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dumpster diving tips and where to find the best stuff

Dumpster diving is a great way to find treasures and save money. You can find everything from clothes to furniture to electronics by diving into the trash. However, not all dumpsters are created equal. Some offer better opportunities for treasure hunting than others. In this blog post, we will discuss the best places to dumpster dive so that you can start finding some amazing finds!

What Is Dumpster Diving And Why Should You Try It

Dumpster diving is the act of looking through trash for valuable items. You can find everything from clothes to furniture to electronics by dumpster diving. Not only can you save money by dumpster diving, but you can also find some amazing treasures!

For the purposes of this discussion, we're going to define dumpster diving as exploring both the large industrial dumpsters you might find behind retail stores and restaurants as well as the large trash cans you find on curbs in residential neighborhoods. You should never venture onto private property, even if the gate is open in an industrial area. No, you aren't going to make much money doing this and it certainly isn't a full-time job. However, it can be a fun side hustle searching through old stuff, depending on the kind of places you look.

To answer the question of why you should try dumpster diving it is essential that you identify what your goals are and what you hope to accomplish. For instance, as a kid I would dumpster dive behind a Walgreens near my home knowing that they would toss completely wrapped candy that was past the official expiration date - but far from expired.

Trying to find food - either to survive or find treats

Curiosity - looking for interesting items that other folks chose to throw out

Looking for items to use or resell - you'll often find electronics, office décor, and other items that are tossed out even though they are perfectly usable still

Looking for scrap items to recycle - construction sites and residential remodeling projects often have scrap metal that can be recycled as well as items that you can repurpose or resell that has been replaced by the homeowners

Social engineering - the amount of personal information found in trash is amazing and one of the top reasons that people dumpster dive is to collect items that can be used for identity theft

Artists - sometimes you are just looking for unique items that when they come together form a unique piece of artwork

Any of these reasons to go dumpster diving are perfectly acceptable in the context of this discussion but you should always use common sense. Nobody here is going to judge your motivations. My only objective here is to help make sure you find the right places and methods to accomplish whatever your goals might be. 

I'd also like to help dispel the myth that dumpster divers are all poor. While many scavenge out of necessity, there's a certain thrill in discovery and finding great stuff for free. This isn't something that happens on every exploration but that rush you feel when you find something special is enough to keep many people going.


Is Dumpster Diving Illegal?

There are a lot of different ways to answer this question and the most simple is that you should be prepared to assume that you will run into issues - even if what you are doing is technically legal.

For instance, while the practice is not exactly encouraged or supported as a culturally acceptable practice in most parts of the United States - following the 1988 "State of California vs Greenwood" Supreme Court ruling, it technically became legal in all 50 states ... except where that conflicts with other state and local laws.

For instance, in California the practice of dumpster diving is legal. However, in municipalities like San Diego - "scavenging" is considered a crime. Ironically the justification for the policy cites dumpster diving as "stealing" from the city and not so much protecting the homeowner's property ...

"Scavenging is the act of unauthorized persons going through recycling or refuse containers, whether the containers are located on City or private property. Like illegal dumping, scavenging is a crime in San Diego, and it is taken very seriously by the City. Every year, scavengers steal thousands of dollars in recyclables from the City's curbside program, which makes the program less cost-efficient and ultimately costs taxpayers."

While the act of dumpster diving is inherently risky and right on the edge between legal and illegal if you are concerned about avoiding any issues you should always contact the local authorities such as law enforcement anonymously and potentially even ask the individual business when they plan to put day-old pastries out in the trash or to let you know when they choose to unload old computers for instance.


Why You Should Avoid Dumpster Diving!

Dumpster diving can be a great way to find treasures, but it can also be dangerous. You should always check with the property owner before diving into a dumpster. Be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing so that you don't get cut or dirty. This is after all, trash and depending on where you are dumpster diving that can mean everything from human waste and dangerous chemicals to outdated but still perfectly usable electronics. However, while there may be gems to be found you also need to watch out for hazardous waste as well.

Now that we've gone over some of the basics of dumpster diving, let's discuss some of the best places to dumpster dive!

 The Best Places to Dumpster Dive Find Valuable Treasures in the Trash

The Best Places To Dumpster Dive

There are a few factors to consider when looking for the best places to dumpster dive. First, you want to look for high-traffic areas where people are constantly throwing away stuff that you are looking to pick up. Second, you'll want to make sure that your chosen target is legal and safe to sort through in your search.

Some of these top places to go dumpster diving include:


Grocery Stores And Retailers

These locations, especially in strip malls, are great spots for finding a lot of food that has been thrown away but is still perfectly edible. You can also find clothes, shoes, and other items that have been discarded by customers. In addition, depending on the store you are targeting, pharmacies often will discard hygiene products that are still in good condition despite being expired. Often times items like that are tossed together into a large plastic bags and placed into grocery store dumpsters so they are actually completely clean and ready to be found by an avid diver.

Electronics stores tend to be a great place for dumpster diving since you might find returns that can't be resold due to scratches and dents as well as retail samples. Additionally, you might find random cords and cables that even though are separated from the original device are still in perfectly good working condition.  This is especially true for independent electronics stores and repair shops.

Office Parks

Office parks are a great place to find furniture, electronics, and other items that have been thrown away by businesses. You can often find perfectly good desks, an office chair, and other office supplies that have been replaced by businesses. Again, be sure to check with the property manager before diving in.


Construction And Remodeling Sites

Garage sales, thrift stores, and yard sales are excellent sources for scrap metal, wood, and other recyclable items. During home improvement projects, you can also discover appliances, cabinets, tools, and other objects that have been replaced by homeowners. Be careful here, extra caution is a good idea here since you may find hazardous chemicals in these dumpster locations.


