In a mass-production centered world, it can be hard sometimes to be as ecologically friendly as we want to be. Sure, we recycle, we make sure not to litter, but are we still producing too much trash for just one person? How do we keep creating more and more garbage despite being more conscious?
To truly understand where this surplus of garbage continues to come from, look not to your own garbage can, but to the garbage cans of stores in your area. Dumpster divers are out there not only exposing corporate waste production, but doing their part in reducing it by repurposing some of that perfectly good 'trash' for their own needs.
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The Prevalence Of Garbage
If you're the type to pay attention to eco-conscious issues, you might already be aware of just how wasteful human beings are. Not necessarily on a personal level (though there certainly are some people who throw away more than they need to) but on a consumer level. Every day, stores of all different kinds throw away piles and piles of perfectly good, useable products all because they didn't make enough of a profit to warrant keeping them around.
Now, you might be asking why these stores don't donate or otherwise distribute these leftover products. You'd be right to ask that, as it appears the answer is simply corporate greed.
Though you might be fed a different answer should you actually ask the people in charge of those rules for chain stores, it more than likely boils down to "it costs more money than it's worth to pack everything up and deliver it to a shelter, donation center, or otherwise, so we just toss 'em."
Thankfully, a movement has been gaining popularity now that the general public has seen just how much gets thrown away and what they could score—that movement being dumpster diving.
That's right! People are venturing to the bin where food, electronics, clothing, and décor are left to die to try and give it another shot at life and use.
Some people liken dumpster divers to modern-day foragers, searching through the land's abundance to find items that never should have been thrown away in the first place. While the concept of dumpster diving isn't new, it has exploded in popularity lately thanks to social media.
There are a few places where these hunts are being recorded and shared with the world (namely TikTok and Reddit) that are helping outsiders get more on board with the concept.
Some Major Spoils
An instance of dumpster diving fame happened in late 2022, when a video from a girl who goes by GlamourDDive went viral on TikTok. In this video, she's scouring the dumpster of her local Apple store and finds a large bag filled with boxes of various apple products including iPhones and an iPad.
While the main electronics are missing, she does find some other useful items, including a charging cable, an Apple watch band, and Apple pen tips. Eagle-eye viewers also spotted an Airpod among the bag of discarded items. The video has 11.7 million views and 1.4 million likes at the time of writing.
Mountains Of Food
Traditionally, of course, we hear about dumpster diving in relation to food. The amount of food waste produced in the United States alone is astronomically high, far higher than it should be when there are so many people who go hungry due to homelessness and poverty.
According to Feeding America, roughly 119 billion pounds of food gets thrown away every year. That equates to 103 billion meals, $408 billion in wasted food, and accounts for around 40% of the country's food.
It's not due to the food going bad either. Grocery stores are notorious for only wanting to display produce that looks pretty, meaning any fruit or veggie with a slight imperfection gets tossed.
Stocked For Life
So, when looking through grocery store dumpsters, people often find tons of perfectly fine fruits and vegetables that they can then rescue and do whatever they want with.
This photo from the Dumpster Diving subreddit was titled, "Another $500+ haul from my favorite dumpster. Haven't purchased groceries in years!"
When someone asked what this person does with all this food, they explained, "It's actually a bit overwhelming sometimes! We have two full-size refrigerators and a full-size freezer which are always stuffed full. After sorting through it, some items that we don't want get donated to a community fridge or to a couple families that I give to regularly. I have 8 chickens and around 10 cats in my yard that eat very well too!"
A Job Well Done
Diving in grocery store (or grocery store adjacent) bins can also bring about some delicious treats. Above is another photo from Reddit of someone showing off their sweet haul, metaphorically and literally.
Stacks and stacks of chocolate bars and other desserts are piled on their counter, and as the title read, "There was twice this much, but we shared it before we got home." Again in the comments, this user also said that their neighborhood has a free community cupboard for food that they plan on stocking up with their yummy finds.
Frozen food also has a tendency to get thrown away by the box at grocery stores who don't put their entire shipment onto the sales floor.
This Tiktok shows a woman finding boxes of frozen meals in the dumpster of a Dollar Tree. The subreddit also has a multitude of posts of people finding packages of perfectly find meat, sometimes hundreds of dollars' worth.
Of course, one has to be more cautious when picking for frozen food. If it's hot where you are, it's possible those items have already gone bad just by being in the dumpster for a few hours, so be sure to do your due diligence and not get yourself sick over free food.
What About Other Items?
As shown by GlamourDDive earlier, people also dive for other retail items besides just food.
GlamourDDive's whole account is dedicated to dumpster diving at other home goods, clothing, and beauty stores such as Ulta, Victoria's Secret, Pottery Barn, and more.
She's often able to find quite a bit, but what she sees a lot of are items that have been destroyed to prevent people from getting any use out of them should they be rescued from the dumpsters. The video above shows her visiting an Old Navy bin that's filled with slashed clothes and shoes.
Close To Home
The realm of dumpster diving can also expand beyond retail store dumpsters. Think apartment buildings or other residential areas.
The Dumpster Diving subreddit especially has plenty of success stories of people finding perfectly good items being thrown in their building's garbage, especially when people are moving out. On the left side of the image is two iPhones, two MacBooks, and a watch one man found in his residential bin. On the right is a perfectly intact violin that another woman found in hers.
If you're sold on the idea and think dumpster diving is something you want to take a crack at, do know that there are some dangers.
First things first: check your local laws and see if it's actually legal where you live. In some areas, it's completely legal, in others it's not, and in some it's a sort of in-between, only being illegal if the bin is on someone's private property.
As exciting and beneficial as dumpster diving can be, it's not worth getting fined or arrested over.
If you're diving for food, there are a few things to look out for.
First is the temperature thing mentioned above. If you're looking for meat or other refrigerated-to-frozen goods, consider the weather and check any item you bring home. Well, do that anyway, but be extra careful with products that need to be kept cold!
For produce, it's best to rescue things that are in bags or boxes, as the inner walls of dumpsters are not only treated with cleaning chemicals sometimes but can also have a lot of nasty buildup from years of handling garbage. Wash everything you bring home extremely thoroughly.
Lastly, always check for product recalls and expiration dates. Not everything gets thrown away willy-nilly.
A Second Chance At Life
Dumpster diving is a phenomenon that's really born out of necessity. Many people dumpster dive (or at least start dumpster diving) due to food insecurity and poverty. In a country that overproduces in so many ways, throwing perfectly good things away when people out there are in need of them should be criminal.
Those who rescue these items from landfills are not only doing an environmental good, but a moral one too, making sure people who need or can use these items get the chance to.
Means Of Survival
If you're pretty sure that the dumpster diving life isn't for you, then at the very least, treat those who do it with sympathy and kindness.
You can never know what's going on in someone's life just by looking at them, and judging an act such as dumpster diving that allows those struggling to access necessities will only lead them to feel more shame when trying to get what they need to survive.
Picking through retail trash may not be for you, and that's okay! Who knows though, if you ever decide to give it a shot, you could end up like the lucky person whose haul is pictured here. "$700 free wine... I asked the dumpster God if I should quit drinking. This is her answer... I guess that's a NO!"
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