Dumpster Diving Tips – Turn Trash To Cash

Share for good karma! ;)

It is a popular saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Therefore, the concept of dumpster diving, or scavenging for useful materials in waste bins (dumpster) may strike some people as an odd practice – but in the real sense, it’s a great way of ensuring that useful and valuable items are not being wasted.

Pin Image Of Dumpster Diving

Besides, the art of dumpster diving does not require the diver to possess any form of skill or special types of equipment. ut the diver would need to be aware of the risks involved, legal issues, and also the best possible ways to go about it.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may contain affiliate links from Amazon or other publishers I trust (at no extra cost to you). See disclosure for details.

So, are you interested in turning waste into wealth? Do you want to just furnish your home or stock your refrigerator? If your answer is yes to the above questions, then let’s journey together as you learn the nitty-gritty of dumpster diving.

What is Dumpster Diving?

Dumpster diving which could also be known as dumpstering, containering, bin-diving, tottling, or skipping is the process of retrieving food items or other useful materials from commercial waste bins.

So, the primary purpose of retrieving these useful items from the bins is to either consume them directly or reprocess them into other forms which could generate income. The initial thought of this could make anyone repulsive. Dumpster diving – not until a few years back – was something left exclusively for the homeless and destitute.

The Origin of Dumpster Diving

The term “Dumpster” originates from Dempster-Dumpster – this is a mechanical system of loading garbage trucks with containers. In 1937, Dempster Brothers Inc. was into the manufacturing of a brand of bins used for dumpster diving. So, by the 1970s the term was already generalized and later appeared in print in 1983.

Is Dumpster Diving Legal?

You might not get a direct YES or No when discussing the legality of dumpster diving. However, many still lay claim to the 1988 United States of America Supreme Court verdict between the state of California and Greenwood – which declared that the police do not require a permit to search through the trash that has been left along a driveway or on a curb.

Therefore, this does not give green light to dumpster diving – it just means that there is no privacy claim for trash that is left on the curb, and besides, dumpsters are technically large public bins for trash collection.

So, it is legal to search through the trash left on the curb or in public places. ut what about diving into the dumpsters at residential areas, shopping malls, colleges, and campuses.

When To Expect Legal Actions From Dumpster Diving

If the dumpster is situated in an area that is marked private or on private property – it could be regarded as unlawful. So, failing to comply with trespassing signs and private property markings could lead to fines or even arrest by the police.

However, it could be regarded as being an entirely illegal activity if it is proven beyond all reasonable doubts that the dumpster diver has other criminal intentions such as identity theft. This could result in fines or even serving a jail term.

Photo of dumpsters

Why You Need To Consider Dumpster Diving

1. It helps to reduce food wastage.

Report according to FDA  claims that over 30–40 percent of the total food supply is wasted in the United States. And about 50 percent of the global food production ends up in the trash. So, that stuff you are discarding might look inedible to you, but you may be just wrong.

2. To make us explore the city

With the availability of online dumpster diving maps, you can get to visit interesting spots and places like malls, markets, and locations that you might not have visited in your lifetime. Besides, you get to interact with several other people who are also pursuing the same vision as you.

3. To help the less-privileged in the city

This serves as a way of assisting the city’s destitute and homeless scavenge for what to eat. Certain institutions such as McGill University organize regular seminars and workshops where people can learn the art of dumpster diving.

It will make you cut down drastically on the amount spent on food.

By regularly doing this, you could save about $20,000 on consumables and just spending a little below 200 dollars on other forms of groceries. So, think of how much bucks you could save diving – make your first move and enjoy the rest.

4. Serves as a source of other non-food materials

Do you know that dumpster diving isn’t only for scavenging food materials? Other items such as books, crafts, lamps, and many other useful items can be found. These non-food materials can either be used directly or put-up for sale on platforms like eBay – thereby earning hundreds of dollars.

What To Do Before Going Into Dumpster Diving

These are the things that should be considered before accessing anyone’s trash. So, the following checklists would ensure you are legally qualified and would not have you run from law enforcement agents:

Study local laws for “Garbage Ordinances”

Technically speaking, dumpster diving is legal in about 50 states. nd this came as a result of the 1988 Supreme Court judgment which legalized trash searching as long as it is not contrary to the state, city, or county ordinance.

The judgment also stipulates that the Fourth Amendment would no longer be applicable once your trash bag is on the curb or driveway waiting to be disposed of by the waste removal company. This, therefore, means that the waste can be accessed or searched by a stranger, the police, a waste removal company, or a neighbor.

So, you could search for your state laws online and be sure of the very specifics as it applies to your neighborhood.

Summary of what to check out for: 

Federal lawLegal
State lawLegal
City lawVaries, check it out
County lawVaries, check it out
Private propertyIllegal
Business lawVaries, check it out
Warning signsIllegal

Check out for warning signals on Dumpster

You should pay rapt attention to warnings and signs on dumpsters. Because this can be used as evidence against you in a court.

Also, you should not break or tamper with the locks on a dumpster as this is illegal and could lead to an arrest or payment of fines in some cases. So, watch out for that sign which states that anyone who tampers with a company’s trash risks prosecution.

Check out for Trespassing Laws That Might Be In Place

Be careful not to walk into private property, or jump over a fence because you may just be trespassing. And this could attract a fine or even an arrest in some cases. So, you should focus on stores or private properties that have their dumpster around a public city street.

Here is the trick, always ensure you have the approval of a company or the owner of private property before accessing their dumpster as this would save you from troubles.

Be Orderly

The act of dumpster diving could be seen as a disorderly practice which might sometimes result in filing complaints or even calling in the police. Law enforcement agents could charge you for littering or illegal dumping of trash – as you sort through the trash and have them around.

