How To Dumpster Dive

My first experience dumpster diving resulted in this:

dumpster diving bagels

(Posting this on reddit instantly got it to the front page of Dumpster Diving Reddit.)

This took me an extra 10 minutes on my way home from school. These 10 minutes resulted in free bagels for my friends, my family, and me. It’s amazing how much fresh, edible food is thrown away daily at our local markets. Here’s how to dumpster dive for your first time without coming back empty handed.

How To Dumpster Dive With Success

1) Come prepared.

Bring some basic materials. This includes a container(s) (trash bags, boxes, etc.), gloves (cheap dollar store ones will work), and a headlamp (any sort of light will work, though). Some more helpful items include a 5 gallon bucket (to stand on and use for carrying your finds), crappy clothing, boots or closed-toed shoes, and a printout of the official dumpster diving laws in your area (Here’s what I use in the US).

2) Research the best candidates.

What kind of things are you looking for? If you are like me and just want to make use of all the wasted food, find some good food markets on your way to/from wherever you go on a daily basis (school, work, etc.). The best stores are smaller chains which market their food towards richer people (Whole Foods, etc.). These have higher food standards, and throw away better food more often. The larger food chains tend to lock up their trash or use trash compactors, so these are not recommended. If there is a bagel store nearby (Einstein bagels, Panera, etc.), these are almost always great pickin’. Bagel shops will usually throw away a large bag of bagels every night, because they make fresh bagels every morning again for their customers. You’ll learn which stores are best after going a few times. You’ll also learn which days are best to go (right before the trash man comes!).

3) Use common sense.

I prefer to go at night after work, right after most stores have closed. This way, I have to deal with people approaching me less often. Make sure to be somewhat sanitary, and use common sense! If the dumpster is locked up, move on! If there is rat poison covering the trash (I have heard of this happening), also move on! Only take food which looks fresh and safe to eat (packaged food is a plus). And, of course, wash all non-packaged food at home before eating. Also, wash yourself after – you dirty diver! 🙂

4) Just do it – And have fun!

The most important step is to just go out and do it, and don’t be afraid of what others think of you. Be adventurous – take a chance once and a while! If security approaches you, stay relaxed and calmly explain what you are doing. If he/she claims that what you are doing is illegal, show them your printout of the law (freely ye give, freely ye receive!). For me, the biggest step was to actually go out and try it. I read about it a lot online, and it took me a while to build up the courage to do it. It sure did pay off, and it was loads of fun!


How to dumpster diveI hope this helped anyone interested in dumpster diving. Businesses are too lazy to find a use for their waste, so they just throw it away. And due to libability issues, they can’t give it away. It’s disgusting how much food is thrown away in the US, and I don’t see this over-indulgent society going away anytime soon. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
Happy diving!


PS: Here is a great article written by Lars Eighner, an expert scavenger. He talks a lot about his primary source of food being from dumpsters. Check it out here.

Enjoy the article? Sign up for updates:

Related Posts:

Posted in Guides/Tips Tagged with: