Wanna join the craze, feel the rush, get utterly depressed by the unavoidable awareness of this society’s pointless waste?
Dumpster Ninja Skills 101 – A Comprehensive Guide to the Cold Hard Precautions
Think like a ninja, dress like a ninja
1. Casing the joint
Case your local grocery stores, very sneakily.
First, outside in the daytime , find the garbage bin. Does this store have a crusher? Well, you’re done there. Does it have a locked dumpster? Some days those are filled too full to be closed and locked. Sometimes employees get careless. Many times it appears to be locked and isn’t (the padlock hang).
Are there loading hours posted on the dock? Then you can expect there to be workers in the store at least an hour earlier than that. Is there a bakery in the store? Then the bakers are there in the very very early morning.
Are there security cameras? Then you might go hardcore and wear balaclavas or headsocks like real robbers, and if you have vehicle assistance, make a good parking and loading plan so your vehicle doesn’t get ID’d. Keep checking for cameras, btw, in case they install some after noticing that someone is sifting through their garbage.
Take a casual stroll by a couple times at night to sess the scene and plan your timing. Between 11 and 3 or 4am are probably the best hours, but that’s really up to your location. Is your dumpster well lit? That makes your work easier but gives less cover. Are there cleaners working in the store? Determine their days and hours. Any security? Note cars in the parking lot. What else is going on in the area? What businesses are around? Diving right when clubs are closing or getting going is not great. Are there late night restaurants where employees, or cleaners, could come out the back doors to smoke and bust you? And probably most important, is this open dumpster in a “bad” part of town where there’s a remote possibility of garbage other than the store’s getting tossed in there? By that I mean sharps. Don’t ever take a chance like that.
Why all the cloak and dagger?
Because if you find the motherlode of all dumpsters, it could feed you for months, and you won’t want to lose it. I had one location produce insane amounts of food for over a year, then they got a crusher. It was heartbreaking. If you don’t take precautions, that wellspring could all be carelessly lost in one embarrassing evening. If you get seen, but escape, you probably wont want to go back, and if you do, I bet there’ll be a padlock on that dumpster now. So BE SNEAKY.
Trust me, it’s fun. The whole thing is hilarious.
2. The gear you need:
Wear dark clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty, but also don’t “stick out” for approach and leaving the scene (dress like a normal ninja person, not crazy dumpster diving ninja person), and good shoes. For jumping in. Feet first; dive is a figure of speech. If you’re squeamish, bring work gloves. Hats or hoods cover your hair and face. A flashlight is absolutely essential, bc even if the area’s lit, the depths of the bin will be shadowed. Ideally, a headlamp. Bring backpacks and/or fabric shopping bags on bike or foot missions. There will be zillions of boxes around to use if you’re going by vehicle.
3. Taking the plunge:
Going with someone else is way better than going alone. Some things can be really heavy, you can keep watch for each other, and it helps with the paranoia. It almost seems normal when you’re not alone. And it’s definitely funny. You want to share that.
Whisper to each other, keep rustling and banging to a minimum, keep eyes and ears open for anyone approaching. Try to keep yourself in shadow, or tucked near the bin, or between bin and building. Or in the bin, if you jump in, which is often necessary. If strangers happen to pass by, don’t bolt, just crouch and freeze wherever you are, and chances are they will pass right by and never know. Remember, people usu. don’t expect to see people in dumpsters, and won’t be looking for you. Do not stand tall atop the dumpster wading through and hollering about your discoveries. They’ll notice that.
Do not ever start ripping open black garbage bags. The really bad garbage is in garbage bags- bathrooms and deli garbage – you don’t even want to know. The good garbage is usu. in boxes, sometimes closed, sometimes top open. Sometimes tipped over, but that’s what washing is for. Another reason to not rip bags is the Golden Rule -don’t make a mess. This is for your sake. You want to protect your interests in this gold mine. Don’t make it obvious that you were there. Especially if the area is all swept clean. If you start strewing trash about at night, the poor sap who has to clean that up is going to gripe about it, and then they’re paying attention, and then you’re busted. Employees are not likely to notice there are fewer carrots there this morning than they threw out last night, but they will notice if the whole bin has been torn apart. And if you’re sharing a dumpster with other ninjas, then you know what they say about bad apples.
Move carefully and quietly. Speed is less important than stealth. It takes some time to really maximize a dumpster visit, if there is a lot of food. The best way is to pack boxes as you go through the buffet, then shuttle them quickly to a staging area, around the corner, ideally in shadow where you can drive up, load up in a minute, and take off. If on foot, then go through it all and neatly set aside what you want to take. If you make a return trip to pick up it’s a quick stop.
4. At home
When you get home with the bounty, wash your hands, hoot and exclaim how you can’t believe you just did that, (take pictures to share) and sort and assess all the happy food that you just gave a second life to. Some of it might not be as good as it looked at the scene, and that’s part of the game. Some food is perfect, some is spoiled. Check over any packaging for cleanliness and signs of compromise. Wash all the food before you eat it, just in case.
Now you’re a pro…
Dumpster diving is a little addictive, because you never know what treasures might be there any given night, but going every night is near impossible. Some nights just feel risky, or there’re cleaners or delivery trucks, besides, you’d be exhausted and soon have a full time job processing and preserving food and then trying to find people to give it away to. It is nice to try out different days of the week though. You’ll learn their dumping and delivering schedule and find some food comes in patterns. Speaking of sharing your bounty, I operate on informed consent. I can’t give someone food without telling them where I got it, so my beneficiaries are pretty tight (and amused) friends. But that’s your call.
Dumpster diving will increase your household garbage a little with the packaging you’re carting home. If you don’t have compost, you might want to take more care examining food before you bring it home. I drag it all home and then sort it out, bc I have a (flourishing) compost box. On the bright side, if stuff goes bad bc you can’t eat or process it fast enough, well, it’s guilt free, because it was headed for the landfill anyways. You saved it once already. BTW, if you have pigs, then you pretty much can’t not dumpster dive, even if you’re squeamish about eating the food yourself, because it is free high quality pig feed.
And then, eat eat eat, for free, free, free.
Here’s some more tips from Rob Greenfield. I like #4, master the fear. Jumping at your own shadow is a real buzzkill. This is some furtive ops, but not actually very risky.
This article first written in 2008.
Dumpster diving need not stop at food. I was convinced that my future husband was for me when the two of us were regaling a table of “Oh I could never!” fascinated normal people with our Ultimate Score tales of Dumpsters Past. HW thoughtfully offered that everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster. A man at the table sputtered “What!? You look like a fucking REI model!” It was all true. HW looks like a fucking REI model (that’s MEC, for Canadians), and routinely dresses like one, and everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster, including the technical hiking shoes.