Posts Tagged ‘dumpster diving’

Eating From Dumpsters During The Holidays

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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This video is called Shopping at the Third Hand Store, aka Dumpster Diving. I love these guys. Shopping carts, cell phones, watermelons. Too cute for words.

We have been eating out of dumpsters for a little more than a year now. We have never gone hungry and we have never been sick. In fact, we now eat way better than we ever did when we had money, and our immunity to illness seems to have been bolstered from dumpstering for food.

A while back I received the following comment from Poland on one of my YouTube dumpster videos:

That’s possible only in America!
In Polish dumpsters we have only stinky dump, and i mean it, just dump.
What you have here it’s not dumpster as i know it, just place when people leave useful stuff.
I think i’ll just move to America and live from Dumpster diving, it would higher standard of live than i have right now. 😛

While it is true that America wastes more than any other country, dumpster diving for survival is easier in small and mid-sized towns than it is in large urban areas. The last time I visited Seattle, for example, I noticed that many of the chain-store dumpsters such as Whole Foods have compactors or very large dumpsters that are attached to the store, as is the case with WalMart.

My mother recently told me that a PhD student in Seattle is writing his dissertation on dumpster diving, and he was having a difficult time finding food, other than discarded drinks and fast food near SafeCo Field. I do not doubt this if his boundary is King County proper. However, just a hop, skip and a jump to an outlying area should have brought the student fifty loaves of bread from at least one place.

So, what do we get to eat? Our food is basic-fare and nutritious. We either steam fresh vegetables or compose a salad every day. Our protein is almost always beef or pork, because poultry rarely keeps in a dumpster.

We also always have fresh fruit and potatoes or yams.

What do we have to buy? Coffee and tea. These two commodities (coffee prices are soaring, BTW) are rarely available in the dumpsters. I buy and drink instant tea. Mason claims he cannot choke down instant tea, and so he buys and drinks his WalMart, one dollar and twenty-five cent Strawberry soda that I find to be undrinkable.

We also buy our cleaning supplies (but not our hygiene products). This is our largest expense. The laundromat and the laundry detergent are, in fact, a major expense that many people fail to think of when addressing the plight of the homeless, for example. The fact is that many homeless folks exchange clothing in the dumpsters because laundry is not affordable and/or there is no way to transport laundry.

While the dumpsters almost always offer desserts, I love those dark chocolate Klondike Bars and so I have to buy those. In addition, we buy bird seed for our African Grey Parrot. Even though he eats everything that we do, he also requires seeds. Our bird eats more than both of us combined. For Christmas we have his dumpster treats ready: chocolate and shelled walnuts.

Condiments and staples such as salt, sugar and spice are available from any number of dumpsters at the end of any given month, when residents move out and leave their kitchen supplies behind. In addition, we have a fantastic and varied supply of hygiene products from the dumpsters. The only hygiene product that we buy (and it is expensive) is razor blades, although on glorious occasion we find those as well.

We already have our dumpster Christmas dinner planned: a 4.53 pound prime rib roast, real mashed potatoes, salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and steamed broccoli, yellow squash, zucchini and cauliflower. Our steamed vegetables will be our nighttime and next-day snacks together with oranges, tangerines, pineapples, grapes, and a variety of apples.

Everything that we cook and eat with comes from dumpsters, including our wonderful crock pot and three-tiered vegetable steamer, toaster, microwave, coffeepot, juicer, Cuisinart, blender, mixer and all china, stoneware, flatware, glasses and napkins. Right now, we have an enormous supply of black trash bags from the dumpsters (new, never used).

I will describe the special case of holiday dumpster diving in a separate blog. The best days of the year to dumpster dive are December 26 and January 2. You don’t even have to really even dive a dumpster or leave your vehicle; just drive up and down the streets and alleys and pick stuff up. It is like a solid month of Christmas. Christmas lights for scrap are delivered throughout the spring. This is the best time of the year for cardboard.

Our one-year plus survival dumpstering experiment leads us to this: If and when we ever have money, we will continue to retrieve food that is otherwise destined for the landfill.

