Dumpster diving

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Dumpster diving (American English) or bin diving (British English)[1][2] is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but that may prove useful to the dumpster diver. Dumpster Diving is also viewed as an effective urban foraging technique.[3] Dumpster divers will forage dumpsters for items such as clothing, furniture, food, and other items of the like deemed in good working conditions.[3]

Etymology and alternate names

The dumpster diving term originates from the best-known manufacturer of commercial trash bins, Dempster, who use the trade name "Dumpster" for their bins,[4] and the fanciful image of someone leaping head first into a dumpster as if it were a swimming pool. In practice, the size and design of most dumpsters makes it possible to retrieve many items from the outside of dumpsters without having to "dive" into them.

The practice of dumpster diving can additionally be referred to as bin-diving,[5] containering,[6] D-mart,[7] dumpstering,[8] tatting, skipping[9] or "recycled" food.

Furthermore, the term binner is often used to describe individuals who collect recyclable materials for their deposit value.


A man rummaging through a skip at the back of an office building in Central London

Traditionally, most people who resort to dumpster-diving are forced to do so out of economic necessity, but this is not the case today.[10]

  • In Vancouver, Binners or bottle collectors search garbage cans and dumpsters for recyclable materials that can be redeemed for their deposit value. On average, these binners earn about $40 per day for several garbage bags full of discarded containers.[11]
  • Some dumpster divers, who self-identify as freegans, aim to reduce their ecological footprint by living exclusively from dumpster dived goods.
  • Artists often utilize discarded materials retrieved from trash receptacles to create works of found art or assemblage.[12]
  • Students have been known to undergo dumpster diving to either use salvaged high tech items in technical projects or, to simply indulge in their curiosity for unusual items.[13]
  • Dumpster diving can additionally be used in support of academic research. It serves as the main tool for garbologists, who study the sociology and archeology of trash in modern life. Others, because of their profession, may practice dumpster diving as a tool for private investigations to seek information and material for official purposes.
  • By reusing resources destined for the landfill, dumpster diving becomes an environmentalist endeavor (and is thus practiced by many pro-green communities). The wastefulness of consumer society and throw-away culture compels some individuals to rescue usable items (for example, computers) from destruction and divert them to those who can make use of the item in question.
  • Irregular, blemished, or damaged items that are still otherwise functional are regularly thrown away. Discarded food that might have slight imperfections, that is near its expiration date, or that is simply being replaced by newer stock is often thrown away despite being still edible. Many retailers are reluctant to sell this stock at reduced prices due to the belief that people will buy it instead of the higher priced newer stock, that extra handling time is required, and that there are liability risks.

Arguments against dumpster diving often focus on the health and cleanliness implications of people rummaging in trash.[14] This exposes the dumpster divers to potential health risks, and, especially if the dumpster diver does not return the non-usable items to their previous location, may leave trash scattered around. Divers can also be seriously injured or killed by garbage collection vehicles. Further, there are also concerns around the legality of taking items that may still technically belong to the person who threw them away (or to the waste management operator), and whether the taking of some items like discarded documents is a violation of privacy.


References in this section could be improved.
  • Dumpster diving is practiced differently in developed countries than in developing countries. In many developing countries, food is rarely thrown away unless it is rotten as food is scarce in comparison to developed nations. In countries like the United States where 40–50% of food is wasted, the trash contains a lot more food to gather.[15]
  • In many countries, charities collect excess food from supermarkets and restaurants and distribute it to impoverished neighborhoods. Dumpster divers, Karung guni, Zabaleen, and rag and bone men in these countries may concentrate on looking for usable items or scrap materials to sell rather than food items.[citation needed]
  • In the United States, Canada, and Europe, some bakeries, grocery stores, or restaurants will routinely donate food according to a Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, but more often, because of health laws or company policy, they are required to discard food items by the expiration date, because of overstock, being overly ripened, spoiled, cosmetically imperfect, or blemished.
  • Offices, factories, department stores, and other commercial establishments may equally throw out nonperishable items that are irregular, were returned, have minor damages, or are replaced by newer inventory. Most items tend to be in such a state of disrepair or cosmetically flawed that they will require some work by the dumpster diver to make the items functionally usable. For this reason, factory workers will at times intentionally destroy their items prior to being discarded to prevent them from being reused or resold.
  • As proof to publishing houses of unsold merchandise, booksellers will routinely remove the front covers of printed materials to render them destroyed prior to tossing the remains in the dumpster. Though readable, many damaged publications have disclaimers and legal notices against their existence or sale.
  • Some consumer electronics are dumped because of their rapid depreciation, obsolescence, cost to repair, or expense to upgrade. Owners of functional computers may find it easier to dump them rather than donate because many nonprofit organizations and schools are unable, or unwilling, to work with used equipment.[16] Some organizations like Geeks Into The Streets, reBOOT, Free Geek and Computerbank try to refurbish old computers for charity or educational use.
  • Sometimes dumpsters may contain recyclable metals and materials that can be reused or sold to recycling plants and scrap yards. The most common recyclable metals found are steel and then aluminum. [citation needed]
  • Residential buildings can additionally be a good source of clothing, furniture, appliances, and other housewares.

