Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I Love Dumpster Diving, Garbage Picking, and Other People's Trash

A few days ago, I stepped into the alley behind my apartment and beheld a wonderful sight: a pristine, white dish drainer sitting atop my neighbors' garbage can.

Heck yeah! This was a clear message from my neighbors. It read, "Hey everyone. I'm throwing this thing away, but it's in perfect condition, and I know one of you will want it."

They were right.

Immediately, my natural instinct to acquire perfectly usable stuff that other people are throwing away took over. I snagged the drainer and brought it back to my house, where it joined all the other things I've gained from garbage picking.

As I stowed my new-to-me contraption away, I happily thought, "How perfect! I really needed a dish drainer." (I'm moving to a cozy new apartment on July 1. The place doesn't include roommates with useful kitchen gadgets.)

Yep, because of my find, I was enjoying a nice little high--like the one you get when you chance upon a dollar bill on the ground.

But then all of the sudden my high started to wear off. And I got annoyed.

I got annoyed because people look down so much on dumpster diving. They think it's gross and dirty, but what these narrow-minded people don't understand is that it almost never is.

Just like my neighbors, many people leave the "good stuff" outside their garbage cans, making it clean and easy to grab things. That means you don't have to do anything untoward, yet you still get to enjoy all the benefits:
  • You prevent the pollution and resource waste that results from making new products
  • You divert "good stuff" from landfills
  • You get cool shit for free!
How amazing!

Below are pictures of things that were all once trashed. They are now my treasures. I hope they'll inspire you to do a little alley hunting yourself and to always leave your "good stuff" on top of your garbage can.


Isn't my coffee table gorgeous?














I keep this chair on my back porch.














I potted an aloe in a pretty dish I happened upon.














This antique wooden crate was a true find.

39 comments:

Emily DeWan Photography said...

Alley shopping is the greatest! I love all the treasures to be found.

Maggie said...

it annoys me so much when I see perfectly useful pieces of furniture on the side of the road. and since I live in a college town, this happens about twice a year in overdrive. hasn't anyone heard of goodwill? grr wasteful people.

ruchi said...

Yeah, but I do wish these people would post it on freecycle or free on Craigslist instead of throwing it in the alley. For all the cool stuff you rescued, there is a ton of stuff that doesn't get rescued and it's really depressing.

DomesticErrorist said...

Maggie has a point - if you have stuff that can be used by someone, call a thrift store - most of them will come pick items up at no charge, or find a Freecycle group near you - they're on the web and it's a great way to find new treasures.

Nadine said...

All great finds! When I walk through my neighborhood on trash day I rarely see anything of value. I wonder if my neighbors are good about donating or if they're bad about putting things out of sight in the can.

Fix said...

You have found some great stuff!

I'm in the middle of moving and I'm currently obsessed with Freecycle. Every single thing I've posted has gone very quickly, with the exception of a giant bag of takeout containers. But they still went eventually! I'd much rather do this than put things in the trash if I can help it.

Now, what do I do with all of the bottles and jars of over-the-counter remedies that I used a tiny bit of and now I don't need? Drag them across the country...?

Carrick said...

Wow! That IS a gorgeous coffee table! It's amazing what people throw away. Although, you're right: people often put stuff in the alley on purpose--not to throw away, but to give away to, as my family puts it, the "alley god". Just last weekend I put out a perfectly functional desk in great condition. I'm sure someone picked it up. I know it wasn't tossed, because the garbage men don't pick up random bulk items--you have to call for a specific pick-up for that.

In terms of alley shopping myself, however, I once roamed miles and miles of alley trying to find stuff--to no avail. How do you find stuff without spending hours in alleys?

yllwdaisies said...

& do you use freecycle? Instead of throwing out perfectly usable things around the house (things that are just cluttering your space, but in great shape), you can "offer" them on freecycle & someone who needs that item will come pick it up.

I just googled "freecycle cleveland", & found our city's page (ours is on Yahoo Groups).

Sasha said...

OMG, that's an awesome coffee table! I love scavenging, it's so fun. I've found some beautiful things.

Carrick, try going the day before garbage pickup, and maybe try a student neighbourhood (they might be less likely to dispose of things properly). It could be that people in your neighbourhood/city do things the responsible way, which is good, but not for dumpster diving.

Erin said...

I found a fantastic antique wooden table sitting on the curb one night, and now it serves as a wonderful nightstand.

Your post brought to mind a short piece by Lars Eighner titled "On Dumpster Diving" that I read for a literature course several years ago. It's an interesting read - check it out if you have the chance: http://www1.broward.edu/~nplakcy/docs/dumpster_diving.htm

Also, I love the blog - great work!

