This blog was initially posted at Firedoglake here.

Deep diving a dumpster in Seattle. (photo: sea turtle via Flickr)

This morning’s Over Easy is an addition to the first diary I ever posted at Firedoglake, with an update on our dumpster diving experiences during the holiday season.

WikiHow has an excellent article on dumpster diving technique, to which I only add: 1. Never dive a medical or hospital dumpster 2. Never dive a compacting or off-limits (ie, gated/not in the public domain) dumpster 3. Dive in quadrants. This way, you never have to throw anything outside of the dumpster in order to get at the contents at the bottom. 4. Double your configuration, like  a cave diver, and carry two of everything (flashlights, wire cutters, magnets), except your wallet or money, which you should not take with you, into a dumpster.

Scrap metal recycle prices vary a bit from one junkyard to the next. The money scrap metals are copper, brass, aluminum, and non-magnetic stainless steel; junkyards want your scrap load sorted prior to reaching the scale. January is the best month of the year for scrap metal divers (scrappers) because Christmas is now a disposable holiday. Post-holiday Christmas lights are abundant, for example.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1960. Christmas was sacred and magical for as many years as I can remember until recently. We hand-made many of our own ornaments (remember felt, glue, sequins and styrofoam?) and saved everything from year to year. My mother kept our precious ornaments in the same box, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and saved. We saved our bubble lights and ice cycles.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Christmas is manufactured overseas, sold in the Big-box, and disposable, including all ornaments, lights, fake trees, nativity sets, and gifts, toys and clothing. We are losing our craftsmanship and precise arts as quickly as the Arctic melts.

People begin shopping on Black Friday, and get a tree up shortly thereafter. Late November/early December dumpsters may deliver insulated copper in the form of last year’s lights that have been inexplicably replaced by this year’s model, a few fake trees and even Christmas wrap, tape, bows, ribbon, lace and tags, still new in packages as though people are actually afraid to use anything from last year, God forbid.

December 26 through the New Year are generally cardboard box days, and although cardboard brings $60.00/ton at recycle, cardboard transport is problematic without a modified truck bed.  After the first of the year, the land of dumpsters is most interesting and productive. Lights. Rejected presents,  New With Tags. Fully decorated trees. Appliances, if new gifts replace the old, and even furniture, again if old must be discarded to make way for new.  We have not been to the mall in years. Every appliance we have was retrieved, new, boxed, and never used, from dumpsters. Same with all of our furniture and all of our clothing. If you live in an area where people don’t take down their trees until February, you can vicariously celebrate the holidays for two or three straight months.


The year after I wrote this, our local recycle center reduced the cash payment for all Christmas light strings and other plug-in cords by sixty percent, causing many scrappers to discontinue retrieving cords in lieu of collecting bulk magnetic scrap metal.

Last year we exchanged our truck for a motorcycle and quit scrapping. Our most lucrative scrap dumpster was related to infrastructure, and when the company itself began to recycle and disallow scrap dumpster divers, we made a decision to give up scrapping.

We are now entering our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters. About 75% of our nutrition comes from dumpsters. We did observe what we believe to be an abundance of meat in the fall due to the sell-off of livestock during the exceptional drought season of the summer. We most often eat steamed vegetables and crock pot meals, with salads, abundant fresh fruit, and some sweets. We must purchase coffee and tea. We have been sick only one time, and that was after eating a fast-food meal inside a restaurant and not from a dumpster meal.

Our appliances, dishes, household items and many clothes now come from our own apartment complex dumpsters or curbs, during end-of-month move-outs. We are transitioning from diving due to great need to diving by choice, because we continue to believe strongly in the principles of reuse and living with less.

Years ago I began this strange, stigmatized hobby because of need, when I inadvertently discovered my real passion of looking for things that show sociological or historical trends and stories, so for me, the fun is in the urban archaeology. What media and social culture wants us to see is on the surface. If you want to know about the real world, look at what people throw away.


Northwest Cook: New reality cooking show starts with Dumpster diving

From Trash to Table: Austrian Activists Launch Freegan Cooking Show

Dumpster divers swoop in to grab $40,000 worth of pricy fresh food

  1. ed nelson says:

    I remember your first diary about dumpster diving, I was interested in it for reasons that ain’t that great… ! I mean, we always had dumpsters on the waterfront, and lots a times… stuff that was valuable got throwed in to em… and buried up with all kinds of crap, so………. That is where we would go in or whatever, or roll em over and completely disembobulate the thing and go through the contents to find the expensive item that probably was throwed into the dumpster, etc. etc.

    One time I had a pretty good job… and I took care of the whole marine terminal, and ships came and went, and there were always a few 40 ft. dumpsters full of all kind a stuff, (nothing to eat ) but lots of good stuff like wood… steel, and things like tools that got throughn into the dumpster, just as a way to clean up and get the hell out of the ship’s hold and go home!!!!!! But, the main thing that got thrown into the dumpster, probably was those hydraulic wire cutters, and other tools, so we did have a thing where we would go into the dumpsters, or even/often turn them upside down/emptey em…

    I remember your dairy about the dumpster diving, and I liked it, and I said some things about how I might suggest ways to do it… like rolling it over and so on… well I ain’t there yet, and when I get to where I need to go there, well… tell you what! I Ain’t gonna go in no gadamned dumsta parda!… that will be the day… ole eddsworthy will find a new ….. business plan… ! oh auh!

    I am not that thrilled with your concept of… bottom feeding in the dumpsters to begin with!

    Somebody like you should not be feeding from a dumpster… I would reccomend you think about upgrading…. Upgrading…. upgrade to a different level on the “FOOD CHAIN” to preditor….

    Stop being a predated one, and start being the predator…! whooooooy nnnnooooooot!!

    Well I hope you get a laugh from my comments… On the other hand, I have to deal with this type of mental stuff that I come up with… 24/7… Oh I am always entertained anyways!

    • So good to hear from you. I was offline for a while, just getting back into things here.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. On the tools, yes, I have lost many wire cutters and flashlights in dumpsters, but I think it’s balanced by the wire cutters and flashlights that I have found, LOL!

  2. ed nelson says:

    I hope you get my humor, cause, well, that is most of my message… I think..?

  3. ed nelson says:

    dear Fred and Rachel, I started with this long awaited post from CraneStation, whom has not made many lateley… (Who ain’t made none laterlay…”) insofar as I detected… I ain’t been no part of any of thems issues!!

    OK, Now I have read Fred’s post where he in

  4. ed nelson says:

    Oh, yeah, I see Fred has some issues going on there on his site… (where I am banned…) but oh well… It isn’t too hard to get banned is it??

    and Ole Freddie. well, well let’s see if I can post anything now that you are under siege??

    I am still a supportor and so on of Fred… even though you followed FDL suit and banned me from commenting…. Geoshmoe

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