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Over Easy: Holiday Dumpster Diving Update

4:44 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Deep diving a dumpster in Seattle. (photo: sea turtle via Flickr)

This morning’s Over Easy is an addition to the first diary I ever posted at Firedoglake, with an update on our dumpster diving experiences during the holiday season.

WikiHow has an excellent article on dumpster diving technique, to which I only add: 1. Never dive a medical or hospital dumpster 2. Never dive a compacting or off-limits (ie, gated/not in the public domain) dumpster 3. Dive in quadrants. This way, you never have to throw anything outside of the dumpster in order to get at the contents at the bottom. 4. Double your configuration, like  a cave diver, and carry two of everything (flashlights, wire cutters, magnets), except your wallet or money, which you should not take with you, into a dumpster.

Scrap metal recycle prices vary a bit from one junkyard to the next. The money scrap metals are copper, brass, aluminum, and non-magnetic stainless steel; junkyards want your scrap load sorted prior to reaching the scale. January is the best month of the year for scrap metal divers (scrappers) because Christmas is now a disposable holiday. Post-holiday Christmas lights are abundant, for example.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1960. Christmas was sacred and magical for as many years as I can remember until recently. We hand-made many of our own ornaments (remember felt, glue, sequins and styrofoam?) and saved everything from year to year. My mother kept our precious ornaments in the same box, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and saved. We saved our bubble lights and ice cycles.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Christmas is manufactured overseas, sold in the Big-box, and disposable, including all ornaments, lights, fake trees, nativity sets, and gifts, toys and clothing. We are losing our craftsmanship and precise arts as quickly as the Arctic melts.

People begin shopping on Black Friday, and get a tree up shortly thereafter. Late November/early December dumpsters may deliver insulated copper in the form of last year’s lights that have been inexplicably replaced by this year’s model, a few fake trees and even Christmas wrap, tape, bows, ribbon, lace and tags, still new in packages as though people are actually afraid to use anything from last year, God forbid.

December 26 through the New Year are generally cardboard box days, and although cardboard brings $60.00/ton at recycle, cardboard transport is problematic without a modified truck bed.  After the first of the year, the land of dumpsters is most interesting and productive. Lights. Rejected presents,  New With Tags. Fully decorated trees. Appliances, if new gifts replace the old, and even furniture, again if old must be discarded to make way for new.  We have not been to the mall in years. Every appliance we have was retrieved, new, boxed, and never used, from dumpsters. Same with all of our furniture and all of our clothing. If you live in an area where people don’t take down their trees until February, you can vicariously celebrate the holidays for two or three straight months.

UPDATE:

The year after I wrote this, our local recycle center reduced the cash payment for all Christmas light strings and other plug-in cords by sixty percent, causing many scrappers to discontinue retrieving cords in lieu of collecting bulk magnetic scrap metal.

Last year we exchanged our truck for a motorcycle and quit scrapping. Our most lucrative scrap dumpster was related to infrastructure, and when the company itself began to recycle and disallow scrap dumpster divers, we made a decision to give up scrapping.

We are now entering our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters. About 75% of our nutrition comes from dumpsters. We did observe what we believe to be an abundance of meat in the fall due to the sell-off of livestock during the exceptional drought season of the summer. We most often eat steamed vegetables and crock pot meals, with salads, abundant fresh fruit, and some sweets. We must purchase coffee and tea. We have been sick only one time, and that was after eating a fast-food meal inside a restaurant and not from a dumpster meal.

Our appliances, dishes, household items and many clothes now come from our own apartment complex dumpsters or curbs, during end-of-month move-outs. We are transitioning from diving due to great need to diving by choice, because we continue to believe strongly in the principles of reuse and living with less.

Years ago I began this strange, stigmatized hobby because of need, when I inadvertently discovered my real passion of looking for things that show sociological or historical trends and stories, so for me, the fun is in the urban archaeology. What media and social culture wants us to see is on the surface. If you want to know about the real world, look at what people throw away.

