Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dumpster Diving Adventures

Maybe I have lost my mind, but last night I thought it would be fun to go dumpster diving. I've heard a lot about "freegans," people (with jobs) who go to the grocery stores late at night and live off of the discarded food found in the dumpsters. They claim this is completely safe, but I'm just not that hardcore (yet). But, I thought it would be an interesting Saturday night activity to go and poke around and see what was lurking in the trash cans (that's how I roll).

I don't know what I thought we would find. I knew we would find some disgusting rotted food and a nose-full of unpleasant odors. But maybe, just maybe, I hoped for treasures, like an iPod tape adapter that I have been searching for ever since mine broke which I haven't been able to replace because of the 100 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge. I surely didn't expect to find what we did find.

We started off at an business complex and was surprised to find that there were tons of people working at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. Now, I was just a little (ok, a lot) shy about poking through people's trash, so I definitely didn't want to have an audience. We drove around until we found a nice quiet dumpster and parked the car, got out our gloves, and started digging. Mind you, I don't take the term "dumpster diving" literally; we actually just kind of leaned over and peered in. At first, we didn't find anything too interesting. Empty pizza boxes. Cardboard boxes. But then, I rummaged across a huge pile of perfectly good clothes, everything from pants, to sweaters, to ties. I didn't want them but I figured they shouldn't end up in a landfill, so we took them out to wash and then donate to the Goodwill (hello, tax deduction).

That wasn't all. We also found a wet suit in perfectly good condition, a box of CDs, and money! Yes, money! There was a bag that contained about 20 cents in change. Who throws away money? Perhaps it was beginners luck, but we found tons of stuff in this dumpster without ever having to set foot inside it. Who knows what else was in the bottom of that dumpster?

We drove around to a few more with no luck and decided to try some retail dumpsters. We saw a shopping center with a bargain store and thought we might find some pretty good stuff there. Unfortunately, there was also a Jiffy Lube and a barber shop, so mostly all we found were hundreds of plastic oil containers, old air filters, and (barf) human hair. It wasn't completely fruitless because we found a ton of recyclable bottles and cans.

Afterwards, we decided to hit up an apartment complex that had a whole alley full of dumpsters. I was quite nervous about going to an apartment complex because, well, people live there. And yes, we had someone staring at us from the balcony as we "dove" in their dumpsters. I can't blame them though; it's not every day that you see people like me going through your trash.

The dumpsters at the apartment complex were pretty nasty. Rotting food and dirty diapers. MMMMM. Right away, I saw a nice-looking suitcase on top of the dumpster. I go to pick it up and it's heavy with stuff inside. When I opened it up, I found that they had used this perfectly good suitcase as a trash can. Who does this? It's bad enough that you throw away a perfectly good suitcase, but to fill it with trash and then throw it away, that's just too much.

We went to a few more dumpsters in the complex and found some more bottles and cans, Coke rewards points (my bf saves these things if you want to send me yours), and another bag full of clothes. I probably could've kept going all night (it was so fascinating) but my trunk was full so I figured we should stop.

All in all here is what we found:

2 bags of clothes to be donated (tax write-off)
1 wetsuit (sell on Craigslist?)
1 bag of bottles and cans (CRV!)
1 suitcase to be donated
23 cents in change
10 CDs (about 3 in good enough condition to sell on, others to be recycled)
1 key chain beaner

That was just from about 1.5 hours of active searching in approximaely 15 dumpsters. I was shocked at how much of the stuff in those dumpsters could've been recycled or donated and how little of what was actually in the dumpster really needed to be there. I take for granted that everyone is as conscious as I am about recycling or repurposing old materials and it was a little disheartening to see all that waste. I might even right Jiffy Lube a letter, requesting them to implement better waste management procedures. I just imagined all the Jiffy Lube's around the country producing that much unnecessary waste and I felt so overwhelmed. It's amazing that we're not all swimming in the trash that we produce every day.

As disheartening as it was, it was also great fun. I think I'll definitely do it again. Maybe I'll check out a grocery store, just to see what is actually thrown out. I meant to bring it along and forgot on my way out! Next time, I'll try to remember my camera so I can share my finds with you.

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change is a good thing said...

Sounds like a very interesting way to spend an evening! How disappointing it was I'm sure, to see how much people waste!

budgets are sexy said...

OMG you rock. I hereby nominate you as the "raddest person alive" ;)

While I haven't dumpster-dove myself, I am quite familiar w/ those pieces of furniture (and even artwork!) that I used to find and save back in the day.

If you ever REALLY want an adventure out of it - check out the dumpsters/street curbs in the Upper West Side, and Gramercy Park area of New York City! Ca-CHING.

(or maybe Beverly Hills, in your case?)

lpkitten said...

haha! yay for dumpster diving! actually, i think the people in beverly hills wouldn't appreciate people going through their trash and would probably be on the phone with the cops in a second!

DeDe said...

Sort of on the trash-prevention theme, do you or any of your fabulous readers have any "green" ideas about what to do with the toxic Nalgene bottles?

I hate to donate them for someone else to be poisoned by. Goodwill seems a bit of an oxymoron in this case. I also hate to send them to the landfill, but I can't think of another way to re-purpose them.

lpkitten said...

dede - so funny that i just came across this
about repurposing old plastic bottles to LED lanterns. crazy!

elizabeth said...

At my apartment complex, people leave things that they don't want by the dumpsters... all kinds of free furniture and other stuff to be had. Like you, I'm amazed by the waste, and whenever I find something that I can use or give to someone else who can use it, I do so. I don't even have to dive b/c it's all just sitting there.

DeDe said...

Awesome! I just ordered one of those LED caps for my toxic Nalgene. Can't wait to try it out.

Thanks a million for the suggestion!