Legal status

References in this section could be improved.

Since dumpsters are usually located on private premises, divers may occasionally get in trouble for trespassing while dumpster diving, though the law is enforced with varying degrees of rigor. Dumpster diving per se is often legal when not specifically prohibited by law. Abandonment of property is another principle of law that applies to recovering materials via dumpster diving.

Police searches of dumpsters as well as similar methods are also generally not considered violations; evidence seized in this way has been permitted in many criminal trials. The doctrine is not as well established in regards to civil litigation.

Companies run by private investigators specializing in dumpster diving have emerged as a result of the need for discreet, undetected retrieval of documents and evidence for civil and criminal trials. Private investigators have also written books on "P.I. technique" in which dumpster diving or its equivalent "wastebasket recovery" figures prominently.

  • In the United States, the 1988 California v. Greenwood case in the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no common law expectation of privacy for discarded materials.Template:Psc There are, however, limits to what can legally be taken from a company's refuse. In a 1983 Minnesota case involving the theft of customer lists from a garbage can, Tennant Company v. Advance Machine Company (355 N.W.2d 720), the owner of the discarded information was awarded $500,000 in damages.Template:Psc
  • Dumpster diving in England and Wales may qualify as theft within the Theft Act 1968[17] or as common-law theft in Scotland, though there is very little enforcement in practice.
  • In Italy, a law issued in 2000 declared dumpster diving to be legal.
  • In Germany, a dumpster's contents are regarded as the property of the dumpster's owner. Therefore, taking items from a dumpster is viewed as theft. Be that as it may, the police will routinely disregard the illegality of dumpster diving seeing as the items found are generally of low value. There has only been one known instance where divers were to be prosecuted: the thieves were arrested on assumed burglary as they had surmounted a supermarket's fence which was then followed by a theft complaint by the owner.[18]
  • In Canada, The Trespass to Property Act - legislation dating back to the British North America Act of 1867 - grants property owners and security guards the power to ban anyone from their premises, for any reason, permanently. This is done by issuing a notice to the intruder, who will only be breaking the law upon return. A recent case in Canada, which involved a police officer who retrieved a discarded weapon from a trash receptacle as evidence, created some controversy. The Judge ruled the policeman's actions as legal although there was no warrant present, which led some to speculate the event as validation for any Canadian citizen to raid garbage disposals.[19]
  • In 2009, a Belgian dumpster diver and eco-activist nicknamed Ollie was detained for a month for dumpster diving accused of theft and burglary. On February 25th, 2009, Ollie was arrested for taking food from a dumpster at an AD Delhaize market in Bruges. His trial evoked protests in Belgium against restrictions from taking discarded food items.[20][21][22]


Notable instances

In popular culture

  • In 1995 film Hackers, Dade and Kate go dumpster diving and obtain some papers.
  • In 2001, dumpster diving was popularized in the book Evasion, published by CrimethInc.
  • In the television show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack the main characters regularly dumpster dive in search of candy.
  • Author John Hoffman wrote two books based on his own dumpster diving exploits; The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving and Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course: How to Turn Other People's Trash into Money, Publicity, and Power, and was featured in the documentary DVD The Ultimate Dive.
  • British television shows have even featured home renovations and decoration using salvaged materials. Changing Rooms is one such show, broadcast on BBC One. Recovery of still-useful items from discards is well known in other cultures as well; James Fallows noted it in his book written about his time living in Japan. However, much of the richness attributed to dumpster diving in Japan ended with the collapse of the nation's economic bubble in 1990.[citation needed]
  • In football banter, the term "bin dipper" has been put towards Liverpool F.C .[citation needed]
  • Surfing In 2009 Pro surfer Dane Reynolds plucked an old beat up piece of Polyester foam out of a dumpster behind the Channel Islands Surfboard factory. He shaped the piece of Foam into board that at the time, was thought to be "short, fat, and ugly." The point of the new shape was to distribute volume to the width and thickness of the board in order to cut down in the overall board length to use in smaller surf, all the while staying progressive on the face of the wave. The board was a hit and was dubbed the name "dumpster diver". The board changed the way surfboard shapers designed boards for use in smaller waves by trying to copy the same ideas used in the dumpster diver. Founded by Cecil Barefoot in North Carolina in 1932.