DUMPSTER DIVING IN THE NEWS:

Northwest Cook: New reality cooking show starts with Dumpster diving

From Trash to Table: Austrian Activists Launch Freegan Cooking Show

Dumpster divers swoop in to grab $40,000 worth of pricy fresh food

Eating From Dumpsters During The Holidays

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

This video is called Shopping at the Third Hand Store, aka Dumpster Diving. I love these guys. Shopping carts, cell phones, watermelons. Too cute for words.

We have been eating out of dumpsters for a little more than a year now. We have never gone hungry and we have never been sick. In fact, we now eat way better than we ever did when we had money, and our immunity to illness seems to have been bolstered from dumpstering for food.

A while back I received the following comment from Poland on one of my YouTube dumpster videos:

That’s possible only in America!
In Polish dumpsters we have only stinky dump, and i mean it, just dump.
What you have here it’s not dumpster as i know it, just place when people leave useful stuff.
I think i’ll just move to America and live from Dumpster diving, it would higher standard of live than i have right now. :P

While it is true that America wastes more than any other country, dumpster diving for survival is easier in small and mid-sized towns than it is in large urban areas. The last time I visited Seattle, for example, I noticed that many of the chain-store dumpsters such as Whole Foods have compactors or very large dumpsters that are attached to the store, as is the case with WalMart.

My mother recently told me that a PhD student in Seattle is writing his dissertation on dumpster diving, and he was having a difficult time finding food, other than discarded drinks and fast food near SafeCo Field. I do not doubt this if his boundary is King County proper. However, just a hop, skip and a jump to an outlying area should have brought the student fifty loaves of bread from at least one place.

So, what do we get to eat? Our food is basic-fare and nutritious. We either steam fresh vegetables or compose a salad every day. Our protein is almost always beef or pork, because poultry rarely keeps in a dumpster.

We also always have fresh fruit and potatoes or yams.

What do we have to buy? Coffee and tea. These two commodities (coffee prices are soaring, BTW) are rarely available in the dumpsters. I buy and drink instant tea. Mason claims he cannot choke down instant tea, and so he buys and drinks his WalMart, one dollar and twenty-five cent Strawberry soda that I find to be undrinkable.

We also buy our cleaning supplies (but not our hygiene products). This is our largest expense. The laundromat and the laundry detergent are, in fact, a major expense that many people fail to think of when addressing the plight of the homeless, for example. The fact is that many homeless folks exchange clothing in the dumpsters because laundry is not affordable and/or there is no way to transport laundry.

While the dumpsters almost always offer desserts, I love those dark chocolate Klondike Bars and so I have to buy those. In addition, we buy bird seed for our African Grey Parrot. Even though he eats everything that we do, he also requires seeds. Our bird eats more than both of us combined. For Christmas we have his dumpster treats ready: chocolate and shelled walnuts.

Condiments and staples such as salt, sugar and spice are available from any number of dumpsters at the end of any given month, when residents move out and leave their kitchen supplies behind. In addition, we have a fantastic and varied supply of hygiene products from the dumpsters. The only hygiene product that we buy (and it is expensive) is razor blades, although on glorious occasion we find those as well.

We already have our dumpster Christmas dinner planned: a 4.53 pound prime rib roast, real mashed potatoes, salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and steamed broccoli, yellow squash, zucchini and cauliflower. Our steamed vegetables will be our nighttime and next-day snacks together with oranges, tangerines, pineapples, grapes, and a variety of apples.

Everything that we cook and eat with comes from dumpsters, including our wonderful crock pot and three-tiered vegetable steamer, toaster, microwave, coffeepot, juicer, Cuisinart, blender, mixer and all china, stoneware, flatware, glasses and napkins. Right now, we have an enormous supply of black trash bags from the dumpsters (new, never used).

I will describe the special case of holiday dumpster diving in a separate blog. The best days of the year to dumpster dive are December 26 and January 2. You don’t even have to really even dive a dumpster or leave your vehicle; just drive up and down the streets and alleys and pick stuff up. It is like a solid month of Christmas. Christmas lights for scrap are delivered throughout the spring. This is the best time of the year for cardboard.

Our one-year plus survival dumpstering experiment leads us to this: If and when we ever have money, we will continue to retrieve food that is otherwise destined for the landfill.