Dumpster fruits and vegetables

Dumpster fruits and vegetables by Crane-Station on flickr, taken in the Spring.

African Grey Parrot

African Grey Parrot Nikko by CraneStation on flickr.

I am fascinated with all things social engineering from the 1950s, and especially the 1960s, because I am at an age where I remember the exact playground I was standing on when I learned that Bobby was killed.

Today I looked up the Instructional Video titled Dining Together-1950, and then I did a little editing, to bring that video up-to-date.

This is a story of a holiday and home living in a declining economy. Helping make ready a celebration Diving dumpsters is part of the fun life for many people today. Especially for one of the nicest days of the year – Thanksgiving. There is happiness in the air, and the smell of turkey thankfulness and gratitude, even though people are struggling. Mmmmm, that does look good. Thanksgiving is a day for the best of everything. And friends our parrot invited to dinner.

We remember the pilgrims had only rough tables on which to serve the first Thanksgiving feast,
yet it was shared with friendy indians [not quite sure what to say here]

It is good to share a holiday with friends dumpster with other poor people. And it is good to have friends a parrot who likes to come to live in our home. Good manners parrots make people happy, and good [parrot] table manners make eating together a happy time. We are thankful for our home [and our parrot] and our happy meal. We are glad we have a good parrot table manners and know whereat to do with a napkin, how to use scrape the bird feathers off of a spoon first in and eating soup easily, without noise.

It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey [or a delicious ham steak with glaze from a dumpster]. We know mother knows how to cook it, and father knows how to carve it. It is fine to sit-up and watch it being carved. You would know this is a holiday plate.

At the first Thanksgiving dinner the indians didn’t eat turkey with a fork, but it is easy to learn to use one the right way to take small mouthfuls. And how to butter and eat bread in small bites so we never have to talk with food in our mouth. It is good to have learned to chew with lips closed and know when to take a drink. Good table manners keep our meals happy meals and those who eat with us happy. Learning to use a knife the right way takes practice, yet each time we do it becomes easier.

What to do? with a knife and fork even when finished using them is part of eating well. Holidays are days to Be glad, and all good manners are ways to make people glad. We like to offer help, or to help when asked. It is nice to talk with others, and to know when to wait and listen. We are glad to eat neatly without … [?] Holidays are fun. And it is good to be part of a celebration, it is fine to have learned so much, and to have so much in hour home to make holiday celebrations happy. Now could you wish for more? The End.

We are so blessed today to have had a delicious and nutritious meal. Our scavenged meal was a wonderful gift for which we are so very fortunate and thankful. We wish that there was a way, so that every person could eat a delicious and nutritious meal on this day.

Note: I wrote this in the spring of this year and posted it on another site. We no longer visit the dumpster I mention in the article. Still, I hope readers enjoy the gist of the essay.

When I was trying to quit drinking and stay stopped, a man told me a helpful story.

“I had a friend once, lived in Tennessee. And he was a hog farmer. He had maybe four hundred head of hogs. One day, he opened his door and looked outside…and his hogs were all dead.”

“So, my friend went back inside and he shut the door and he got drunk.”

“Next morning, he got up and opened the door and looked outside.”

“And, you know what? His hogs were still dead!”

This story reminds me that when my hogs are dead I need to get more creative. And that brings me to the power company dumpster. With the storms, other dumpsters were lean, and in our ten-minute half life of poverty, we were cut off from the phone and the internet for about a month. Without TV, we relied on air raid sirens and radio to issue tornado warnings.

Our hogs were dead.

But, I reasoned, the storms may also bring a good deal of infrastructure to the dumpsters. Several visits to the power company dumpster later, we were back on line.

The power company has two boxes. One is off-limits to divers. It contains aluminum wire. The larger box is diver friendly as long as we are polite and well-intentioned (we are, of course). It contains cast and clean aluminum freeway lamps, complete with scrap posts, wire and breakage. Today, we were especially blessed with about five hundred pounds of this stuff, which we loaded and drove to recycle, where we parked and spent a couple of hours disassembling what looked like a robbed utility company.

