The World of Dumpster Diving

As Junk2Go’s staff know from ample experience, finding a way to dispose of the excess stuff that accumulates over time is a challenge many people face. Even when budgets are tight, it seems hard to live in the modern world without finding ourselves surrounded with things we no longer have a use for, at which point many people find themselves turning towards mini skip bin hire or, better yet, the skip bin hire alternative that Junk2Go offers.

waste disposal skip bins

However, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, as the saying goes, and accordingly there are some people who do things the other way round,  looking for things to take out of skip bins – mini or otherwise. This practice is known as dumpster diving.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase before, but dumpster diving is actually a very new coinage, having come into use as recently as the 1980s, and only appearing in print in 1983. Other ways of saying it include bin diving, totting, or skip salvage. There’s even jargon for the various subcategories of dumpster diving: working through rubbish that has been put out for collection is known as curb shopping, foraging for food left behind after a harvest in farmers’ fields is called gleaning, and collecting recyclable metals is scrapping.

The legal status of dumpster diving tends to be pretty murky, although relevant laws, and the extent to which they are enforced, vary from country to country. It’s worth noting that dumpster diving can be considered theft in New Zealand, because rubbish is treated as the property of whoever threw it away until it has been collected by an operator.

Despite this, some New Zealanders on tight budgets have turned to dumpster diving. A number of people living in Auckland and Wellington claim to have been able to do without grocery shopping completely, salvaging up to several hundred dollars’ worth of food in one night of dumpster diving. As well helping themselves, some dumpster divers were able to distribute food that would otherwise have gone to waste to families that otherwise would have gone hungry. When one considers that that New Zealanders throw out an estimated 120,000+ tonnes of edible food each year, it is hardly surprising that such finds are possible.

Internationally, some have even managed to turn dumpster diving into a highly lucrative business. One Austin man is able to make more money per hour dumpster diving than he does from his day job, and estimates that he could earn $250,000 a year or more if he were to take it on full time. He and several other collectors in the Austin area concentrate on the dumpsters of electronics and other large retailers. In this way, they not only routinely make valuable finds – they also ensure that uses are found for many perfectly good items which would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Routinely finding kid’s bicycles in a Walmart skip bin, for example, and selling them at around half their retail price prevents the bikes from going to waste and allows kids who may not normally be able to afford the bikes to get one.

There is also plenty of opposition towards dumpster diving, however. As mentioned, it’s not without its legal risks in New Zealand – in 2013, six people were arrested in Blenheim for taking food past its sell by date from a supermarket dumpster. Supermarkets also warn of the health risks of taking food which has been deemed no longer fit to sell, and many now lock their skip bins for this reason. Existing donation methods for surplus or unsellable groceries, such as weekly distributions to food banks and donations to women’s refuges also ensure that this food goes to people in need and allows for much more organised and widespread food distribution than dumpster diving. One food rescue organisation also stated that it didn’t support dumpster diving, preferring to address the ongoing problem of food waste by collaborating with supermarkets to supply good leftover groceries to those without enough food.

Whatever you might think about dumpster diving, there’s a good chance that from time to time you’ll have some unneeded things of your own that need to go in a skip bin. If now’s that time, give Junk2Go a call on 0800 586 524.