Dumpster Divers: Saving the World

When the sunlight fades and the dark of night overtakes the urban landscape, a certain metamorphosis takes place, almost as if the darkness is a catalyst for bringing out the people who look at life a little differently. Businessmen make an exodus from urban downtowns to make room for the incoming club-goers and the day’s formal proceedings give way to friendly, relaxed conversation. For office workers, farmers and so many other workers, evening means it is time to go home and relax. For dumpster divers, though, it is time to go to work. 

In an occupation that centers around eyeing the backdoors of local businesses and making clandestine drives through apartment complexes, darkness offers a welcome sense of anonymity. Dumpster divers are a misunderstood crowd and sometimes invoke feelings of fear in the casual observer. “Don’t stare,” a mother might say to her child when passing a man digging through trash. This warning is usually followed by, “and don’t talk to him.” People don’t seem to be any less cautious if the diver is of the fairer sex.

There are countless reasons why these nocturnal scavengers find pleasure in pulling discarded things from heaps of partially decomposed refuse, but very rare are the divers who mean harm to others. In many cases, quite the opposite is true, as divers scour public receptacles for electronics, used up ink cartridges, metal circuitry and other things that, left exposed in a landfill, would be a far greater threat to the environment than any one individual could ever pose to the society at large. On dumpster diving forums around the Internet, screen names like “Earth Mom,” “Tree Hugger” and “Ghondi” are common; with names like these, the forum ambiance is less like a transient camp and more reminiscent of a northwestern coffee house, even if a slightly dusty one.

According to Lakeland dumpster rental, we can certainly save the world through dumpster divers. With tons of waste that businesses and companies dispose everyday, it is one of our apprehensions to see the earth being damaged. Hence, we should lessen and reduce our waste disposal.

Saving the planet is a noble goal indeed, and conversations about environmental issues in these forums are both plentiful and passionate. There is no rule, though, that forbids turning some of that former landfill fodder into extra spending power. In fact, some might argue that earning an income while simultaneously making the world a more livable place is a rewarding feeling. Many of the divers who rescue useable items from the impending garbage truck visit have active and vibrant accounts on eBay and Amazon, and their presence on Craigslist and other classified services is immense.

A friendly and conversational regular on one of the forums, who likes to be known simply as Ash, maintains both a small flea-market operation and an active eBay account. He posts daily of his finds, often commenting on the wasteful nature of American society. “There was nothing wrong with that computer,” he posted in one forum conversation thread, “except some spyware that I cleaned out in less than half an hour.” With a fresh load of software, the system found a new home by way of eBay… and Ash pocketed a few hundred bucks. Another machine filled with silicon, gold and platinum saved from the landfill, another happy computer buyer and another payday for Ash. It’s all in a typical day for dumpster divers.

Despite popular belief, dumpster divers are not the personification of bath tissue stuck to someone’s shoe: a pestering, embarrassing presence everyone knows about but no one wants to acknowledge. Many divers use their pastime to supplement other incomes, some with much higher salaries than one might expect of someone who spends their evening sifting through dirty diapers and half-eaten Whoppers. One diver made a forum post about his dismay at leaving an antique desk for certain destruction by the garbage truck simply because the desk was too large to fit in his Mercedes sedan. Another posted about diving in cities across the country and compared American diving to European diving as the result of his family’s frequent travels (for the record, Europeans are much more resourceful, leaving little waste to be discarded in what they call “dust bins.”) Still another diver told a captivating story about the condescending lecture he received from a passer-by while diving in a working-class neighborhood before returning home to one of the most exclusive subdivisions in town.

Curious onlookers who wander into the presence of divers searching for goods tend to annoy dumpster divers, but being approached by the police is outright frightening. Divers in the forums describe feelings of being frozen in fear at the approach of a marked police car; Lunalelle, a 20-something female diver went as far as to say, “my heart skipped a beat when I made out the light bar up over the headlights.” Divers are constantly being harassed by the cops, even though they often have the law on their side (in many communities, an item becomes publicly available once it is discarded.) Seasoned divers admonish scofflaw newbies and the society as a whole seems to maintain an unwritten code of ethics. Don’t break in to locked dumpsters. Don’t leave a mess. Never throw away anything in a dumpster that isn’t yours. If a sign says no trespassing, leave. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Never get inside a compactor. These examples are just a few of the common code of trash pickers.

The diving community is a tight one, and its members enjoy their hobby or, as the case may be, their profession. Becoming a member of the society is relatively easy if you don’t mind picking through some, say, sloppy remains of a Big Mac and cold fries covered in ketchup. Finding a club of divers, though, takes a bit of effort. As one might imagine, divers almost always surround their activities in secrecy. Hardly anyone outright says that they’re going dumpster diving, and the code words are as varied as the people uttering them. “Shopping at the little green store,” said Lunalelle, is my code for going diving. Others keep their code simple, using phrases such as, “going out for the night.” A common favorite, and convenient excuse when approached by an officer, is simply, “looking for boxes.”

No matter what they call their activity, virtually all divers follow a common guideline: never, EVER refer to a store you’re diving by its proper name. This rule is so rigorously enforced in the online community that it gets carried over into real-life conversation. Staples, a store notorious for discarding refillable ink cartridges that sell for big money on eBay, is covertly known as “Selpats.” Selpats is, of course, just Staples spelled backward. Some other commonly dived stores also picked up crafty nicknames such as Wall Greeds (Walgreen’s drug store), Buck Bush (Dollar Tree) and even Badwill (Goodwill charity store). Goodwill, for the record, is both admired among divers for its plentiful finds and detested because its staff seems to consistently discard items they don’t believe will sell in their store; with these practices, maybe the alias for this store is more fitting than its name.

For some, dumpster diving is a morally rewarding and profitable hobby. For others, it is a job generating a regular paycheck. Still others are so fanatical about the combination of saving the environment and making money that they equate the sport to religion (the phrase, “the dumpster Gods will provide” has been used more than once on the Internet forums). Whatever their level of involvement may be, dumpster divers share a common and unfortunately misunderstood place in society. Dumpster divers speak out in a united action against the wasteful ways of American society, a nation of people who would rather throw away a perfectly useful item than expend the effort required to find it a new home (puppies and kittens, by the way, are not immune from being thrown in dumpsters; one diver runs a rescue for animals found in the little green store.) As landfill space becomes less and less available and the cost of everything continues to rise, dumpster divers enjoy the niche they have firmly carved out for themselves as the planet’s salvation.