Dumpster diving

Dumpster diving
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Dumpster diving (known as skipping in the UK)[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 be useful to the dumpster diver.


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,[3] 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 is also known variously as bin-diving,[4] containering,[5] D-mart,[6] dumpstering,[7] tatting, or "recycled" food.

A similar term is binner and is often used to describe people that 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.[citation needed] In Vancouver, Binners or bottle collectors search garbage cans and dumpsters for recyclable materials that can be redeemed for their deposit value. These binners earn on average about $40 per day for several garbage bags full of discarded containers.[8]

The karung guni, Zabbaleen, the rag and bone man, waste picker, junk man or bin hoker are people who make their living by sorting and trading trash. A similar process known as gleaning was practiced in rural areas and some ancient agricultural societies, where the residue from farmers' fields was collected.

Some dumpster divers self-identified as freegans aim to avoid their ecological impact by living exclusively from dumpster dived goods.

Artists use discarded materials to create works of found art or assemblage.[9] Students may use salvaged high tech items in technical projects. Still others may dumpster dive just to indulge in their curiosity for unusual items.[10]

Dumpster diving, used in support of academic research, is a tool for garbologists, who study the sociology and archeology of trash in modern life. There is a major outpost of academic garbology at the University of Arizona, directed for some decades by William Rathje. Others, because of their profession, may use dumpster diving as a method of procedure for private investigators, police, and others seeking information and material for official purposes.

Supermarkets throw away large amounts of unsold food products.

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 drives some individuals to rescue usable items (for example, computers) from destruction and divert them to the less fortunate. Some see it as their only way of making any money or getting some needed goods in bad economic times.

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.[11] 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.


Dumpster diving is practiced differently in developed countries than in developing countries. In many economically developing countries, food is rarely thrown away unless it is rotten. In countries like the United States where 40–50% of food is wasted, the trash contains a lot of food.[12] In many countries, charities collect excess food from supermarkets and restaurants and distribute it to the needy. 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.[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 also may 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. In some cases, owners may intentionally destroy items before discarding to prevent them 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 and the remains thrown in the dumpster. Though readable, many damaged publications have disclaimers and legal notices against their existence or sale.

Residential buildings can be a good source of clothing, furniture, appliances, and other housewares

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 nonprofits and schools are unable or unwilling to work with used equipment.[13] 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]

Legal status

Because dumpsters are usually located on private premises people 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 (and possibly other) searches of dumpsters and like discards are also generally not violations; evidence seized in this way has been permitted in many criminal trials. The doctrine is less well established in regard to civil litigation.

Companies run by private investigators specializing in dumpster diving have sprung up 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. 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,[14] the owner of the discarded information was awarded $500,000 in damages.
  • Dumpster diving in England and Wales may qualify as theft within the Theft Act 1968 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, the contents of a dumpster is the property of the owner of the dumpster so taking items from a dumpster is technically theft. However, the police will routinely disregard dumpster divers due to the zero value of the items—there is only one case known of an actual prosecution: the thieves were arrested on assumed burglary as they had surmounted a fence and the supermarket owner made a complaint on theft later.[15]
  • 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 on return. A recent case involved a police officer who retrieved a discarded weapon from trash as evidence; the Judge ruled it as legal without a warrant, so some have speculated this is enough backing for anyone to raid garbage.[16]
  • A Belgian dumpster diver and eco-activist nicknamed Ollie was detained for a month for dumpster diving accused of theft and burglary. He was arrested on 25 February 2009, for taking food out of a dumpster of AD Delhaize in Bruges. His trial evoked protests in Belgium against restrictions of taking discarded food.[17][18][19]


Notable instances

  • In the 1960s, Jerry Schneider, using recovered instruction manuals from The Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company, abused the company's own procedures to acquire hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of telephone equipment over several years until his arrest.
  • The Castle Infinity game, after its shutdown, was brought back from the dead by rescuing its servers from the trash.[20]
  • Food Not Bombs is an anti-hunger organization that gets a significant amount of its food from dumpster diving from the dumpsters at small markets and corporate grocery stores in the US and UK.[21]

In popular culture

  • 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]