Lisa Sharp said...

My trash would be pretty gross to dig through because it's all really trash. haha

I donate or freecycle everything! It's not that hard. With freecycle you don't even have to take the items somewhere.

Jen M said...

What great finds! I especially love your coffee table. Unfortunately, trash picking and dumpster diving is illegal here in England. Can you believe it?!

Lynae said...

In my neighborhood it's culturally acceptable (yet still illegal, and complained about by some people) for people to leave perfectly good stuff that they're getting rid of, out on the street. When I leave stuff out there it's usually gone within an hour, taken home by some scavenger who happened upon it.

My apartment is probably 80% stocked with dumpster/street, Craigslist (Free section) and Freecycle finds. Our bed, clotheswasher, couch, bookshelves, area rugs, tables, desk, chairs, armoire, and fishtank were all found for free. So were many of our clothes, dishes, plants, and art. We're always finding all this awesome stuff that we wish we had room for, too.

I've kind of gotten to the point where I'm astounded when I hear that someone I know bought something new, when I know they could have found something very similar for free or very cheap secondhand. It just makes me feel like they're suckers, honestly.

Lorri said...

I enjoy curb shopping more than the regular kind. I call it my 'scavenger gene,' and we've gotten some wonderful, useful items that way.

alicesworld said...

Wow you got a lot of cool stuff. Or rather, made cool things out of them. I'll have to be more open-minded about this . . .

Sylvia said...

Very true... 99% of the things we buy ends up in a landfill within 9 months. It's a frightening fact that we consume so much, and our Earth is paying the price :(

I wrote an article about this too....
http://theinformedbeing.blogspot.com/

Anne Olga said...

I really like your coffee table :) In the town where I live (Trondheim, Norway), we have a "free store", where people can leave the things they don't need and others can find things they need for free. It's a great concept!

Mariella said...

love the coffee table. i can't believe someone was throwing that out!

The Minimalist said...

Another great post! I just recently took a bunch of old miss matched furniture and spray painted it all glossy black and used it to redo my bedroom and it looks great. It cost me all of $10.00! When I have time I'll put pictures up on my web site. Anyway, I got the idea from Design Sponge. It's a decorating site that has lots of furniture make over ideas where people work with finds just like you are talking about. I think more and more people get it. At least I hope they do!

Eco Yogini said...

I'm not good at 'dumpster diving' BUT I LOVE your finds! I've also found an aloe plant abandoned in the garbage bin in our apartment complex with two perfectly good planters- so I kept them :)

I agree- I do get annoyed when I see perfectly good things thrown out. Perhaps if people had to actually make a trip to the landfill and see how their trash doesn't really ever go 'away' it would make them think twice... maybe. :)

Glad to have found your blog (from greenspell.wordpress.com) :)

Ola said...

yes, san francisco is where it's at! i wish i'd known about this store before i visited in march - it's such a great idea. i also like when take-away restaurants let you use your own containers and cups.

in my last flat in london we had a computer chair, a TV and DVD player all from freecycle and we left them there when we moved out.

if you no longer use it, pass it on! less trash & more cash for other people :)

Martin said...

I have three growing teens and I launder and fold outgrown clothes before hanging them on the side of the dumpster. I am living in a foreign country so I am not acquainted with the charities. Last year I lived in a different country and the people there had a disgust reaction to the mention of second hand clothing. When I moved I donated most of the stuff we weren't taking to the SPCA. It was run by Brit's who sell the stuff at a car boot sale (flea market to you North Americans).

garbonzo said...

Just found your blog. I love it!!! I will be back again and again!!!

kokolotus said...

I love the antique wooden crate!

My husband often comes home with things he has found curbside the night before garbage pickup. A lamp, suitcases, chairs, televisions and more. You know what they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure :)

Greg said...

Awesome finds. I have been dumpster diving for over a year now and I am still shocked at how wasteful people are. Check out my blog to see my finds...:)

http://dumpsterdivetreasures.blogspot.com/

Tim said...

The amazing feeling of finding something you need for free can only be surpassed by making something you need with your hands. It is just so satisfying. The best things in life truly are free.

GreenScribe said...

I think by now most people are able to recite the 3 Rs: Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse. Most of the school children I’ve worked with believe that recycle is the most important “r”. However, I truly believe that we must REDUCE the amount of “stuff” that we think we need.

George Carlin did a funny comedy routine about “stuff”, and how we need to get a bigger place to put all of our “stuff”. Before going and buying more, which is the American way, perhaps we can think about what we can do without?!

