! And someone decided that they didn’t want it anymore, for some space-cadet reason of theirs. Oh,well. More for me. Dumpster diving is, as you’ve probably guessed, incredibly eco-friendly. It reduces landfill waste and puts used goods back into service. Reuse and home-grown remaking is almost always more energy-efficient than the recycling process. And on top of that, you’re saving yourself money.

If you want to try dumpster diving, prime places are anywhere that college students live. College students are sort of notorious for just throwing things away when they’re done with them, even if they’re still usable. As a college student myself, I can say that I’ve done that, and I’m not particularly proud of some of the useful things I left behind when I moved from my dorm into my apartment. A few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Stay away from upholstery. There’s been a recent bedbug epidemic on the eastern seaboard, and you don’t want to risk having your entire house infested with bedbugs. They spread very easily and the only way to get rid of them is to get rid of all your upholstery.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes and sturdy clothing.
  3. Don’t be stupid. “Safety is a major concern,” says Kat, an experienced diver. “Don’t go into any dumpster with a trash compactor, or any dumpster behind a food establishment.” She also recommends bringing along a set of tools, but for casual drive-by dumpstering, this may not be possible.
  4. Don’t climb into a dumpster in someone’s front yard. Stick to public ones. This is a little illegal, in the way that jaywalking is–don’t do it in front of a cop.
  5. Check over any item you get with the kind of eye you’d use at a thrift store or yard sale. Note any potential problems and whether or not you’ll be able to fix them. Don’t be seduced into a free thing that’s completely useless with your skill set/interests. For example, I left behind a broken chair that could probably have been fixed–by someone who has wood shop skills that I lack. I nearly lost a finger in wood shop class.
  6. Bring a friend. An extra pair of eyes is great for spotting things, and also for telling you when you’ve made a terrible mistake and have picked up something unfixable.
  7. Don’t bring your germ-phobic boyfriend. Mine nearly wouldn’t let me bring home this swell basket because he didn’t want it in his car; he eventually let me put it in his trunk. Some people just don’t understand the value of a big wicker storage basket…
  8. Disinfect. When you get home, put the item through whatever kind of wash you think it can handle. You don’t want fleas or other critters crawling out of your salvage.

Well, there you have it. Got a dumpster diving success story? Post it in the comments!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kat
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 12:36:00

    http://www.dumpsterworld.com is the largest dumpster diving community online that I’ve encountered.

    A few other things: you can easily dumpster dive for coupons. Look for the RedPlum coupon insert that comes in Sunday newspapers. Book stores are required to dispose of stock with damaged covers- this means books and magazines, which are often in perfect condition except for a missing or marred cover. Watch for industrial dumpsters outside of buildings that are being remodelled or gutted- you can get awesome architectural details, like old tin ceiling tiles, fancy crown molding, or even full panes of window glass. If it’s in the dumpster, they don’t want it, but if it’s stacked on pallates, they may mean to restore or sell it, so don’t take it.

    Other safety concerns: don’t enter dumpsters while trash trucks are in the vicinity, don’t light any source of flame, beware of dumpster lids slamming down on you, keep your tetanus and hepatitis vaccines current, and if you’re harvesting discarded food (especially canned) know the signs of spoilage and use caution.

    Neat basket.


  2. eleanorsnare
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 19:35:52

    Where I live (Leeds), this week is a HUGE student move in – move out period. Most housing contract start or end this week and so there are loads of people chucking out great stuff. While this can be a pain for the rubbish services, it’s also a great treasure trove if you don’t mind nosying in skips and large bins!

    This weekend I got as-new pillows, floor cushion, tupperware, desk chair with cute leather seat and back, clothes dryer and a few items of clothing. All the things we found which we didn’t want, but were usable, we took out of the bin/skip and placed nearby, on a wall or whatever, so other raiders could access them more easily.

    Although I enjoy skip-hunting, it would be better in general for those people throwing stuff out to think about whether it is usable by someone else, and either take it to a charity shop or leave it with a sign saying ‘Take it, it’s free!’ A local pub has helped organise collections of items with the council, and Monday through Thursday this week, anyone can go in and pick whatever they want, completely free of charge. Hopefully this will happen every year and therefore avoid the mountains of old shoes, computers and student trash that pile up.


  3. Derrick Douglass :: ChiefRemixOlogist :: ThriftStoreRemix
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:26:13

    Great set of rules. Many of creations are the result of my dumpster diving adventures. I have many rules for anything that I bring home. My primary rule is that the item(s) must have good bones or I can easily work it into something useful.

    I don’t pickup everything. Just the good stuff.

    Derrick Douglass :: ChiefRemixOlogist


  4. trashfinds
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 13:58:09

    Really dig your post! Very valid tips. I can’t say enough about having a good pair of work gloves too (and if you like diving/picking at night, a flashlight)… Check out my post on dealing with bugs & critters here: http://wp.me/pM4Gz-43



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