Dumpster Dipping (for a Small Planet or Just for Fun)




Introduction: Dumpster Dipping (for a Small Planet or Just for Fun)

About: Long time bicyclist, bike commuter, bike tourer, recent bike builder/experimenter. I'm an energy consultant for hydro electric, solar and other renewable energy generation.

Dumpster Dipping (please avoid dangerous diving) is an enjoyable activity involving a pleasant bike ride, a hunt, the thrill of discovery, the mystery of recent archeology, forensic storytelling, good Karma recycling, and a form of shopping with green environmental impact. It helps me get in touch with my early human hunter gathering roots. It is similar to gold panning, hunting, geo-caching, shopping, gambling and other hunt and find challenges where there are a variety of possible outcomes.

It is also possible to undo your entire carbon footprint through the recycling of other people's former stuff.

Step 1: What Would I See If I'm Brave Enough to Look?

There are many things in the dumpster that do not deserve to be buried yet.

You will see some things that do, and some that do not, belong in the dumpster.
You can recycle them, repurpose them, make them into art.
You can clean them up and use them, donate them or just set them next to the dumpster hoping they are adopted (Catch and Release).

I finds lots of clothing, household goods, computers, appliances, vacuum cleaners, household chemicals, paint, mixed drawers emptied into bags, coins, postage, furniture, on and on.

Some of the best items found to date:
Autographed scripts from "The King of Queens", new Navajo woven rug, LCD computer projector, various hand tools, a folding bike, complete sound systems with music CD's, and record players with records.

Step 2: One Bike Load of Today's Treasure

The end of the summer session made for a big dumpster day on college campuses.
This represents one very big bike load of primarily clothing.
I also got a laptop computer and its case and cords.
I plan to keep a couple of shirts. I plan to keep the brand new chopper bike fork and use it in a future custom bike (Maybe a wood-chopper?).
My niece wants the jeans for some projects and my daughter found a jacket she likes. The rest is about 6 bags of clothing and luggage for the charities.
You could have frequent garage sales if you liked that sort of fun.

I recycled about 100 lbs of paper and cardboard, and a couple pounds of bottles and cans.

Step 3: The Tools Are Optional

Tools are optional and used mostly to extend your reach.

Most useful:
A good gripper for general picking up of things like books, paper, clothes, desk drawer emptied into a bag, etc
Instructable on making a grabber
A loop and tube (lasso on a pole) for lifting heavy or slippery things like pipes, full bottles, chairs.
Bring your Identification. (The authorities like being able to look you up and let you go.)

Some old bike inner tubes to use as bungee cords for lashing down the load.
A box cutter for flattening boxes and skinning broken fancy leather chairs,
pliers, wire cutters, screw drivers, crescent wrench, and
a stick with a nail or screw out the side for hooking items or stabbing and dragging cardboard.

Step 4: Start of the Run

I start out with an empty cargo bike made of a mountain bike fitted with an Xtracycle cargo conversion. The cargo bike was given to me by campus maintenance folks who were having trouble trying to fit it in the dumpster.
Biking is the best way to go. Low carbon output, fresh air, exercise, low stress, stealth, ease of maneuverability, and low threat projection.

Step 5: Dumpster Dipping Etiquette

Dumpster Dipping Etiquette is very important. You are in other people's turf and you have access to their prior belongings so don't make a mess, and don't embarrass them.

Dumpster Dipper's Etiquette

1. Do not get into the dumpster. "Dumpster Diving" is just a phrase.
2. Do not Dumpster Dip on private property. Respect any "NO TRESPASSING" signs.
3. Do not Dumpster Dip in the recycling bins. That stuff is already going to a better place.
4. If a civilian asks what you are doing, you can truthfully say "I'm looking for Boxes". Or "Other people's recycling, want to help?" That will confuse them.
5. If the police ask what you are doing, tell them what you are doing and why. The recycling, the charity donations, the keeping some for your family, how you are clean, careful and considerate, your philosophy on how this is in keeping with community environmental goals, where dumpster materials go if you do not rescue them, etc. The officer will be squirming to get away from you after a minute. Be agreeable. Do not argue with them.
6. If any one asks you to leave - do it. Don't argue. Don't discuss it. You can always come back later.
7. Transfer cardboard, mixed paper and aluminum from the dumpster to the recycle bins. Each pound transfered reduces Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by about 3 pounds of CO2.
8. Leave the dumpster and it's environs neater than how you found it.
9. Wash your hands often. Think like a raccoon.
10. Be pleasant, encourage folks to recycle and handle material properly.

Step 6: Safety

Safety is a priority in this hobby.
Do not get in the dumpster! Reach in, preferably with a gripper stick.
If you reach with your hands wear gloves.
Only touch things gently in case there are sharp things lurking.
Do not eat from open packages.
Do not encourage minors to be dippers. Safe Dipping takes good judgment, and you may encounter non-kid-appropriate items.

Step 7: Stealth?

Stealth can add to the fun.
I am usually quiet, discreet and business like.
But being silly is fun too. Note the lowered stance to avoid attracting attention.
Also it helps to run serpentine. :-)
You can make the run more challenging by trying to avoid detection.
Mostly I just try to avoid detention.

Step 8: Manage Your Karma and Your Luck Will Manage Itself

Managing your Karma has a great impact on the pleasure of the run. I find that by focusing primarily on the good deeds of recycling of cardboard, mixed paper and some aluminum, the time passes enjoyably with little frustration. Focusing on the recycling makes the discoveries of "treasure*" all the sweeter and seemingly more frequent. Conversely, if I'm seeking a coffee maker with no other purpose for the trip, I just keep finding disappointment.

  • Treasure refers to useful items I can use, share or donate etc.

Step 9: Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint by Recycling Instead of Landfilling.