One of the greatest ways of feeling like you’re getting new “stuff” without creating a need to produce new “stuff” is to use Craig’s List, or Freecycle. Both of these free services keep tons of “stuff” out of landfills, AND SAVE RESOURCES because we are reusing a product that has already been created.
Do you want a new look in your house? Why not sell your things and or trade using Craig’s list. You’ll have “new” stuff, but it won’t contribute to the depletion of the environment!

So, remember, we don’t NEED a lot of stuff - think before you buy something that’s essentially depleting the limited resources of our planet! I'm www.SustainableBags.NET. Although we don’t sell used bags, we are still doing our best to limit the manufacturing of excess plastic bags by encouraging the use of reusable bags. Once you have these, they will last for years. Think of all the plastic bags you will NOT have used! Less STUFF in the landfills!

Going Crunchy said...

Love your table! I'm "green" with envy!!!! Idea for folks: we put a swap box in our breakroom at work. Put things in , take things out. I take the leftovers to Goodwill about once per month.

I got a kickin' pair of summer shoes from it last week - and gave away some kid clothes.

My fantastic rocker on my front porch is from the curb - and I'm happy to find things when I can.

Marina Luna said...

The waste stream really needs some attention, especially in the USA where 70% of our economy has been built on buying new crap, most of which we don't need. In Telluride, Colorado, a big old town "free box" has been maintained for years on a downtown corner. Every year at the Bluegrass Festival, the merry crew in the special festival camping area hold a "free box fashion show." There has been some controversey but the forces of good have so far prevailed. The Telluride free box even has a fan group on Facebook. Join up, and start your own free box where you are! We have one in the entrance where I work. Two nonprofits are housed in the building. Once in awhile it needs to be culled, but I've picked up (and dropped off) some great finds.

Olivia said...

Your coffee table reminded me of a "coffee table" that my husband and I had when we were first married. It was an old round wooden affair that electric companies use to wind industrial cable around. It had been abandoned and my husband sanded it down and stained it - it was great. I also Freecycle but when we were moving last year we just kept putting excess furniture out by the side of the road and everything was taken, usually within the hour. In Canada we also have a site called 'kijiji' and you can buy, sell, trade or give away stuff for free on that, too. I gave away years of old magazines and all my houseplants and many garden cuttings.

Anonymous said...

will you ever post again?

Sue said...

Missing your posts!

LifeLessPlastic said...

Sorry for the delay! I will be posting tonight! Until then...

falwyn said...

Very interesting post, and lovely finds.

I am one of those people who winces when I hear "dumpster diving." Let me tell you the two main reasons:

One is the fact that I feel I should do it (and more thrift shopping, etc) but am so overwhelmed by it. I often want something particular and get very frustrated at the idea of having to "keep an eye out" (assuming I can even remember at any given time), and return time and again to the Goodwill/drive up and down streets randomly looking for what I need. So that's partly impatience on my part, which is obviously not a good thing.

The second reason I wince is because I have relatives (and I have this tendency myself, which makes it doubly scary) who are huge packrats (by which I mean - has an (extra) house completely full of stuff - you can't walk in there) who are completely addicted to dumpster diving - in the most literal sense, as well as the "pick it up where someone has obviously left it to be used by others" sense. And so I wince because I recognize that hoarding tendency in myself as well, and while I hate the waste of perfectly good things going to the dump, I also don't want my house to become the dump. (That's no doubt a "need to reduce" problem, and a personal issue for me, not necessarily a problem with dumpster diving per se.)

Jamie said...

I'm a proud dumpster diver too and can always find a treasure in someones trash! Great post!

chic said...

Hi, I just found out about your blog through the NPR story on the No Poo movement and I'm really impressed by your endeavor to eliminate plastic as much as possible. I think you're a great example to people who want to live eco-consciously and responsibly. I wanted to leave my comment on this particular post just to add that I think picking up free discarded items is great (not at all gross, if you've got two hands, you can surely clean those items up at home) and it's a wonderful way to reuse and repurpose and thus create less waste. I'm all about it!

Thanks for keeping this blog!

S. of www.academichic.com

Tom from Global domains international said...

Nice ideas, they are all really good discoveries, lucky too if you can find such good stuff just by the side of the road. I found a chair that was brand new once, makes you think...

Tom said...

Great information keep up the good work.

Rubbish Removal NYC said...

Other people's trash is another man's treasure they always say... Its ridiculous that in some places, dumpster diving is illegal and you can be labeled as a criminal if caught in some parts. Its disturbing.

-Land Source Container Service, Inc.