Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Dumpster Diving

Anyone who knows me knows my habit all to well. I Dumpster Dive. Yes, I enjoy taking "one man's trash" and making it into my treasure or at least keeping it from the land fill. I'm not the only one either. Check out the alt.dumpster group on the newsgroup servers or just search Google for the topic. Search for your location and chances are you will learn about a whole new layer of society. If you do enough reading, you will find its legal in most areas and in those where laws “prohibit” dumpster diving, it is still actively is done.

Many people even live from food they find from grocery store dumpsters – mostly good food with “bad dates”. I know what you are thinking... I dispel the myths about food too. We sometimes do "dive" or get in, but most times when the opportunity presents itself, we simply reach in and take hold of what we find. To some it seems we are stooping low or living at the bottom of society. In a way, it is living off the land. Living off what you find.

Read on to get a better idea...

Clean or not?
For the most part dumpsters are clean, not clean as your floor or table, but nonetheless clean. Some are cleaner than some restaurant floors I've seen. I mean, hey, what business do you know that enjoys strange odors emanating around the building, distressing customers? Okay. You got me there. Some oriental eateries do yield such foul odors and almost all restaurants in fact have very unpleasant smelling dumpsters. I mean, have you driven by the local greasy spoon on a 100+ summer day to leave due to the stench of their dumpster?

Now really think about what I am saying. Today, most trash is put into plastic bags and usually is separated by department or content type. Offices produce office waste - paper, lunch boxes, cans, pens, money, keys, CDs, books, magazines, etc. Bathrooms produce lots of paper towels, etc. auto parts departments yield, yup you guessed it - autoparts, tools, etc. But what happens to items too large for bags? They simply get tossed as is. Examples I have seen include anything including: bicycles, lawnmowers, yard tables, computer PC towers/Desktops, monitors, tables, desks, chairs, furniture, etc.

America's Stuff
As our society continues to purchase, throw away, purchase replacements, repeat ad infinitum, we are left with a virtually limitless supply of second-hand or shortly used stuff. Yes we yard sale such items, but many times we just put them in the green bin to be taken away by the compactor truck. What a waste. On that same note, what happens to returns?

What happens when a purchase is broken or missing one screw or a sticker or whatever makes it perfectly salable? I'm sure many of you have experienced the irksome feeling when you are about to install the last shelf of a $300 entertainment center to learn 2 locking clips, screws or nuts are missing. Do you take it apart and return to the store for a refund? I certainly hope not, but the policy of many stores requires you either return the item for a refund or contact the manufacturer yourself for a return.

Damaged goods
I have learned a disheartening fact in my many years dumpster diving: stores deliberately destroy merchandise if instructed to by corporate policy. Many people don't know the manufacturers want you to keep their products and are willing, in most cases, to provide for free or a nominal charge the missing parts. If the item is brand new then you usually get the parts for free. Sometimes they will ask that you return the item to them, which usually happens with electronics.

Do you ever wonder why high-dollar items like an entertainment center comes with a sheet from the mfg. stating: "ATTENTION: DO NOT RETURN ITEM TO STORE" ???? You guessed right again. I often find store labels or even worse the item is spray painted to prevent “return”. Item was disposed of or destroyed is the term the company might hear, but more times than you can ever count the item is put into one of those evil compactors which is in turn carried to your local landfill and buried like last week's news.

Where to look
Occasionally a green, gray or brown dumpster is open for the picking, but more times than not there is only a compactor. Stores have realized some unscrupulous dumpster divers are returning do've items to the front of the store for a store credit or refund. The nerve of them!! Giving Dumpster Diving a bad name!

So what do I find?
Many, many things of use. Since I am into computers, much of what I find these days is computer parts - not that theres a lack of other stuff, I just am focused on computer items.

Some examples:

Motherboards, PC cases, monitors, power cables, USB cables, scanners, LCD screens, small-form factor PCs, working laptops, keyboards, mice (and how! - Just look at my car...
wireless mice, zip drives; discs, Hard Drives, CD-ROM drives; new media, programs, Operating Systems, games, DVD movies and VHS, music discs (previously downloaded? maybe, I care not nor know not), power supplies, speakers, modems, tape drives, printer ink cartridges and refills, laserjet and inkjet printers, toner cartridges still sealed in the box, etc.

As for other stuff, my ultimate best find was my brand new Fossil stainless-steel watch a few years back... looked like some girlfriend tossed it out with the guy's stuff - even with the tin! Some things make you just go why?

The key to successful diving?
Go daily or at least on days when you know the truck has not come to take away your treasure and bury for 40K years. Go at different times to determine when the goods are dumped & make frequent runs when you get a feeling something is waiting on you or when you find a need or know someone who has need of something. Many times I have needed some item and it was there the next day or week.

Coincidence or divine intervention? Who knows for sure? The Bible says to "ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find". These words are a diver's best friend when in need. All the divers I know stick to their story of when in need, whether known or not, they find the stuff they need. One friend was checking out one particularly nasty dumpster and made a comment she needed a wetsuit. So what did she find the next day? Yup. A wetsuit, but not just any wetsuit, one that fit her perfectly. Another friend and I were diving together and while I was digging around he said “I am out of detergent” and just a minute later I pull a box from beneath the pile.

Managers & Police
Yes, you will run in with these types or their lackies. You try to appease them by leaving when requested, even ignoring them as if you are deaf or turning to face them and giving them the low-down on what is bad about their practices of waste. Expound on the use of your found items value as art objects, stuff you are going to make from it. Or even the fact you know people who are in need of whatever you have found.

As for the Police, be nice and courteous and let the officer know you are taking stuff out not dumping. They really do not like dumping as the stores pay a by-the-ton landfill fee. Also reiterate what you told the store management and offer them some of your find if they seem interested. Make them happy and they usually will go away. If they don't leave and want you to leave, you must do so or risk going to jail.