Dumpster Diving

Ever see someone (most likely a homeless person) take a peek inside a garbage dumpster and pull something out? That’s called dumpster diving.

Even all the bums I met during my Homeless Experiment call it that. I personally think that’s a gross name, I’d preferably euphemize the name and call it “Alley Fishing” or “Refuse Rumbling” to give it a more appetizing sound.

Anyhow, it’s a more common practice than I expected amongst the chronically homeless. I thought this was a practice relegated to only the bummiest of bums, but it’s not, and I see why.

Let’s say there’s a Dominoe’s Pizza store somewhere. A person never picks up their pizza and now the pizza doesn’t have a customer to eat it. What do you think happens to that pizza? Well 99% of the time it gets thrown out.

Later on around 10pm the pizza shop is getting ready to shut down. What do you think happens to all the left over pizzas? Employees may take some home, but the majority gets thrown out (enforced by health code laws) into the dumpster behind the store.

Now let’s say you’re REALLY HUNGRY and had no other food, and you see an employee dump four hot pizzas (still fully boxed) into the top of the dumpster. The pizzas are resting neatly on top of a stack of discarded cardboard, and they’re right within your reach. Would you reach in and grab the pizzas?

I believe most humans would depending on their hunger level.

Now think about a busy fast food restaurant such as Wendy’s. Literally hundreds of burgers, fries, orders of mashed potatoes, chicken nuggets etc. get thrown out every day. Whenever an order is wrong, a person got ketchup and didn’t want it or if they just made too many cheeseburgers for lunch, this all must legally be thrown out. Where does it go? Usually into a big food bag then later thrown into the dumpster behind the store.

Imagine you’re hungry and find a giant bag full of food (most of which is still hot) resting in a dumpster. I hate to say it, but that’s pretty tempting.

I actually very much sympathize with George in this clip:

I learned in my short time pretending to be homeless that dumpster diving is one of the most lucrative forms of scavenging for food.

You can either panhandle or fly a sign for hours and make between $5 and $20 to buy food or simply take a quick peek into several dumpsters and hit the jackpot (then you can use the money to buy beer). In the Riverside area where I stayed under a bridge, there are about 20+ eating establishments (most of them fast food) within less than a 5 minute walk away. Most of them are literally 50 paces away.

At the right times you can find large quantities of still hot, still wrapped food floating near the top of the dumpster…”Like an angel” as George Costanza described it. There is so much food from this type of scavenging that a lot of the bums have preferences of what types of food they go for! One guy told me he loves Chinese food so he rummages through those restaurants most often. Another guy loves the pizza, so he goes behind CiCi’s Pizza Buffet and Pizza Hut (buffet places throw out HELLA food).

So did I do it during this experiment? No.
However when I was eating Ritz crackers with packaged tuna for dinner and Mike was eating a medley of Wendy’s burgers, mashed potatoes and Popeye’s Chicken, it makes me wonder.

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    Blog posted on: June 9, 2009

    8 comments on “Dumpster Diving

    1. Dima

      Can't homeless people ask the employees of those fast food places to have food handed over to them instead of going through the trash? I'm guessing there will be some legal issues with that on a corporate level, but seeing how those fast food workers usually don't care much about their work I'd think such arrangement can be possible.

      Reply
    2. Neville

      Dima,

      That definitely happens all the time, but the employee must be very furtive about the arrangement.

      If there is an arrangement made, It's easier to "throw away" the extra food…aka "gently place it in or near the receptacle" with the understanding the homeless person will pick it up on his own. This was no one can be blamed.

      Some places lock the dumpsters or even pour bleach on top of the food (more for health and cleanliness reasons).

      Reply
    3. jenisnape

      Dumpster Diving isn't just for bums.

      I've done it (hello brand new patio set!)

      ALL stores throw out things. Bakeries throw out things.

      http://community.livejournal.com/dumpsterdiving/profile

      Take a look at the link…many people take pictures of the stuff they score (One guy just found an iPod at a university bin….students are goldmines!)

      I wish I could find good diving spots where I am…alas there are no Trader Joes in Canada or the Netherlands ;)

      Reply
    4. linda

      I was going to say the same thing jenisnape said. Oprah with lisa ling did a special on dumpster tours? I think that's what they called it. it's a movement. people with phd's and 6 figure income take part.

      Reply
    5. waiter

      I love this blog. I have always wanted to experimemnt and see what it is like to be homless for a week.

      Reply
    6. Dumpster Marc

      Dumpster diving is a dirty but possible existence. I am in the dumpster rental industry and I have seen unthinkable things upon hauling some of my customers dumpsters. Anything from household pets to your worst nightmare.

      Reply

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