“Every year in America, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food.” – The Dive
What is it?
Dumpster Diving is exactly what it sounds like. Find a dumpster. Outside a store, usually they’re out back, in the alleyway. Climb to the edge of the dumpster and peer inside. If it’s a grocery’s dumpster, you can be met with a number of things. The best dive experiences have boxes of fresh produce, bread, eggs, even cheese or doughnuts. The worst experiences? Let’s be honest, you’re in a dumpster, so your expectations aren’t too high. 🙂
Who can do it?
Anyone. Sometimes you don’t even have to climb in. Everyone has different standards. Some people REFUSE to get IN. Others will take ANYTHING from the dumpster. It’s not just the homeless, jobless, poor that dumpster dive. This week, I’ve been diving with my friends and husband. Between 5 of us, we share 6 bachelor’s degrees, 2 masters, prestigious awards, and 3 ‘average, well-paying job.’ Dumpster diving isn’t just a class thing anymore. Figure out your standards. Take a friend. Bring a box or a few grocery sacks. You probably won’t leave empty-handed.
WHY do it?
Now this part is probably my favorite. I think this blog says it really well. There are many reasons you could dive. Because you’d like the adventure. Or want to save money for something else. Perhaps it’s a political statement that we waste too much. Perhaps it’s a religious concern. Or you’re just disgusted that in America, we waste 96 billion pounds of food. That’s thrown away!
For me, it’s been a bit of all of them. Even when Sean and I worked well-paying full-time jobs in Newark – we dove. We got hoards of day-old breads from bakeries. We’d share with friends, strangers, hungry people. We’d eat off one snag for 2 months! We dove from craft stores and scored art supplies for our friend who taught in an after-school program. I rescued columbines & healthy soil from the trash. The obvious motivators of being frugal lead lots of people to explore it.
Is it legal?
Freegan.info explains it well: Dumpster diving is legal in the United States except where prohibited by local regulation. According to a 1988 Supreme Court Ruling (California vs. Greenwood), when a person throws something out, that item is now the public domain. Here is some language from that ruling: “It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”
Dumpsters can sometimes be locked, in gated areas, or have ‘no trespassing’ signs posted. In this case, if you continue to dive, you’re more likely to get questioned by authorities and could even be ticketed.
In the couple of dozen times that I’ve been diving, I’ve never been asked to leave, confronted by police, security, etc. Sean’s been asked to leave two times, but he also dives a LOT more than I do. 🙂
to KNOW before you GO
– sometimes you don’t even have to dive! In 1995, Bill Clinton passed the Good Samaritan Act, which encourages businesses to donate un-used food to the needy. Therefore, you may even ask stores to donate their unused produce to you, your animals, your non-profit, etc. I’ve found this to be pretty fruitful! One manager of Whole Foods would leave the day-old breads for us anytime we called.
– The best thing is to know when you’re within legal bounds or not. Again, everyone has a different standard. I use my brain. If there are no signs, locks, gates, or inhibitors to the dumpster, then I get in!
– We dive during daylight hours, or at night. If you repeatedly dive at the same place, it’s not a bad idea to change up the times you go.
– Don’t let it messy! Practice leave no trace. If you’re serious about this becoming a new way of life, be considerate. If you leave a mess, block traffic, cause a fuss, expect to be discouraged by authorities, or worse.
– Share! Share the experience. Go with someone else. You’ll need someone to shuttle produce from the dumpster to your car. Share your finds. Have someone over. Donate to someone who has less than you. Share with your family. Let your hand be open. How can you hold tightly to something you were given for free?Get in.