Dumpster Diving for Dummies

[ 0 ] March 21, 2011 |

So you want to be a dumpster diver? Awesome! What was once thought to be a hobo-only activity is now practiced by eco-conscious and frugal-minded adults across the country. Lots of people do it for the thrill of the hunt; you never know what you might find.

However, most don’t know that there’s both a right and a wrong way to dumpster dive. This entirely accurate sketch from Portlandia illustrates the wrong way:


Yeah, you might want to avoid absolutely everything you just saw. Lucky for you, we’ve got all the info an aspiring diver needs.

Getting Prepared

First and foremost, if you’re particularly squeamish or sensitive to smells, this rogue urban endeavour isn’t for you. For those who do have the stomach, take note of these starting tips:

  • Figure out what you’re after. Art? Electronics? Furniture? Hardware?
  • Plan & scout your dumpster diving locations accordingly. If you’re looking for a table lamp, you won’t find it in the dumpster outside of a grocery store.
  • Unless you live in a neighborhood where rummaging in garbage is par for the course, you should avoid confrontation & schedule your dives during less people-heavy hours.
  • Don’t wear anything you’re in love with.


The following items are essential for a productive, mess-free dive:

  • Flashlight
  • Chair or stool
  • Rubber gloves  & boots
  • X-Acto knife (to quickly open bags with)
  • Basic first aid kit (bandages, disinfecting wipes, etc)

If at all possible, travel by car. You’ll be thankful for the extra space if you happen to come across something large and intact, like a coffee table.


Sharing Is Caring


This is definitely not a one-person job, so don’t try to be a hero. Grab one of your more adventurous friends to help or organize a group outing. Thankfully, there are plenty of online communities that allow you to network with other divers. Just make sure everyone does their part to leave the dumpster looking the same as they found it. Common courtesy!


  • Lids can slam shut really quickly from the wind, so prop them up with something.
  • Using a pole or broomstick handle to root through a dumpster is safer & cleaner than using your hands.
  • Meat, eggs & dairy products are all things to avoid. They get really nasty really quickly.
  • If you can, avoid physically getting into a dumpster. Broken glass can be really hard to see.

What do you look for on your dumpster dives? Share your stories with us!

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