We had this stuff all in the parking lot and in pulls a truck. Out comes an enormous man, about the size of Mount Everest if it were a fire hydrant. He scanned our load and identified us as fellow divers, I guess, and he says, “Man, I was diving this dumpster today and I noticed a bag, and it was moving.”

I stop unscrewing screws and listen.

“And, I opened the bag. Turns out this business owner had stuffed three baby robins into a bag and thrown them into the dumpster. So I rescued the birds and I walked up to the man and told him that if he had the energy to stuff the birds into the bag, at least he could have had the common decency to release them to the street and give them a fifty-fifty chance at survival.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me to calm down. So I took my shirt off and picked up a two-by-four and said, I am a grown man and I have been to the penitentiary and I will kick your ass for this. And also, I will dive your dumpster until I am good and done.”

We simultaneously decide that we love this man. We engage in street level dumpster etiquette. I give him brass in exchange for diving tips. He gives us hats in exchange for diving tips. His character is too good to be true, more stylized than anything Joel and Ethan Coen could ever script.

As our huge bird lover leaves he says, “You guys are blessed today. You just don’t know how much yet.”

After he leaves I say, “We need this guy. We need him everywhere. Where everything is wrong, we need people with this kind of passion.”

Our hogs may be dead but we are not.

Edited to the first person, with some changes.

Dumpsters are so ubiquitous that they are easy to miss. Hidden in plain view, if you will. Since they contain trash, we usually only notice them when they become an eyesore.

Some folks in Alaska, however, came up with the idea of using dumpsters to convey messages that promote health and peace. Here is what they did:

“We worked with the ReCycle Center that had leftover paint people had turned in. They had the paint, and we had the dumpsters. So we coordinated a system with Public Works to use the dumpsters. Anybody could adopt a dumpster. Public Works would go out and pressure-wash them. Folks got paint from the ReCycle Center and went out and painted those things. Then we got three of our biggest vendors in town, our local stores (Alaska Commercial Company, Swansons and ANICA) to donate prizes. The first year, prizes were $400 for first place, $300 for second and $200 for third. We got people who worked in some form of the art field to be our judges, and off it went.

“Public Health Nursing, school groups and even individual youth have won. Kids have adopted dumpsters in their neighborhoods. They’ve painted fireweed and little kids pouring water on the flowers, and a big happy face with teeth. Some of the college students’ work was remarkable. This idea also went to the Western Regional 4-H Leaders Forum in Washington some years ago.
“In rural Alaska, dumpsters serve a huge purpose. The Cooperative Extension Service Bethel District is 55,000 sq. miles. You think of it as pristine Alaska. There’s little worse than coming to a rural community for the first time and seeing garbage on the ground. The Cleanup/Greenup Project and the Adopt-A-Dumpster Contest have helped make a difference.
“You just don’t get it about living in ‘Bush Alaska’ until you come here!”

-Janet Athanas, Bethel Parks & Recreation Department

The creative folks of Alaska have it just about right: Involve everyone from Public Health Nursing to school kids, roll up your sleeves and generate some grant money, make it a contest, and produce something meaningful for the community at large. This must have been a really fun grant-writing experience as well.

I often fantasize about community activism. To me, this is a prime example.

The above video is from Seward, Alaska. If you do not like to look at dumpsters, just focus on the background because Alaska is art, all by itself.

The Healthy People 2010 Bethel Dumpster Art article, showing dumpsters with health messages:

Van Crushing

Van Crushing by Proggie on flickr under non-commercial creative commons.

A few days ago, a friend and neighbor of ours asked for directions to the metal recycle center. He needed some extra money and he had some aluminum that he wanted to exchange for cash. Our friend has an excellent job as a cook at a national chain steakhouse that consistently receives excellent Zagat ratings. He is married, with one young daughter.

Our friend is uninsured, and his family receives food stamps because, even though he has a good full-time job, the pay is insufficient for the family to live on.

When our friend returned from the recycle center, he was ecstatic, as a first-time visitor to recycle always is, because it is fascinating, and also because he had received just over four dollars for his clean piece of aluminum. By “clean” I mean that the aluminum was not mixed with other metals, and there was no plastic attached to it.

