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The rules and etiquette of Dumpster-diving

First step: Make sure it's not illegal where you live.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 3:00PM

"Not the Jet Set" is sorely tempted on the way to work by perfectly usable things people have left out by their trash cans. But what are the rules for Dumpster-diving? Do you need to be sneaky? How do you handle shame?


We did some research and found a handy post at Sueann's NWPR Blog, plus photos of her remarkable finds, including brand new KitchenAid food processor attachments. (Her finds don't include food; she hasn't become a freegan.)

"Dumpster divers have rules," Sueann Ramella wrote. Here are some we gleaned from her post and from other sources:

  • For starters, find out if it's legal in your town. "Technically it is theft," Sueann wrote in another post. But "justchickenfeed" at Blissfully Domestic said, "Dumpster-diving is legal is most U.S. cities and towns." Check with local authorities.

  • Along those lines, do not go on private property or try to open Dumpsters that are locked.

  • Take a friend who can help lift heavy stuff or hold the lid open while you look inside. Do not enter the Dumpster. It's fortunate that great stuff is often stacked outside. Picking through the goods outside of the bin is called "curb-shopping" or "curb-crawling."

  • Wear gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket.

  • Be quick. If your mission will take longer than two minutes, move on, Sueann wrote. Also, move on if someone tells you to leave.

  • Dawn at Frugal For Life said, "Don't dive in business areas during business hours. Even though it may be legal in your area, it makes the business look bad and they may call the cops just to scare you off."

  • Don't be territorial, Dawn added. Other divers might be looking for stuff you're not interested in.

Finally, most folks agreed, take only what you or someone you know can really use.


Why Dumpster dive or curb shop? "They don't want it. I could use it," wrote Not the Jet Set. "Why let it go to the landfill ... just because I'm too full of myself to take something from someone's trash pile?"


Justchickenfeed added, "And in this tightening economy, it seems almost wrong not to take advantage of the excess and waste."


Published Aug. 8, 2008

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