7 Times When It's Okay To Dumpster Dive

Back in our salad days, my husband and I outfitted much of our New Orleans apartment with dumpster-diving goodies. We found our coffee table in the trash behind a defunct Japanese restaurant. Some serious sanding removed the cigarette burns and -- presto! -- we had a unique centerpiece for our living room. 


We next culled a wrought-iron headboard from the flea market dumpster. It's pre-antiqued look was ideal for our French Quarter home. Soon our walls were covered with posters, tapestries and hand-woven rugs rescued from other trash bins. All these finds, not to mention many an unusual nick and knack, gave our slave-quarters apartment a unique flair for nearly nothing.

We were just kids, justifiably proud of our dumpster-dive finds. Many years later, however, I still find it difficult to pass a well-stuffed trash barrel without peeking in, particularly during the spring days when students in our college town are trashing unwanted belongings. Old habits die hard. Besides, there's something criminal about sending perfectly good consumer goods to our overflowing landfill.

So when is it okay to dumpster dive? There are some basic rules, like leave the dumpster as you found it, privacy should always be observed, and make sure the practice is legal in your city. Here are seven times when it's OK to dig through someone else's trash.

1. When The Dumpster Isn't Surrounded By A Fence
Fences are there for a reason. They clearly indicate the dumpster is off limits and the owner's privacy should be respected. The trash may contain sensitive materials or the owner may be concerned about liability issues. Either way--stay out.

2. At Apartment Buildings When People Move

As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, "People come and go so quickly here!" Apartment dwellers, who tend to be short-time residents, will toss excess items that either don't fit into moving trucks, didn't sell on Craigslist or simply don't suit their next home.

3. At Public Dumpsters Behind Stores

Look for merchants that interest you, like toys stores, flower shops, bookstores, etc. It's surprising how many goodies you'll find hiding beneath the cardboard boxes. Sometimes, your hunt will uncover more practical items like food. Grocery stores will dump an entire six-pack of pop when one explodes, rather than clean off the cans and sell them individually. Before you dive, however, look for any "Keep Out" signs.

4. When You Can Resell Your Finds
No one says you have to keep your salvaged goods. Toy stores ditch out-of-season items, plant stores trash greenery that's past its prime, and electronics stores toss their scratch-and-dent products. Serious dumpster divers can supplement their incomes with a flea market stand, Craigslist posting or eBay page recycling such perfectly good items. This is especially true for those with the time, energy and skill to upcycle finds.

5. When You Want To Cut Your Grocery Bill
A University of Arizona study estimated nearly 40 to 50 percent of all food produced in the United States is never actually eaten. While you may not be interested in digging goopy lettuce leaves and half-eaten burgers out of a dumpster, there's lots of excess food out there for the taking. Head to grocery and bakery dumpsters around 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays when stores unload their surplus of day-old bagels, chips, bread and the like.

6. When You Have a Nifty Nabber Grabber Stick

No more groveling around in the muck. This 51-inch grab stick gives you the dexterity to pick up a quarter from the bottom of a dumpster. You'll find the Nifty Nabber available from Amazon.

7. When You're Retrieving a Cat

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2 Comments

What in the world is WRONG with people?
Posted by Everett
OMG to the lady who threw the cat in the dumpster!
Posted by Michelle