Why is that in the trash? There’s nothing wrong with that! It just needs a little paint.
Have you ever passed by a trash can on pickup day and heard yourself muttering that question? People in the United States are notorious resource wasters – the average U.S. office worker uses about 500 paper, plastic, or Styrofoam cups per year (click here), and the average American uses the equivalent of one 100-ft tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products each year (click here). As a culture that thrives on upgrading our gadgets, our cars, our homes, our pretty much everythings to the next big thing, it really is no big surprise that we can find tons of useful stuff in the trash.
Lately, the type of Dumpster Diving that’s caught my attention is “Freeganism”. Freegan is a term that was created by playing off the words “free” -because they are finding things in the trash and therefore getting them for free, and “vegan”. Vegans avoid animal products such as meat, fur and bone, or anything made from an animal byproduct, such as milk, cheese or honey. They avoid products that are tested on animals to avoid condoning animal abuses. Freegans take this a step further by realizing that in some way, manufacturing, farming, and production harms the environment, removes native plants, and pushes wild animals off their habitat because now they are seen as pests. Wars are fought over natural resources such as oil, people are killed, rainforests are destroyed, etc. The only way to stop participating in a system that propagates this type of behavior is to stop buying new products, including food. So, Freegans remove themselves as paying consumers, and instead they scavenge for their needs.
In a recent conversation with some friends, I heard about the practices of a rather large, dominant grocery chain whose image is based on healthy, wholesome foods. According to my friends, this chain has a practice of throwing out fresh produce simply because it is unattractive. This would ensure that all the produce on display appeared beautiful, tasty, and fresh, but perfectly tasty, perfectly fresh items were being tossed because they weren’t beautiful. Of course, this chain also tries to keep Freegans and other trash-pickers from pillaging their Dumpsters, ensuring that the items they waste go to landfills and not hungry bellies. I heard this story second hand, of course, and that’s why I’m withholding the name of the grocery chain – you don’t call someone out on an unsubstantiated rumor – but the events seem likely enough to me, considering our throw-away culture.
So there’s this growing subculture of people who dig around in Dumpsters and other trash receptacles and find perfectly good loaves of bread in their original, unharmed packaging, pounds of fruits and veggies that just need to be washed, cereals whose boxes had been crushed a bit, or cans with dents in them. These people are completely living off these types of food, making a political and economic statement by not spending money on production. They find other treasures in the trash as well, not just food items, and use these to furnish or decorate their homes – heck, some even turn to squatting in empty, bank owned properties to make use of homes that stand empty.
If you’re not ready to plunge head-first into the Freegan lifestyle, perhaps you’d like to make a bit of side money at flea markets and other resale stores. A practice called “suburban gold mining” is more what I think most of us think of when we hear the term Dumpster Diving. A surprising amount of useful furniture, bicycles, artwork, first edition books, working electronics, and other useful stuff is tossed into the trash and some of it has been found. Gold Miners scour the best neighborhoods for useful trash and take home their finds sometimes by the truckload. They clean up and/or fix the items they find, and turn them around for a good profit at local flea markets, resale shops, or sites like eBay. The practice is getting so popular that there are several articles on it on the popular how-to website Instructables.
Of course, you don’t have to have an ulterior political or economic motive for trash picking – you could just see something awesome on the side of the road and decide to save it! It’s up to you.
When I was about 13 years old, I found a woven mat of some kind in the trash. It was made of some kind of plant material and had beautiful circular patterns in it. It had been tossed because it was frayed in some places, but I broke out some of the round pattern pieces and used them as display mats under some of the decorative items in my room. It wasn’t much, but it opened my mind to the idea that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”
Have you ever picked something from the trash? If so, what was it, and what did you do with it?