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Dumpster diving


Dumpster diving, commonly referred to in the UK and many parts of Europe as totting,skipping, skip diving or skip salvage, is a popular form of modern salvaging of waste in large commercial, residential, industrial and construction containers to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but that may prove useful to the picker. It is not confined to dumpsters specifically, and may cover standard household waste containers, landfills or small dumps.

Different terms are used to refer to different forms of this activity. For picking materials from the curbside trash collection, curb shopping, trash picking or street scavenging are sometimes used. When seeking primarily metal to be recycled, one is scrapping. When picking the leftover food from traditional or industrial farming left in the fields one is gleaning. It is viewed as an effective modern foraging technique. Other related forms exist and are referred to by other terms.

People may often dumpster dive for useful items such as clothing, furniture, food, and similar items in good working condition. Some people do this out of necessity due to poverty, while others do so professionally and systematically for large profits.

The term "dumpster diving" emerged in the 1980s, combining "diving" with "dumpster", a large commercial trash bin. The term "Dumpster" itself comes from the Dempster Dumpster, a brand of bins manufactured by Dempster Brothers beginning in 1937. "Dumpster" became genericized by the 1970s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "dumpster diving" is chiefly found in American English and first appeared in print in 1983, with the verb "dumpster-dive" appearing a few years later. In British English, the practice may be known as "skipping", from skip, another term for this type of container.

Alternative names for the practice include bin-diving, containering, D-mart, dumpstering, totting, and skipping. In Australia, garbage picking is called "skip dipping."

The term "binner" is often used to describe individuals who collect recyclable materials for their deposit value. For example, in Vancouver, British Columbia, 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 a day for several garbage bags full of discarded containers.