The working poor are now collecting scrap metal to get by and this is a recent trend. This man’s example is just one of many that we have seen in the past three to four months.

‘Our’ dumpsters that were once bounties of riches that we had mostly to ourselves are now harvested so often that we can no longer expect to find anything; the practice of collecting recycle scraps no longer is limited to the unemployed. At recycle we have witnessed everything from people on foot or in wheelchairs or pushing grocery carts to well dressed people in high-end vehicles.

What is scrap metal?

For the purposes of this discussion, scrap metal is salvaged metal that can be recycled. The most popular scrap metals are copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, iron, chrome, steel, bronze and shreddable sheet metal.

Copper, aluminum and iron are elements, listed in the Periodic Table with symbols Cu, Al and Fe. Copper and aluminum do not stick to magnets. Sometimes it is easy to be fooled. I have taken coils of shiny, beautiful copper wire to recycle, only to find out that the wire is copper coated or copper color, over a basic layer of sheet metal.

Magnets are essential to distinguish between types of scrap metals. In a pinch, a small old car stereo speaker makes a pretty good magnet.

Copper and aluminum are money metals, with copper being the most valuable of all scrap metals. Copper is perhaps most often associated with wiring. Anything that plugs into the wall will have copper, and so, appliance cords are popular among scrappers. Some wires are easy to strip and some are not. If I cannot strip a wire easily with box cutters, I turn it in at recycle as insulated copper, at a reduced rate. We do not burn wiring, nor do we condone it, although some people do.

The electricity grid, because of its high copper content, is sometimes the target of thieves. High-end plumbing pipes are made of copper. Metal theft often involves plumbing.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is a high-quality money metal that does not stick to a magnet and, due to its unique composition and sound conduction, it is a metal of choice for musical instruments. Most of our brass comes from door knobs, drawer pulls, lamps, and discarded items from the electrical grid. Some lamps can fool. Die cast can look almost exactly like yellow brass. Match Box toy cars, for example, are die cast. Die cast brings a fraction of the price of real brass.

Stainless steel, or corrosion resistant steel is a steel alloy with at least 10.5% chromium. Steel is an alloy of mostly iron, combined with a small percentage of carbon or other elements.

The term “money metal” is a common slang term for those metals that bring the most money for the least amount of weight. Stainless steel is a money metal that is often overlooked by the scrapper and tossed onto the sheet metal pile at the back of the yard.

Things marked “Stainless steel” can either be magnetic or not. This depends on the atomic arrangement. Perhaps a reader can explain the metal chemistry and physics better here. For the scrapper’s purpose, if it sticks to a magnet, the scrap yard will most likely consider it sheet metal, and the scrapper will receive a reduced price, or scrap price. However, the difference between high-grade stainless and reduced-rate scrap is significant.

By the way, just so you know, what happens to be stamped on a metal does not necessarily mean it is what it says. I have had items marked “14K” that were not gold. The exception to this is silver. Silver items are stamped, somewhere on the item, on a rim, a ridge, somewhere not very visible, with the symbol “925,” meaning 92.5% elemental silver by weight. If you are not looking at such a symbol, you are not looking at silver. You are most likely looking at silver plate or stainless. So, if you are thinking of cleaning all of the silver out of the thrift stores and flea markets, take a magnet (silver does not stick) and a really good magnifying glass, because for now, anyway, silver plate is essentially a scrap metal.

Another note on silver: Consider hanging onto it if you can. Silver is generally increasing in value. Here is a precious metal prices ticker.

Bronze is an alloy of mainly copper. It is not a common metal for a scapper to encounter; bronze is used, for example, in the manufacture of truck gears. Bronze chemistry is interesting. (My sister is a bronze foundry foreman.)

Metals that do stick to magnets bring “shreddable sheet metal” prices, which in this area is currently between ten and twelve cents a pound. Sheet metal is valuable to the scrapper due to its collective weight. For this reason, it is nice to have a long-bed pickup truck. Our truck is a reconstructed 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 that we got from a salvage yard, and it is perfect for hauling metal scraps.