So, as a diver, you need to be orderly, polite, and immediately leave a dumpster if you are asked to leave. This will save you from fines or even an arrest.

Search For Dumpster In Your Area

A dumpster can typically be found outside many residential or business environments. Besides, you can increase your search radius to include parks, beaches, colleges, schools, urban neighborhoods and suburbs, and churches.

It is advisable to also study your city pickup times as this would give ample time for you to adequately navigate through the dumpster before the eventual disposal. You might also want to plan your movement (either for morning or night) depending on what is best for you.

You Must Have An Item You Are Looking For

Knowing what you are looking for and visiting the best site for it would help you narrow down, focus, and improve your time of searching.

If you are looking for unwanted furniture and appliances – visit a dumpster in a residential environment. Looking for unused beauty products – visit the dumpster of a cosmetics store, etc

Be Mentally Prepared

This can be messy and disgusting work, so the need to be mentally prepared. Ring it aloud in your subconscious mind the reason why you are doing what you are doing – which should include the eradication of unnecessary waste.

Safety Tips For Dumpster Diving

Just like every other profession, dumpster diving also has its hazards. So, the following tips would help as you kit-up and get ready for diving.

  1. Wear old garments because whatever you wear will surely get stained, dirty, or even get torn.
  2. Go in comfortable clothing because you might need to do some climbing. Sturdy fabrics such as denim or leather are advisable – it will help protect your body as much as possible.
  3. Wear a pair of thick-soled shoes or boots to protect your feet from dangerous pieces of items.
  4. Wear long-sleeved tops and pants to reduce your exposure to dirt.
  5. Remove all unwanted materials on you before entering the dumpster.
  6. Use a breathable mask or a nose cover over your face to prevent offensive odors
  7. Go along with handy materials like gloves, a stool, or a milk crate that will aid your entry into the dumpster. However, if you are diving at night – come along with a headlamp or flashlight to make you see clearly. Also, if the dumpster is situated in a dark area, flashlights might be necessary during day diving.
  8. Get a container or laundry bag to collect all your discoveries back home.
  9. Go with a long pole that will be used for searching – with this you might eventually not enter the dumpster.
  10. Be cautious as you enter and search through the bins. Because there might be hazardous materials or other things that pose a threat to your health.
  11. These dumpsters are sometimes home to raccoons, rats, and other scavenging animals that might attack – so, bang the outside of the bin before entry to drive-off any unwanted visitor. You might also want to move to the next dumpster if you have critters around the present one. Some rodents are also known to be disease carriers which might be fatal if contracted by humans – keep a safe distance from them.
  12. Take a thorough shower immediately when you arrive home – use hot water and antibacterial soap (you might also want to shampoo).
  13.  Retrieved items should also be thoroughly cleaned

Best Time To Go Dumpster Diving

Arriving at the most appropriate time to dumpster dive might require some trial and error – and most importantly what you are searching for and where you wish to visit.

For supermarkets, pastry stores, and restaurants: 

Some believe that it is best for early morning because people are usually in a hurry going to the office, school – which means that you will not be given any attention. Also, you can easily locate what you are looking for at a good time and would not require flashlights.

Besides, some believe the night (after closing time) to be the best time because you can’t be easily spotted and the food is still fresh. But this could be dangerous, and there might be more competition because many prefer night dumpster diving.  

Malls and stores

This is a good place to dive if you know how to search. The trash at malls is either collectively disposed of in a dumpster outside the mall or separately trashed by each store.

So, the best time to do this is after the holidays (Easter, Christmas), after Cyber Monday, or after a Black Friday. There are always lots of things to be disposed of ranging from clothing, school materials, bags, beauty products etc.

Residential areas

This is another gold mine when it comes to dumpster diving especially in areas dominated by the rich. You can be sure to get a lot of food, clothing, electronics, furniture, and other valuables.   

The best time for this is either at the end or beginning of a new month when people move out of their apartment.

College campus

Divers can also find a lot of valuable items from a college dumpster. Expected items from a college dumpster include clothing, electronics, furniture, stationery (notebooks and other writing materials), backpacks, cleaning items, cookware, and several other valuable items.

Besides, you should have it in mind that since students don’t buy high-quality materials, you might not get worthy stuff.

So, the best time to do this is usually the end of the semester towards the final week of staying on campus.

However, it is often necessary to do a bit of research on the college before going. Because some of them engage in charities with these unwanted materials – meaning you might end up not finding anything when you visit.

Also, being a college student is often an added advantage. Because you have less competition and easy access to the property (since colleges are classified as private properties). But if you are not a college student, you might need to visit dumpsters of colleges situated on public streets.

Is It Appropriate To Use A Car To Dumpster Dive?

The use of a car parked next to a dumpster could attract bystanders. And this might lead to calling in law enforcement agents if they notice you packing in items into the car. Also, parking a car next to a dumpster could be a source of concern to the owners of a grocery store (mall) or people living in a residential area.

Can I Dumpster Dive On Recyclable Materials Or Recyclable Bins

No! Don’t dumpster dive on recyclable materials because these are usually collected and turned into money. This act can be termed as stealing thereby resulting in calling in the police on you.

Any Age Restriction To Dumpster Diving?

No age restriction is placed on it except in cases where the dumpster is not easily accessible.


If you know how best to go about dumpster diving, you can turn it into a very lucrative venture. Since it is not illegal and you are sure not polluting the environment with your acts or overstepping your boundaries. But generally, one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure, and you really should go dumpster diving if you can.

Lily & The DollarCreed Team

Share for good karma! ;)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.