How to Dumpster Dive

There was a whole dumpster diving culture where I grew up, so much that the stores started locking their dumpsters. It was okay, though, we stole their keys and made copies of them. I lived in a bookstore then. A few of us did, it wasn’t radical or anything, we were just homeless and the lady who owned the bookstore was nice. We all had dumpster diving key rings, with copies of all the key dumpsters, and we would cook big pots of dumpster dived food on the woodstove after the store closed.

I guess dumpster diving is a pop culture thing now. I’m kind of pissed that all these rich people who don’t have to dive are diving just to be cool. I’m kind of pissed that all these people who could get so much food and stop rationing the fucking ramen are too proud to dive. Mostly, I’m pissed that the dominant culture brings animals and plants into being just for the purpose of eating, and they live their whole miserable, engineered lives just to be eaten, and then they THROW THEM IN THE FUCKING DUMPSTER. Assholes. So, since that’s what I’m the most pissed about, I think everyone should dumpster dive. Save the bodies of those who lived their whole lives for you to eat them before they go to a landfill.

Where should you dumpster dive? Where do you shop? Where would you shop if you had the money? That’s where the stuff you like is. Fruits and veggies are the most-tossed items, and if you keep going back you’ll find out what days are the scheduled produce dumping days. You can more than keep yourself in fruit and veggies by hitting a good dumpster once or twice a week. There’s even a popular health food chain that individually wraps their veggies in plastic for sale, so that when you fish them out of the dumpster they’re still clean and individually wrapped. But there are plenty of things to dive besides food – check out your furniture stores, college dorms, office places, etc.

When should you dive? I like to go at night, about the time the strip clubs close, and be all stealthy. There are people who go during the day and try to be unobtrusive in the dumpster, but that doesn’t really work for me.

How to dive? Unless you hit the motherload, you probably won’t actually be diving into the dumpster. Just pull up close to the dumpster and jump out with your flashlight. Look for good things, and then liberate them from their bags. It’s good to have a stick or something with a hook on the end for reaching things that are further away. In grocery store dumpsters, keep an eye out for boxes: they often toss the produce in the same box it came in. If you hit a good vein, keep going until it runs out.

What if you get caught? Dumpsters are private property, and it’s usually illegal to be in them. It’s pretty hard to get arrested for dumpster diving, tho. Just act like a poor hungry little wretch and tell the cop you’re sorry. They’ll tell you not to come back, and you promise not to go back. I’ve never got a ticket or anything (well, I got arrested out of a dumpster once, but I was really really asking for it, and then they let me go when they figured out I was a minor).

Be a good dumpster diver, and don’t take more than you can use. Leave anything you’re not taking at the top of the dumpster for the next diver, not next to the dumpster where the store will see it in the morning and get mad. If you run into other divers, share.

And if you see the kid I used to be in a dumpster somewhere, share your dumpster keys…


  1. great post. I completely agree. People misunderstood my post as an anti-dumpster diving tirade, but that wasn’t what I intended. I think dumpster diving is great. It’s subversive and practical and fun. My problem is more specifically with a certain type of attitude that goes with the rich kids pretending to be poor around here. They hate poor people and it’s obvious in the way they act, the judgments they make, and their abundance of opportunities just makes me hateful. Anyway, good post. Love you!

  2. I’ve been a diver for over 2 yrs now. What I can’t use gets donated, and not to Goodwill where everything is about turning a profit off of poor people… There is was supreme court ruling in the 80’s and I think it is State of Cali. vs Greenwood. Anyways, it is the ruling that basically made it legal for cops to pull things out of the trash without a warrant. So, basically, unless it’s posted, or it is city ordinance, it should be legal. I keep a copy in my glovebox for just in case. BTW, I love you your site. I was a dancer for 6+ yrs and a hippie(not just some girl in bohemian gap dresses and old navy flares..ugh) to top it off. I teach a pole dance class now. It is so rare to meet an un-materialistic dancer who shares most of the same views. I am in Atlanta, maybe I’ll see you at the next time Keller Williams comes through town if you’re here!!!

