Diving in Dumpsters: Dispelling the Dirty Myth

With the cover of darkness and aided with a headlamp, I make the rounds of local grocery store dumpsters. Soon after 10PM when the stores typically close, I follow the pavement to the back of the store and pull up right beside the dumpster. With the car door open and the engine still running for a quick get-away I jump out and slide the dumpster side-door open.

I first tried dumpster diving in Alaska when I casually peered into a dumpster at a popular local park. I found some marshmallows in a bag, fished them out, and proceeded to eat them with my Swiss army knife. I was by no means destitute or desperate but I was hungry. My friend and I were living in a tent at a nearby farm and were essentially starving ourselves in order to not spend money. It’s a bad habit I have but when I try to cut costs I cut out food. Another day we found some lettuce in that same dumpster and later took it to a potluck.

Fast forward years later and I have perfected the art of dumpster diving. I never go out of my way to check out the dumpsters but if I am already out in town late I cruise by the regular spots. Ready to get in and out quickly, I drive through town with a headlamp on my forehead and a latex glove on my right hand. I’m self-conscious and hope no one sees what I’m wearing and think I’m going to pull a Dexter Morgan and murder someone. But rather I’m going to salvage perfectly edible produce from the local supermarket.

Each and every time I dumpster dive I am shocked and upset at the amount of food thrown away. I find mostly produce just sitting in boxes on top. I usually never have to get in the dumpster and never open a garbage bag. Tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, avocados, lemons, and pretty much anything you could think of is sitting there waiting to be taken to the landfill. Stores most likely throw this food away because it is expired, bruised, or they received another shipment. Everything that I take is perfectly safe to eat and other than the produce it is usually packaged. Lettuce, mushrooms, grapes, and bread are all wrapped up and never touch anything unsightly. Dumpster diving doesn’t have to be dirty and gross; all my experiences were sanitary and you can judge what is safe to eat just by looking at it.

One of my most prized finds was the day after Valentine’s Day. I stopped first thing in the morning because it was during the winter and I knew everything in the dumpster would essentially be refrigerated during the night. To my surprise I found several cakes sitting on top in their plastic containers. I saved two and took them to work. That day I was the kind, thoughtful, and sharing co-worker.

At times it’s hard for me to limit myself at the dumpsters. I want to take everything and save it from the landfill, but the one code of dumpster diving is to only take what you need. One night I took too much but found it a much appreciated home with one of my friends and her roommates. After a successful night diving I get an adrenaline kick and feel proud of my rescued bounty. I have now widened my searches to include local bakeries and even a Dunkin Donuts. I am interested in expanding this activity to other areas to see what I can find and reuse.

One person’s trash is another’s dinner.

*Disclaimer: Dumpster diving legality is ambiguous. Depending on your local laws and what kind of dumpsters you dive in varies and should be looked into before you dive. I only visit open dumpsters and make sure no one knows I was there by not making a mess. In order to not be seen I dive quickly and leave the area. Overall, I am causing no harm all the while reducing food waste. Maybe it’s time to rethink the differences of legality and morality.