In a future post, I will talk about the steps in metal recycle, from the initial scale to the mill.

I encourage everyone to visit their local metal recycle center, because it is fascinating. For example, in addition to the brass urn with someone’s ashes inside (the owner of the ashes eventually retrieved the urn), we saw a coffin, among other things, including a train engine car without the engine and a perimeter wall made of school buses.

Hat tip to Masoninblue, my scrapping partner, for editing this post.

This post is written by Masoninblue. I took the photos.

(h/t to Wendy Davis for her idea to use Janis Joplin’s outstanding version of Me and Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster)

Crane-Station and I went scrappin’ this Sunday morning. We pulled up and parked next to a longbox in a small neighborhood shopping center where several men were tearing down the interior of a former store, now shuttered. The longbox was almost full of ripped out drywall, heating and cooling ducts, and lots of metal, most of it buried. We were going to have to work hard to liberate it.

Mason investigates.
Mason Investigates Looking For Clues

Drywall on Metal
Mason Finds Clues

We asked the men if we could get in the longbox and take the metal. The apparent foreman said, “Sure, we’ve been letting scrappers take it. Makes our job easier. Help yourself.”
So, we did.

Our first find was a section of chain-link fencing with three posts partially encased in concrete footings. As we struggled to lift the posts and the fencing out of the longbox, one of the men suddenly appeared with an electric band saw and cut the posts above the footings.

“This ought to make it easier,” he said.

He was right.

About an hour later when the temperature started heating up and we were pouring sweat trying to free a large heating duct, he suddenly peaked over the top of the longbox.

“Thought you might be getting thirsty, so I brought you some water.”

He produced two bottles of chilled water that we gratefully accepted.

That was the sweetest water we have tasted in a long time.

The crew stopped and said goodbye a little later.

He was a stranger and did not have to do anything to help us.

I have given up everything of value that I had and now that I have nothing, I find that I have everything I need.

I love the freedom that comes from not having stuff.

I enjoy the peace of not wanting.

Life is about being a part of something bigger, not about winning or losing a competition.

Life is about knowing who you are in relation to the One and to the universe the One created.

Life is about knowing your fundamental values and principles and living those values and principles every day.

Life is about respecting, protecting, and healing Gaia and all that she is.

Life is about empathizing and caring about others.

Life is about lending a hand.

The load
The load in the back of our truck.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe because it does not take anything from others or diminish them in any respect. Unconditional love is giving for the sake of giving without any expectation of receiving anything in return.

Selfishness, on the other hand, is a black hole that gathers everything unto itself and never gives away anything without strings attached. Selfishness creates resentment and a desire to get even or hurt others.

Love creates a desire to be of service to others and to love others. It creates joy and inspires love in return. Like ripples on the surface of a pond, it will travel to the end of the universe and back.

Selfishness can never triumph completely over love because the joy and happiness of loving and being loved unconditionally by others always surpasses the misery and loneliness that selfishness invariably produces.

Free yourself from the obligations of property and the expectations of others.


In the same way when you see a flower in a field, it’s really the whole field that is flowering because the flower could not exist in that particular place without the special surroundings in the field that it has. You only find flowers in surroundings that will support them. So, in the same way you only find human beings on a planet of this kind with an atmosphere of this kind, with a temperature of this kind supplied by a convenient neighboring star.

Alan Watts

(h/t to Edger for providing the Alan Watts video where I got the quote)

Cross-Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

When Archimedes quantified the physics behind the six simple machines that perform work and make moving things easier for humans, he probably was not hunting for scrap metal on a daily basis because he could not find a job. Or else he wasn’t a redneck.

I grew up around tools because my father enjoyed woodworking. In fact, at age 89, he still works in his wood shop. Touching his tools was a death sentence, and he always knew their exact positions and places at any given time, such that, if you moved one, you ended up feeling like Paul Shelton in Misery when Annie Wilkes says, “Paul. My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due south. Now it faces north. You’ve been out.” So I always had great respect for tools, although I did not use them much.