Material and pounds of CO2 emission prevented by recycling each pound of material*
Aluminum : 15.0 (pounds of CO2 / pound of material)
Steel Cans: 2.0
Copper : 5.5
Mixed Metals: 5.8
Glass: 0.4
PETE Plastic: 1.7
Corrugated Box Cardboard: 3.2
Magazines: 2.8
Newspaper: 1.9
Office Paper: 4.1
Mixed Paper Board: 3.7
Mixed Residential Paper: 3.6
Mixed Office Paper: 3.7
Information distilled from US EPA's website and their WARM spreadsheet EPA's solid waste models

  • Compared to burying it in a landfill that captures its methane and burns it in a green power generator to displace other powerplants. If your landfill ain't that green, your recycling is even more beneficial.

Step 10: Where to Troll on the Suburban Trapline

College campuses have lots of good castoffs from students moving out at the end of the quarter, especially in June. When they leave, some toss everything in large mixed bags into the trash dumpster. You can help out by sorting the recyclables and skimming off the use-ables, donate-ables and repurpose-ables. Keep an eye out for tossed text books that can be resold to the campus bookstore (very lucrative recycling).

Clothing, lamps, appliances, furniture, bikes, scooters, tools, supplies, computers, electronics, music, books, etc.

Another productive spot is behind retail outlets where they toss broken or damaged, blemished goods in the trash. It is fun to see what can be found, rescued, repaired or repurposed. They also toss a lot of display rack material (Metal tubing, Beautiful lumber, shelving).

The dumpsters are like traps that catch what some people no longer want. You can go and rescue items before they are entombed. You can set items free or domesticate them for your own uses.

Step 11: The Five Stages of Grieving Applied to Climate Change

Coming to terms with the reality of climate change and the implications of the loss of the old climate is like coming to terms with the loss of a loved one and we see evidence that different people are in each of the five steps of grieving for the old climate.

1) Denial (Today is colder than normal here, therefore, The Scientists are wrong! wrong! wrong!)
2) Anger (Al Gore's son was caught speeding. So global climate change is a hoax.)
3) Depression (There is nothing we can do, the Chinese coal plants will drown us all.)
4) Bargaining (Maybe I can just buy some carbon offsets and someone will plant a tree for me.)
5) Acceptance (The greenhouse effect and climate change are now part of my reality and I will interact with that reality as best as I can in a constructive manner. My legacy will be about proper behavior in the face of the facts.)

Be part of the solution.
It is not too late to change.

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    7 years ago

    Amazing !!! West coast recycle provides best junk removal services in at affordable prices. Our garbage pails can handle all type of waste for all different jobs. It allows you to quickly find the right size dumpster for your project.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Some colleges host a recycle event and anyone can come in an trade or share items


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes! Those are great places to give or get things. I give to them whenever they are open. As a resource rescue-er, you have to find a variety of "outlets" for the treasures you rescue. Currently I use the following for annual outflows of: 300 bags of clothing and household items - charity thrift stores , 50 bags of books - Friends of library, 1200 books and associated packaging - Amazon book sales, 10 bags of clothes - college free store, 20 laptops -a computer rehab program for low income students)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    OK, it's official...

    I'm jealous....I go dumpster diving all the time & I NEVER EVER found stuff like that....

    places around my home, I hit them up 3 x a week....the other 2 days I have 2 routes that I run....

    TY for sharing Sir.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I met a guy who dumpster dove in Hollywood, CA. He had to get a truck and open a store to sell everything he found. My outflow is easy. I sell about 1200 book per year on Amazon and donate about 300 bags of clothing house ware and books to charity shops.


    13 years ago on Step 10

    Yall should cruise around University and college campuses during the move out week, Especially the more expensive colleges, my brother did where he is attending school and has pulled out Entire bicycles that were barely used.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 10

    He did mention that he goes around after the end of the semester.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Anyone have any advice on coffee beans or grounds found in the dumpster? The ones i found were in their can and inside a plastic bag.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Coffee grounds can be used in compost for gardening


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I heard about a printer that uses coffee grounds for ink a while back.


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    I went diving with some friend a while back at a coffee packaging plant. Most of the discarded coffee was due to a misprinted label, or the plastifoil tubes not being separated properly. If it's sealed, then it is highly likely to be OK for consumption. If it's just a grocery bag full of grounds in a can... try a cup and see :D


    10 years ago on Introduction

    yeah there was a pallet of science reports i passed up. some sort of usgs. one person wrote about 2 or 3 large pallets of reports. I started the stupid carbon thing. One day a girl from ucsc started being concerned about the exhaust from cars and trucks. I said it is only co2. Now plants absorb co2 and expell oxygen as waste gas.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Oh god, do I have to try this. In my small town, not a very good idea, but definitely when I get to college.

    Reuse Portland

    College campuses are a great hit. ESPECIALLY in June when the students move out. Many fly home and cannot take their belongings with them. Also, at least here, colleges make you move out during a very small window of time (~3days) so treasure is very concentrated. So far this year, I have lived on just the proceeds of what I find as well as donated some really good stuff.

    My best finds:
    Computer flat screens
    Photographers Luggage
    Lots of Beer
    Textbooks, Textbooks, Textbooks
    $1,200 Italian suit (My size!)


    11 years ago on Step 11

    And let us not forget the hillbilly staple of Big Trash Day Curbing. My neighbor found a perfect white couch for her parlor. My better half was stunned & more than happy to help her get it, and install it. Combine some of the more fantastic finds with going thru this Instructables site, and you can really do some serious damage (the good kind). MBH & I are redecorating our home that way. Got rid of my late mother's old 1941 furniture, in the house she left me, gotta have somewhere to sit. Saving a fortune. All upside, no downside, so far as I have seen to date. :D