See also


  1. ^ Lewycka, Marina (02.07.09). "So, I'm a skip addict - avocado bath suite, anyone?". London Evening Standard. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23714626-so-im-a-skip-addict---avocado-bath-suite-anyone.do. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  2. ^ "Issue 561". SchNEWS. 22 September 2006. http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news561.htm. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  3. ^ Erin McKean, ed (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (second ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195170776. 
  4. ^ Renton, Alex (August 17, 2007). "Why I love bin diving". London: guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2007/aug/17/wastenotwantnot. Retrieved November 28, 2009. 
  5. ^ Dumpster diving stays on trend in Germany
  6. ^ http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2009-08-20/news/dumpster-dining-for-freegans-eating-garbage-is-getting-downright-trendy/
  7. ^ Colon, Dalia (April 11, 2008). "One man's trash is another man's ... lunch". St. Petersburg Times. http://www.tampabay.com/features/consumer/article451134.ece. Retrieved November 28, 2009. 
  8. ^ Jackson, Emily (2010-07-28). "Vancouver fireworks a boon for city". The Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/Vancouver+fireworks+boon+city+bottle+collectors/3334521/story.html. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  9. ^ Sachs, Andrea (7 November 2004). "Get Your Mind Into the Gutter". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A31130-2004Nov6?language=printer. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  10. ^ Allison, Cyndeth (8 May 2007). "Dumpster Diving". North Denver News. http://northdenvernews.com/content/view/766/2/ 
  11. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zabaleen
  12. ^ Harrison, Jeff (18 November 2004). "U.S. Wastes Half of Food Produced". http://uanews.org/node/10448. Retrieved 2010-03-07 
  13. ^ Ha, Tanya (6 November 2003). E-waste. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. http://abc.net.au/science/features/ewaste. Retrieved 2007-06-11 
  14. ^ 355 N.W.2d 720
  15. ^ "Archiv". taz.de. http://www.taz.de/pt/2004/12/21/a0047.nf/text. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  16. ^ Cory Doctorow. "Wired 5.09: Dumpster Diving". Wired.com. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.09/es_dumpster.html. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  17. ^ Auteur: Arne Franck. "De Standaard: Arrogante houding houdt voedseldief in de cel". Standaard.be. http://www.standaard.be/Artikel/Detail.aspx?artikelId=PH276CR6. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  18. ^ "Update Skipper in de Brugse gevangenis". Indymedia NL. http://indymedia.nl/nl/2009/03/57978.shtml. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  19. ^ "Lawaaidemo voor Ollie aan de poorten van de Burgse gevangenis". Indymedia.be. 2009-03-05. http://www.indymedia.be/en/node/32078. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  20. ^ http://games.slashdot.org/games/05/06/21/0133233.shtml?tid=206&tid=209&tid=10
  21. ^ Greenwell, Megan (2006-08-16). "Diving for Dinner - washingtonpost.com". washingtonpost.com<!. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/15/AR2006081501248_pf.html. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dumpster diving — searching in the garbage to find bottles etc.    No. This college does not offer a course in Dumpster diving …   English idioms

  • Dumpster diving — ➡ Dumpster * * * …   Universalium

  • dumpster diving — /ˈdʌmstə daɪvɪŋ/ (say dumstuh duyving) noun the salvaging of household food items from the stock which has been thrown away by a shop, supermarket, etc., into a dumpster. –dumpster diver, noun …  

  • Dumpster Diving — Containern bezeichnet das Mitnehmen weggeworfener Lebensmittel aus Abfallcontainern. Gemüse aus Containern Dies kann meist bei Containern von Supermärkten, aber auch bei Fabriken, beobachtet werden. Die oft noch genießbaren Nahrungsmittel werden… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • dumpster diving — noun the act of recovering, for any purpose, discarded items that would otherwise be sent to a landfill Syn: binning, D Mart, dumpstering, garbage gleaning, garbage picking, garbing, skip raiding, skipping, tatting, trashing …   Wiktionary

  • dumpster diving — …   Useful english dictionary

  • Dumpster — Three Dumpsters in various sizes Green Dumpster with …   Wikipedia

  • dumpster diver — (DUMP.stur dy.vur) n. A person who sifts through garbage, particularly a dumpster, looking for valuable or useful items. dumpter dive v. dumpster diving pp. Example Citation: Tonight, however, Seymour s van follows a proven route, and each… …   New words

  • Dumpster (term) — A dumpster is a large steel waste receptacle designed to be emptied into garbage trucks. The term is a genericized trademark of the Dumpster brand. The term is also common in Australia although Dumpster is not an established brand there. In… …   Wikipedia

  • dumpster dive — 1. verb to practice dumpster diving See Also: dumpster diver, dumpster diving 2. noun an expedition whose purpose is dumpster diving …   Wiktionary

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