See also


  1. Lewycka, Marina. "So, I'm a skip addict - avocado bath suite, anyone?", London Evening Standard, 02.07.09. Retrieved on 2009-10-31. 
  2. "Issue 561", SchNEWS, 22 September 2006. Retrieved on 2009-11-11. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Admin The Do's and Don'ts of Dumpster Diving. Wilderness Survival Techniques. URL accessed on 9 March 2012.
  4. Erin McKean, ed (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (second ed.). Oxford University Press. . 
  5. Renton, Alex. "Why I love bin diving", guardian.co.uk, August 17, 2007. Retrieved on November 28, 2009. 
  6. Dumpster diving stays on trend in Germany
  7. Niki D'Andrea. Dumpster Dining: For Freegans, Eating Garbage Is Getting Downright Trendy - Page 1 - News - Phoenix. Phoenix New Times. URL accessed on 2012-09-07.
  8. Colon, Dalia One man's trash is another man's ... lunch. St. Petersburg Times. URL accessed on November 28, 2009.
  9. Skipping Diner. URL accessed on 2012-09-11.
  10. Trash, Mr. Are you really interest in Dumpster Diving?. Same Day Dumpsters. URL accessed on 12 March 2012.
  11. Jackson, Emily. "Vancouver fireworks a boon for city", The Vancouver Sun, 2010-07-28. Retrieved on 2010-08-04. 
  12. Sachs, Andrea. "Get Your Mind Into the Gutter", Washington Post, 7 November 2004. Retrieved on 20 January 2010. 
  13. Allison, Cyndeth. "Dumpster Diving", 8 May 2007. 
  14. Zabbaleen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. En.wikipedia.org. URL accessed on 2012-09-07.
  15. Harrison, Jeff U.S. Wastes Half of Food Produced. URL accessed on 2010-03-07.
  16. Template:Cite document
  17. Theft Act 1968. legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives.
  18. Archiv. taz.de. URL accessed on 2009-05-07.
  19. Cory Doctorow. Wired 5.09: Dumpster Diving. Wired.com. URL accessed on 2009-05-07.
  20. Auteur: Arne Franck. De Standaard: Arrogante houding houdt voedseldief in de cel. Standaard.be. URL accessed on 2009-05-07.
  21. Update Skipper in de Brugse gevangenis. Indymedia NL. URL accessed on 2009-05-07.
  22. Lawaaidemo voor Ollie aan de poorten van de Burgse gevangenis. Indymedia.be. URL accessed on 2009-05-07.
  23. Classic MMOG Raised From the Dead by Past Players - Slashdot. Games.slashdot.org. URL accessed on 2012-09-07.
  24. Greenwell, Megan. "Diving for Dinner - washingtonpost.com", washingtonpost.com<!, 2006-08-16. Retrieved on 2009-05-07. 

Further reading

  • Dumpster Diving - One Man's Trash by Grifter; originally given as a presentation at a 2600 meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. Later published in the Summer 2002 issue of 2600 Magazine
  • Art and Science of Dumpster Diving by John Hoffman; ISBN 1-55950-088-3
  • Stuart, Tristram (2009). Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. Penguin (UK) and WW Norton (US). . http://www.liber-ate.org. 
  • Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner (contains a chapter on the topic); ISBN 0-449-90943-3
  • Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course by John Hoffman (brings dumpster diving into the computer era) Paladin Press 2002; ISBN 1-58160-369-X
  • The Simple Life, Berkeley Press (contains a chapter by Hoffman on dumpster diving)
  • Steal This Book! by Abbie Hoffman (speaks briefly on dumpster diving in the Free Food chapter)
  • Evasion, CrimethInc. Far East, an autobiography detailing one anarchist's shoplifting- and dumpster-diving-supported travels
  • Mongo: Adventures in Trash by Ted Botha; ISBN 1-58234-452-3
  • Encyclopedia of Garbage by Steve Coffel, William L. Rathje; ISBN 0-8160-3135-5
  • Eikenberry, Nicole; Smith, Chery (2005). "Attitudes, beliefs, and prevalence of dumpster diving as a means to obtain food by Midwestern, low-income, urban dwellers". Agriculture and Human Values 22 (2): 187. . 
  • Wingo, Harry (1997). "Dumpster Diving and the Ethical Blindspot of Trade Secret Law". Yale Law & Policy Review 16 (1): 195–219. 

External links

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