  3. Great post. Re: I’m kind of pissed that all these rich people who don’t have to dive are diving just to be cool.

    When I was in New Orleans with the volunteer center, I found out most of the hippy kids who were long term volunteers there (dreadlocks, dirty, table/dumpster diving, eating at soup kitchens) were what my friend called “Trustifarians” — kids with enormous trust funds taking a couple of years to bum around the States and live like dirty hippies. At first I was disgusted by the inauthenticity of it all. Then I realized that no matter how much money they had in the bank (and yeah, that’s a pet peeve of mine. I do seem to judge ‘rich’ people pretty harshly) — they are 1) doing good things by volunteering and 2) learning about what life as an ‘underpriviliged’ person is… so they are learning compassion. Forget the fact that it’s contrived and that it’s cool or whatever. They walk the walk and they know what it feels like to dumpster dive, so they are miles above the bourgeoise who have never even heard of the concept.

    Didn’t you once post that you save zt least half of the money you make stripping? The fact that you _have_ savings puts you squarely in the world of ‘people who have money’ and should not be dumpster diving. LOL!! But you are one of those zero footprint people, and it doesn’t matter what goes on in your bank account.

    ITA with what you wrote about animals being raised for food then tossed. This is another thing that REALLY steams me up.

    Great post.

  4. Cool post. I still “liberate” goods from dumpsters on occasion. However, where I grew up, the weather was often so hot that much food that ended up in the dumpster was not safe to consume by the time anyone could get a crack at it….

    Sigh. Hobostripper, you are one of a kind.

  5. I’ll admit that I haven’t dumpster dived much, although for a while there I acquired things from friends who had garbage routes (it’s a country thing). I come from the kind of “poor but proud” (dumb) background where you leave it for those who “really” need it. That’s a good way to get hungry if you’re that poor.

    I’ve learned a lesson from a man I know who decided not to accept any more money from his family, which led him to spend a year living in a mission. I respect those who live as they believe, and he did so. That year enriched his life and, thereby, the lives of those he comes into contact with. I don’t think his family liked it much, though.

  6. I just have to comment on the locking up of the dumpsters. Believe me, this was not to ever stop people from taking things out.

    It began when the dumps all around started charging to drop stuff off. Both business I ran had the dumpsters locked because contractors find it a lot cheaper to go around and fill up business dumpsters for free with stuff. Then again these same individuals will roll up and cut your locks off to drop stuff off as well.

    Items dumps dont like to take find there way there quite a bit now as well. Being a business that throws away food and having nothing to put it in because your dumpster has 40 used tires in it sucks.

  7. I don’t dumpster dive for food because I have food intolerances and eating really well is the underpinning of whatever health I still have and I figure that the ratio of work to food to get stuff I can actually eat isn’t that great (plus I can afford to buy good food). But I love jumping for other stuff – skips from building sites or renovations are my fav. Plus in university towns the students all hire skips at the end of the year and toss perfectly good stuff because they’re leaving town and are too stupid to do something sensible with it. I so hate seeing stuff thrown out, so I guess I feel similarly about say old furniture and trees as you do about plants and animals grown for food. I simply cannot believe how many useful things get wasted.

  8. yay! i love the way you broke this topic down, i feel the same way about waste, and i love being a scavenger and living off the scraps of modern culture. i hate that so much waste happens on such a huge scale, but dumpstering is one way for me to reduce it while benefiting my life. food not bombs is another organization who uses dumpstered food to feed vegan meals to anyone who shows up to their weekly dinners. anyone living near a city should look them up, they’re usually really great people too!

  9. Here in Upstate SC the newer stores have dumpsters with no doors. They toos their garbage down a chute into the dumpster then the garbage truck slides the dumpster out from under the chute to empty it, then slides it back in. There is no way to get into these. Anyway, I just spend the evening canning veggies I found dumpster diving and at a Flea Market. It is simply SHOCKING how much people waste. I try to Freecycle the things I find and can’t use, that way Goodwill and the others can’t make money off of them.

  10. Interesting that you should mention dumpsters. While I have never gone dumpster diving, I do feel that this society is a wasteful one. I’m an avid recycler so much that I hate dumpsters! Some of the leftover food that is thrown out should be donated to the poor.

    This is my belief but I think that any business or property owner that has a dumpster should be in prison!! 👿 I have a deal going on with a local business that gets their recycling, garbage, and compost picked up by the City. I take my compost to that business.

    I don’t like that rich kids do this!! It’s demeaning to them and makes fun of ppl that have to do this to get food in their gut!!

    Take care of yourself Tara and blessed be!!

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