  • Food. 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 to 50 percent of food is wasted, the trash contains a lot more food to gather. In many countries, charities collect excess food from supermarkets and restaurants and distribute it to impoverished neighbourhoods. Trash pickers, 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. 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.
  • Books and periodicals. As proof to publishing houses of unsold merchandise, booksellers will routinely remove the front covers of printed materials to render them destroyed prior to disposing of their remains in the garbage. Though readable, many damaged publications have disclaimers and legal notices against their existence or sale.
  • Irregular or damaged goods. Offices, factories, department stores, and other commercial establishments may equally throw out non-perishable items that are irregular, were returned, have minor damages, or are replaced by newer inventory. Many items tend to be in such a state of disrepair or cosmetically flawed that they will require some work to make the items functionally usable. For this reason, employees will at times intentionally destroy their items prior to being discarded to prevent them from being reused or resold.
  • Returned items. Manufacturers often find it cheaper to routinely discard items returned as defective under warranty instead of repairing them, although a device is often repairable or usable as a source of spare parts to repair other, similar discarded devices.
  • eWaste. 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. Some organizations like Geeks Into The Streets, reBOOT, Free Geek and Computerbank try to refurbish old computers for charity or educational use. Occasionally, vendors dispose of unsaleable, non-defective new merchandise as landfill. The Atari video game burial in Alamogordo, New Mexico after the North American video game crash of 1983 is a well-known example; a 2014 excavation recovered about 1300 games for curation as museum exhibits or auction.
  • Clothing. While thrift stores routinely refuse used goods which they cannot cheaply and easily resell, the items which they do accept cost them nothing. There is therefore no shrinkage cost associated with discarding mendable garments, repairable appliances or even working donated items which are overstock or find no buyer after some arbitrary length of time.
  • Metal. Sometimes waste 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 aluminum.
  • Wood. Called urban lumberjacking, to salvage wood either for home heating, or home construction projects.
  • Residential buildings. Clothing, furniture, appliances, and other housewares may be found at residential buildings. There is a risk that discarded bedding and furniture may contain bed bugs, a hazard that is best to be avoided.
  • College dormitories. Items may be found at colleges with dormitories at the end of the semester when students throw away many items such as furniture, clothes and electronics.
  • Author John Hoffman wrote two books based on his own dumpster-diving exploits: The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving (1993 ; ) and Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course: How to Turn Other People's Trash into Money, Publicity, and Power (2002; ), and was featured in the documentary DVD The Ultimate Dive, which was directed by Suzanne Girot and described by the Internet Movie Database as a "Tongue-in-cheek how-to film on the art and science of dumpster diving."
  • In 2001, dumpster diving was popularized in the book Evasion, published by CrimethInc.
  • In Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction novel Fifty Degrees Below (2005), the character Frank Vanderwal joins, for a time, a group of freegans who frequently prepare feasts culled from dumpsters; kind-hearted restaurateurs aid them by setting aside foods which have not been touched by the public.
  • Jeff Ferrell, Professor of Sociology at Texas Christian University, is the author of Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging (2005; ).
  • Cory Doctorow integrated garbage picking characters into the plots of his novels Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town and Pirate Cinema. In the former one, the character Kurt gathered all his belongings solely by garbage picking and it is revealed that the main character did dive as well; in the latter one the character Jem who lives on the street introduces protagonist Trevor to the practice of dumpstering to acquire food to survive.
  • British television shows have featured home renovations and decoration using salvaged materials. Changing Rooms (1996-2004) is one such show, broadcast on BBC One.
  • Surfing the Waste: A Musical Documentary About Dumpster Diving, a film by Paul Aflalo, Sandra Lombardi and Tomoe Yoshihara, with music composed by Alden Penner and Nic Boshart.
  • Dumpster Wars: Reno's Trash Politics (2008)
  • I Love Trash (2007), a 30-minute documentary by David Brown and Greg Mann. OCLC's WorldCat provided a synopsis: "I Love Trash is a documentary about the art of dumpster diving. Starting with an empty apartment, only the clothes they were wearing and a flashlight, David and Greg find everything they might otherwise buy, in trash cans and dumpsters. All their food, clothes, electronics, art materials and entertainment, all out of the trash." Accolades: Skyfest Film and Script Festival, (won 2nd place for Documentary Films); and Lake Michigan Film Competition, (won 3rd place for Documentary films).
  • The 2010 documentary film Dive!, a short documentary written and directed by Jeremy Seifert, investigates dumpster diving in the Los Angeles area.Dive! premiered in October 2009 at the Gig Harbor Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. It has gone on to win awards at many other film festivals, including Best Documentary at the DC Independent Film Festival and Best Film at the Dutch Environmental Film Festival.
  • Spoils: Extraordinary Harvest. A short film/mystery film and documentary by Alex Mallis. (2012) Accolades: Official Selection, New Orleans Film Festival. Official Selection, Independent Film Festival of Boston. Official Selection, DOC NYC.
  • The Leftovers: A Documentary about People Who Eat Trash (2008), a 28-minute Swedish documentary by Michael Cavanagh and Kerstin Übelacker. Mykel Bently, Paul Hood, Krystal Trickey, Nick Gill, and Sofia Arborelius (the latter two were exchange students) joined together for this dumpster diver adventure.
  • From Dumpster To Dinner Plate (2011), an award-winning New Zealand short documentary directed by Vanessa Hudson. "As the cost of food reaches record highs an underground movement of dumpster divers is rapidly gaining momentum fuelled by consumers who are forced to find creative ways to feed themselves."
  • Salvage data, the process of extracting data from damaged, failed, corrupted, or inaccessible primary storage media
  • Salvage archaeology, an archaeological survey and excavation carried out in areas threatened by construction or development
  • 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;
  • Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course by John Hoffman (brings dumpster diving into the computer era) Paladin Press 2002;
  • Evasion, (2003), CrimethInc. Far East, an autobiography detailing one anarchist's shoplifting- and dumpster-diving-supported travels.
  • Mongo: Adventures in Trash by Ted Botha;
  • Encyclopedia of Garbage by Steve Coffel, William L. Rathje;
  • 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. doi:10.1007/s10460-004-8278-9. 
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