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February 4, 2013

Dumpster diving 101

Dumpster diving, skip dipping, waste reclamation, is it legal and does it serve the environment as the divers claim? Scavenging through rubbish for useful and valuable items that have been disregarded by others is definitely on the increase.

The most obvious treasure hunts are for big council throw outs. I know some of my favourite finds have come courtesy of the side of the road. But actually diving into a dumpster? It’s not for me personally, but each to their own when it comes to trash and treasure I say.

In fact, dumpster diving is fast becoming an almost mainstream occupation. While there are not waving feet in every dumpster bin you pass, there are those that swear by a good head first treasure hunt. Let’s face it, consumerism drives the demand for new goods, whether or not they actually need replacing, so it follows that people are throwing out goods that are still useful.

Dumpster diving - photo - Ace Armstrong -  ishisgrace (Flickr)

Here are some statistics that put things in perspective, the average Australian wastes 200kg of food a year, and throws away around 21 million tonnes of waste per year. Thus dumpster divers argue they are not only reducing and reusing waste, but are protesting against the system of overproduction that creates this waste in the first place.

But is dumpster diving legal? It seems to depend on where the dumpsters are. Large dumpsters such as the ones Coles and Woolworth’s use are generally located on private property and diving in these could be deemed illegal. According to City of Port Phillip Mayor Cr Frank O’Connor, there’s nothing inherently illegal with acts of salvaging “if the material is reasonably considered to be abandoned.” The legal concerns are health and safety ones or increased litter from the forage.

So if head first in a dumpster seems like your idea of fun, here’s a few sensible guidelines. Firstly, wear appropriate clothing – preferably clothing you don’t care about, or as my work colleague pointed out, camouflage always works well for an evening of skip dipping. Make sure you wear protective gloves, long-sleeve shirts and pants. In other words, you want to be as covered up as possible, including wearing heavy, tough fabrics such as denim, and good footwear.

You actually don’t even have to go in head first, you can choose to poke around (we’ll still call it a dive), so bring a pole or something like that, also a milk crate so you can lean over the dumpster. Also bring your own bags to carry your booty home and don’t forget a good torch if you’re dumpster diving at night.

Dumpster diving can be a solo or team sport, but it’s definitely not a spectator sport. Make sure there’s no one around when you do head in, as people can get pretty irate. If you see people in the area, wait a while. If you are confronted while dumpster diving, be polite, most people are reasonable. However, move on if you feel remotely threatened.

Most importantly, take care and move gently and slowly in the dumpster. You don’t want to be cut or injured. While protective clothing can help avoid these dangers, you should always be careful when rummaging through bags of trash as there could be broken glass and other sharp objects.

Take only what you realistically know you will use, there’s no point sending items to the trash twice. Leave it for someone else if you’re not sure. And most importantly, clean up after yourself. The thing that upsets people most about dumpster divers is the mess they make. Don’t ruin it for everyone else.

Happy dumpster diving!

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