Dorm Complexes

Dorm complexes are a great place to find clothes, furniture, and other items that have been discarded by students. You can often find perfectly good desks, chairs, and other items that have been replaced by students. The best time to swing by your local college dorms is at the end of the school year or at a break between semesters when folks may be moving from one building to another or going home.

Those looking for humor and other interesting items that might not be exactly valuable - but fun to find - may also find some gems here ranging from pornography, notes, and love letters, as well as drug-related paraphernalia as you'd expect to find being used by college students.


Faculty And Education Buildings At College Campuses

Faculty and education buildings are a great place to find books, textbooks, and other materials that have been discarded by students and faculty. You can often find perfectly good desks, chairs, and other items that have been replaced by students.


Residential Trash - Curbside Bins On Trash Day

Trash generated by residential neighborhoods is a great place to find a variety of home items as well as lawn and garden tools that have been discarded. Some of these items may be easy to fix, while others are fully functional but the original owner has simply decided to upgrade to a new model.

Residential trash in rich neighborhoods is also a great place to find good stuff kids toys, bikes, games, and clothing. It shouldn't be shocking that rich people will have better trash and often in good condition compared to what you might find in other places. Sometimes you will even find an entire trash bag full of items following a garage sale or when someone is preparing to move.


Apartment Complexes and Condos

Apartment complexes and condos are a great place to find clothes, furniture, books, games, cleaning supplies, and other items that have been discarded by tenants when they move. You can often find perfectly good desks, chairs, and other items that have been replaced by tenants as well.


Flower Shops

Florists are a great place to find flowers, plants, and other items that have been discarded by customers. You can often find perfectly good vases, pots, and other items that have been replaced by customers.

On occasion, a flower shop may also discard flowers and plants that are a bit past their prime but would still be good for a day or two when given to someone special that would appreciate the effort your spent to recover it.


Bakeries, Cafes And Coffee Shops

Bakeries are a great place to find free food, including bread, pastries, and other items that have been discarded by customers. You can often find perfectly good day-old bread, cakes that can't be sold anymore, as well as items that have been returned by customers.


Industrial Parks

Industrial parks are a great place to find scrap metal, wood, and other building materials that can be recycled. You can also find electronics, appliances, cabinets, tools, and other items that have been replaced by businesses. These industrial areas often have fewer people on weekends so it's the perfect opportunity to drive by and see if you notice anything poking out that catches your eye.


Beaches and Public Parks After A Busy Weekend

Public parks are a great place to find food, clothes, and other items that have been discarded by park visitors. You can often find perfectly good food, clothes, and other items that have been replaced by visitors. You can also find items like radios, beach chairs, sunscreen and towels that have been discarded.


FreeCycle And Similar Apps

For those not quite ready to take on a full adventure like diving through someone's trash but still want the thrill of finding a diamond in the rough or an item that can be fixed up easily ... apps like FreeCycle as well as checking on sites like NextDoor and CraigsList are a great way to find notices from folks that have placed semi-valuable items out on the curb for anyone to take.

You'll often find items such as old TVs and computer monitors, laptops, couches, even furniture that are perfectly usable. While the electronics might not be the most modern - an old laptop or tablet could be the perfect item to get cleaned up and offer to your son or daughter instead of risking them breaking something new that you just bought.


Trash Tours Are A Great Way To Get A "Taste" Of Dumpster Diving

In many cities there are actually tour guides who will lead you on a quest through the city that they call a "Trash Tour". During these expeditions, a trained and experienced guide will talk about the increase of simply throwing away items in recent years that can either be donated, recycled, composted, reused or otherwise gone to a better use than being shipped off to a landfill. For casual dumpster divers who just want to see what it's like, this is a good option since the guide will already have prepared a list of places where it is acceptable to look through people's trash without having to do it yourself.

Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Dumpster Diving Adventure

Now that we've gone over some of the best places to dumpster dive, let's discuss some tips on how to get the most out of your adventure!

Check for signs - Make sure that you are not trespassing when you go dumpster diving. Check for signs that say "no trespassing" or "private property."

Be safe - Wear gloves, pants, a long-sleeved shirt and protective clothing. Bring a flashlight so that you can see into the depths of the dumpster as well as cleaning supplies for both yourself as well as items that may have been covered in undesirable trash.

Ask permission - If you're unsure whether or not it is okay to dumpster dive on a particular piece of property, ask the owner or manager for permission. They may say no, but it's always better to ask first than to get in trouble later.

And there you have it! These are the best places to dumpster dive and some tips on how to get the most out of your adventure. Happy hunting!

With a little bit of effort, you can find all sorts of valuable treasures in the trash! So get out there and start dumpster diving today! Who knows what you'll find on your next dumpster diving adventure!

Written by:
#MenWhoBlog MemberBlogging GuruThought Leader

James' passion for exploration and sense of duty to his community extends beyond himself. This means he is dedicated to providing a positive role model for other men and especially younger guys that need support so that they can thrive and be future positive contributors to society. This includes sharing wisdom, ideas, tips, and advice on subjects that all men should be familiar with, including: family travel, men's health, relationships, DIY advice for home and yard, car care, food, drinks, and technology. Additionally, he's a travel advisor and a leading men's travel influencer who has been featured in media ranging from New York Times to the Chicago Tribune, and LA Times. He's also been cited by LA Weekly "Top Travel Bloggers To Watch 2023" and featured by Muck Rack: "Top 10 Outdoor Journalists for 2022".

He and his wife Heather live in St Joseph, Michigan - across the lake from Chicago.