In Good Waste

a local man’s experience with the art of dumpster diving

by Zack Gauck

How much would you pay to furnish your living room? You’d likely want a TV, entertainment stand, a couch/futon, a coffee table, some lamps, a rug (if you have hardwood floors), a fan for summer, maybe some kitschy art-deco pieces, and a DVD player, right? What if I told you I have all of the aforementioned products and I paid nothing for any of it, nor did I steal? Welcome to dumpster diving.

Let me start by saying the ‘art’: 1) is technically illegal, 2) doesn’t involve jumping into dumpsters (wading does occur), 3) doesn’t always involve dumpsters filled with leaky refuse. Now that that’s out in the open, I’ll continue.

Dumpster diving (D.D.) came to me from my brother, Matt, when he was at ASU (in western North Carolina). He is the typical artist: scruffy, obsessed with road bikes, and seemingly lacking money. During an exercise in “how it feels to be homeless for a weekend,” Matt realized finding a place to sleep was difficult, obtaining food for free is hard, but stumbling across items one could re-sell on eBay, surprisingly easy. When he returned home, he was all too excited to take me around town, behind common establishments, to root around for gems amongst the trash. I was skeptical, but then again, aren’t we all.

Fast-forward six years and my apartment is well furnished with items I’ve found. I have/had three working mountain bikes that I gave away upon finding two working road bikes, two tents, numerous lamps, four microwaves (gave the un-needed ones to old friends), a stereo, two inflatable rafts (one even came with oars), a life-sized Buffy the Vampire Slayer cut-out, bread-maker, children’s karaoke machine, and a very decent kitchen table and chairs – just to name a few. Where did it all come from you ask? I obtained most of my useful items from thrift store dumpsters and communal apartment trash heaps. Matt, on the other hand, has taken D.D. further.

While living in Chicago, he decided to see how far he could stretch his dollars. He started visiting grocery store dumpsters, bagel dumpsters, donut dumpsters, you name it. The crazy thing is, he succeeded. Every time I visited his apartment there would be large bags of bagels sitting in his fridge, overflowing cartons of donuts, pizza boxes from patrons that never bothered to pick up their order/cancelled too late, and a varying number of organic juices. As if to really prove his point, he is now a vegan and still succeeds in spending very little time actually in grocery stores.