Dumpster Diving Etiquette

Everyday, on my way to and from work, there are piles of stuff sitting on the curb at various locations on my route. I sometimes wonder how some of these places are constantly amassing such piles of stuff. Furniture, toys, books, TVs, raw materials, you-name-it. Occasionally I'll see something of interest. My instinct is to stop and take a look. At least slow down and rubber neck a bit.

It's a habit I developed several years ago, living in a different area. You can only watch a certain amount of perfectly good stuff go to the landfill before you swallow your pride, and 'dumpster dive'. Now this rarely involved actual dumpsters, though those can be quite the treasure trove and quite dangerous. Usually just stuff leaned up against the trash can, awaiting the weekly trash service.

Why not? They don't want it. I could use it. Why let it got to the landfill and go buy new just because I'm too full of myself to take something from someone's trash pile?

Still, I was discrete about it - likely that no one ever noticed. In our previous locale, people left for work between 6 and 7:15AM. Since I left around 7:30-7:45, I had quite the pick of the litter, so to speak. Then there were the bits put out the night before. Anything is possible under cover of the night.

Now, in a less urban community, I'm less sure of my methods. The etiquette is different here, and in some areas on my way to work, I'm not sure that it's done at all. At least I'm not quite ready to find out. Still figuring it out.

What is the dumpster diving etiquette in your area?
What are some of your greatest finds?
Are you still to timid to attempt it?


RecycleCindy said...

Hello, I followed the link over to visit from Green Carnival. While I haven't actually dove into a dumpster, I have taken stuff from the garbage pile going to to the dump at work and other places. I also love to check out the "free" box at garage sales and the thrift store. It's always amazing what you can find in those things. I love to upcycle and repurpose things so I can usually find something of valuable to take home.

I love your Chevy truck logo. It reminds me of our snowplow truck.

Amy K. said...

I find it a lit easier when I'm walking than if I'm driving. Where to park the car? Should I really do a U-turn? Will co-workers see me?

When I lived in a college town, the month of August was full of boxes at the side of the road marked "Free" with an interesting assortment of things, as well as furniture. I got a comfy chair, a kitchen table, punch bowl set, and a large cracked pot I used as a planter this way.

These days, I pass all the good stuff while I'm driving in to the office rather than wandering my own neighborhood, so it's more likely that a co-worker will tease me. I still haven't stopped, because I didn't NEED that wooden chair, that sofa table, that I-could-probably-fix-it vacuum, or the slightly shaggy broom. Though they were all tempting.

I have, however, swooped in to scope my neighbors trash in my current neighborhood. Also on the pile o' free stuff after a yardsale.

I guess this isn't a comment on etiquette, rather commentary on what makes me comfortable taking others' cast-offs.

(not) the Jet Set said...

Amy -

Great comments. In college anything remotely near the curb or the trash was fair game, right? And stuff would disappear usually without shame. I scope the neighbor's trash too as some seem to be pretty wasteful. The question really is: Does it disappear before trash day? Is that sort of thing done in your area? Or other areas of town? Just yesterday, one neighbor set out an old ladder and a set of dining chairs. Now I had no use for either, but it was a whole set of chairs! Of which I could see nothing wrong. Those were gone in less than a day.

James W. said...

There's not really any etiquette to dumpster diving, per se. If it's in a dumpster, go for it. It's trash and usually, if you're not seen no one's the wiser. However, if you are seen, don't fret, it's trash and it was thrown out for a reason and it's no longer anyone's legal property.

However, if it's sitting on a curb in front of someone's house, that's a different story because you're usually trespassing if you grab something (depends on how far they actually pull their trash to the street, if it's past a sidewalk, it's public property). Dorms and apartments are different altogether. Since dorms don't have curbs but instead have a central dumpster, it's 100% fair game. Same with any apartment/condo complex that you legally have access to that does not do curbside pick up. If there's a gate or some other obstacle blocking your entrance, it's no longer legal and bad etiquette.

I'm not an expert at this, my mom just raised me doing this sort of stuff since I was a little boy :).

(not) the Jet Set said...

Right. Same for me. I would consider it fair game as well once it hits the curb. BUT, four things that really make me hesitate:
1> Neighborhoods that with bad reputations
2> A fair amount of times that people seemingly have been kicked out and the landlord put their stuff at the curb.
3> Areas where people seem to be out and about ALL hours of the night.
4> All of the above.

Anonymous said...

Where I live, we have "transfer-stations" where you take your trash if you don't have curbside pickup (most people here don't). The stations have 20-30 small dumpsters and a big covered shelter for "reusable items." They go through and pitch everything from the shelter every week or so to keep it clean, but you can find all manner of stuff there. I drop off good stuff I can't use and don't want to bother freecycling. Some of the things I've picked up: toilet, refrigerator, dishwasher, television (I find these ALL the time, but I don't usually pick them up because I have no use for extra TVs,) 200 gal poly water tank (for hauling water in my truck,) clothing, scrap steel (for small welding projects,) space-heaters, fans, lamps, desks, file cabinets, bookshelves, computer/office chairs, spare tires for my car, gas cans, propane tanks, clothes washers and dryers... you name it, it can be found there if you keep your eyes open.

Alison Robin said...

Well honestly, not a lot of dumpster diving goes on where I'm from. But, if you know where to look, you can find some amazing stuff.
There is one place that I particularly like: it is one of those dumpsters that's big enough to be a swimming pool (you need a ladder to get out), and it's only used for computer junk (don't worry, no monitors so it's all safe).
Now, it's behind a middle school. I don't know why they keep throwing out good electronics and cool bits of metal.
I go with my friends and we usually leave with a couple motherboards, VCR bits and pieces, hard drive magnets, and all the wire we can find. What do we do with them? We take it all apart and turn it into art. You can make adorable sculptures of monsters and people and robots out of batteries and resistors and wires.

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