Dumpster diving is reclaiming and reusing material that has been thrown away by individuals, corporations or societies because of their outright laziness and the systematic greed driven destruction of edible, reusable or recyclable goods.

I encourage people to reduce the amount of material going into our landfills and water ways, save sizable amounts of money, and to reduce the needless waste of energy and resources by dumpster diving. People need to get over social stigmas against pulling “trash” out of a dumpster, and start to feel shame over throwing valuable goods away. The product has somehow become contaminated because it was sitting inside an untouchable steel bin destined only for the landfill where it would become truly inaccessible for most people and likely never be used again.

If you ever decide to take the plunge, as it’s sometimes called, start by checking around retail furniture chain stores, electronic stores, clothing stores, or behind apartments and houses when people move out. You will likely never again spend money on furniture. You may also find televisions, bicycles, clock radios, VCRs, CD players, couches, clothing of all kinds, chairs, more televisions (some might be kicking the addiction), keyboards, bags of aluminum cans that could be recycled for cash, paintings, raw lumber, vacuum cleaners, power tools, and electric lawn mowers that just need a loose wire soldered. You will never need to buy paper again if you check a few office supply store dumpsters. This list goes on indefinitely. Just check around when the University year is over. Many students here are so extraordinarily wasteful it shames me to be one of them. It is as if the products of a small town are thrown out when they move on.

Now for what some call the really radical part, you can dramatically cut back on your food bill if you start checking dumpsters behind grocery stores, bakeries, bagel shops, and big box grocery stores that don’t have garbage compactors. Compactors turn inorganic material and food into convenient cubes to take up less space in landfills. Every day, boxes and boxes of fruit and vegetables are thrown out just because one of them has some kind of imperfection, a spot of mold, or a bruise and therefore consumers won’t buy them. It happens with bags of fruit all the time. If 1 out of 20 apples has a bruise, out goes the entire bag. I suspect this is often due to employee laziness, apathy, and store policy. In terms of store policy, some donate but many don’t. Whatever the case, it borders on criminality when one considers in this supposedly wealthy capitalist nation there are so many malnourished people that have been similarly used and tossed away - just visit a shelter to see the truth yourself. Yes, some of these goods are placed on reduced racks but so much is thrown out that I haven’t had to pay for fruit, vegetables, or bread in a long time, and I know others that have cut back in this way as well. If you are persistent enough, you can get all the trail mix and organic soy products (such as tofu and soy milk) you need.

It is entirely possible to live off other people’s waste in this oppressive, immoral system and there are many people who do it. In fact, our society occasionally throws out (leaves them vacant) entire buildings that these people live in. Everything they need, this society throws out.

There are a number of reasons why people do this. She might be trapped on the undercurrents of society and doing it for survival; perhaps he is taking a stand against the cancerous growth of consumerism; maybe she wants to save substantial amounts of money; he may love the treasure-hunt feel of it; she may be disgusted by what the human species is doing to the Earth and all of the species that coexist with it; or it could be done for a combination of these factors.

We need to overcome the cultural ethic that, “it is okay to throw things away.” I view this senseless waste as a form of mass insanity that continues to plunder the earth as a means for economic progress. This way of life cannot be sustained indefinitely.

I usually encounter the following objections when talking about dumpstering:

1. “If everyone starts playing poverty and leeching off the system like you do, no one will be able to dumpster dive.”

That is exactly what I want. If this is done on a mass scale people will become more garbage conscious. Dumpsters should be checked all the time to see how much waste we generate and to start becoming shamed of throwing valuable goods away and to stop looking down on people who have to dumpster.

2. “If more people from privileged backgrounds like you start doing this, you will be denying the materials to the people who really need them.”

Maybe you should look in some dumpsters. If you saw how much there is, you wouldn’t be saying this. Secondly, how much do you really care about your fellow human beings if you think they only deserve the waste we leave and that we should continue to spawn it so they can live?

This may sound like the rant of a pessimistic granola crunching tree hugger, but I really am an optimistic granola crunching tree hugger who believes in the power of human reason, compassion, and our innate desire for freedom and creativity. Once the critical mass of public opinion moves, the window to a better world will open.

…Is there a recipe that calls for 15 pounds of perfectly ripe tomatoes, and 30 bags of granola expired by 1 day? Hmmmm…