Taking apart a sattelite dish

This huge old satellite dish is mostly aluminum, except for the extremely rusted nuts and bolts. Required WD-40, vice grips, socket wrenches, a hammer and a ladder.


A good deal of infrastructure goes to the landfill each day. We retrieved these lamps from a dumpster, for the nice aluminum. I also think the bulbs are pretty, so I collect them.

The six simple machines or tools are pretty much all present on a bicycle, and they are:

The lever

Force is applied to one end of a lever, and the force is magnified at the business end. Examples are the baseball bat, the crowbar, and the seesaw. The crowbar can be handy for scrapping activities such as removing tires or prying something apart when you have given up on other tools. We have one, but it is not very long and so there is not enough force magnification going on. We do not have a baseball bat, and this is a good thing because we have had a couple of annoying encounters with people who saw fit to invade our dumpster when we were in it and a bat could have complicated things.

Wheel and axle

We have these on our truck. Another example is a rolling pin, but I have never had a sudden urge to bake a pie while I was in a dumpster, so I have not collected them, although they are available free of charge in any number of dumpsters if you need one. Wheels work really well. We found this out when we were driving down the road and our brake cable ruptured. After pumping the brakes for several minutes (he was driving) I said something like, “What do you think that sucking noise is?” He said he did not know, and I said, “Since there is a red light and all, maybe you could actually see if we even have an emergency brake,” which he did, and that is good because we used it all the way home and then all the way to the shop the next morning, although we did discuss (I kid you not) the fact that since we were broke and since the emergency brake was working so well, maybe we could just use that for a while. At the brake shop the next morning the repair guy told us that people actually do that. Oh. The sucking noise was the noise of the last few drops of brake fluid being violently and repeatedly sucked out of that brake fluid container, as we rolled down the road, thinking we were going to die.

Inclined Plane

An inclined plane is a ramp. We do not have one but I wish we did. The work is spread over distance with a ramp. I love those really sturdy aluminum ramps sort of like the things that are attached to a U-Haul rental. I always thought that there were a lot of ramps around during the building of the Pyramids.


Double inclined plane. Examples are axes, knives, chisels, screwdrivers, and if I am not mistaken, animal horns are also a type of wedge. Wedges are essential. You cannot function without screwdrivers and, probably the most important piece of scrapping equipment is a lineman’s wire cutter. I used to lose these things all the time. They disappeared faster than money in Iraq until one day, when a retired electrician gave me something called a Klein tool. Home Depot does not sell these things. It is a high-end wire cutter. Once you get a good wire cutter it is like finding a good ratcheting screwdriver or a great set of vice grips for the first time. You will think, “How did I ever make it without these things? How was it even possible to function without them?”


A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a shaft, and torquing force is used, that is, applying force perpendicular to the groove to translate rotational into linear force. The object of the game in scrapping is to unscrew though, and so a ratcheting screwdriver with several heads and an extension is a must. Other tools that unscrew things are the hammer, the sledge hammer, the plug-in reciprocating saw and the blow torch. As you de-evolve through the list, your language may get quite colorful.


We do not yet have the wheel part of our pulley but we have some great ropes, so we are ready when the right wheel presents itself. As a substitute for the wheel, we have a donut-shaped magnet that we have put the rope through, and we lower the rope into the dumpster with it, to pull up small pieces of metal.

Other Tools

Archimedes may not have had zip ties but we do, and they came in really handy one day when the front grill fell off the truck. Duct tape holds on, what is that strip on the side of the truck? It’s not really a bumper but you know what I am talking about. I often wonder how Archimedes made it through his life without magnets, duct tape, flashlights, bug repellent, WD-40 and AA batteries.

And another thing: Don’t do what we do and go out scrapping without taking water. Honestly, this is the truth: I was so parched one time that I dove for the nearest ditch, drank the water and took my chances, so you know. Going out without water during a heat advisory is serious, and it affects you sort of like nitrogen narcosis in scuba diving: you become disoriented but you do not know it.

Six simple machines reference article

Finally, a summertime tune, with a bass, banjo, and even a jug- I am sure you remember this!