Dumpster divers (also known as skippers or binners) are activists who reject the capitalist system by foraging for food and other usable items that have been trashed.
A capitalist society creates excessive waste and a constant need to consume. An estimated $12 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada, thrown away by distributors and packagers along the way to your local grocer. And once the food arrives, it doesn't stand much of a chance. 210 million kilograms of food is tossed each year by retailers in Toronto alone. Most of it is still fine to eat.
This guide will go over:
Where to find dumpsters
Trash vs treasure
You should try to always dive with a friend. Someone else can keep watch, find uses for different items and generally just be good company. Try to be overcautious about your safety, as you are going to come in to contact with waste. Be prepared for gross smells, cat litter, or glass, but remember the trash you encounter depends on where you go. Bring a small first aid kit just in case. Hand sanitizer and wipes are also a good idea.
Wear thick boots, heavy clothes (denim works well) you don't mind getting dirty and thick gloves or use a prodding stick for handling trash. Never touch your hand to your face. Milk crates have multiple functions, as you can stand on them to see inside dumpsters as well as fill them with what you find.
Beware of trash compactors, heavy lids or authority figures (garbage workers, store managers and the like).
Where to look
Where you go depends on what you're looking for. To find consumable, try savaging through dumpsters behind grocery stores, malls or restaurants. Apartment complexes, electronic stores, big box stores and bookstores can also be great places. Bakeries are often fruitful as baked goods that are only a day old are considered unsellable.
Be strategic about when you go. For example, checking out apartment dumpsters around the first and last of the month will help you get the best variety of stuff people can't take when they move. Diving doesn't have to be done at night either, as long as you are afraid of getting caught, midday can be as good as any time to check out a dumpster. Finding out when dumpsters are empty can give you the biggest bounty to root through.
Free stuff isn't limited to dumpsters. People will often discard usable items on the sidewalk the night before a garbage pick up or in abandoned lots.
In Canada, the only legislation that could get in the way of you and a dumpster is wrought with loopholes. The Trespass and Property Act is a relic still around from the British North America Act of 1867. It essentially states that property owners (and their representatives, such as security guards) can ban anyone from their property indefinitely. The catch? You have be caught on the property, told to leave and then return for it to be trespassing.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that police were allowed to go through a suspect's garbage. Trash in Canada is fair game, but it wouldn't hurt to check your local bylaws.
Trash vs treasure
When it comes to food, use common sense. Find dumpsters that have been freshly filled rather than stuffed to the brim. Check all food for mold, funky smells or other signs that it's not right. Wash everything before trying it and make sure there are no holes in the packaging. A mild solution of bleach and water is used on a lot of food anyways and can sanitize your produce.
Best before, use by and best by dates are often suggested and not necessarily when food becomes inedible. Food can still be good for a week or so after this time. Sell by dates also have some flexibility, as even if the item isn't sold by this date it can be stored in a home and still be consumable.
Use your judgement for miscellaneous items. Clothes can be washed, furniture can be steam cleaned. Watch out for bed bugs, stains or plain broken things.
- Dumpsters are dirty places, but there's no reason to litter. Try to leave the dumpster as clean as possible for other divers and put unwanted items back in the dumpster.
- Try to avoid all confrontation, but if it happens, keep it positive and respectful. Don't argue that you have a right to be there or to your items, as you legally don't and the person likely has the upper hand.
- If dumpsters are locked, have barbed wire or security cameras, weigh your options careful. If a place has put up measures against divers it might not be worth it to try and get caught.
- Avoid trash compactors and medical waste. Your safety should come first!
- Take only what you realistically will use or need.
- Hit the sides of a dumpster before going in, to scare away any animals that might be around or inside.
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