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Please follow dumpster diving etiquette

By Staff | May 9, 2009

Everyone knows that it’s spring cleaning time.

And next weekend, May 16, is clean-up, fix-up week, when you can throw away all the junk you found during your spring cleaning.

Luckily, Rugby Sanitation gives us one “free-pass” day to throw away just about anything our hearts desire. While there are some restrictions, they will take almost anything and everything you can manage to lug out to the curb in front of your house.

What has always intrigued me about the garbage pickup day is the patrolling and foraging that is done the night before. I’m sure everyone has noticed the increase in traffic on the Friday night before pickup. It’s as if people come out of the woodwork. There are slow-moving vehicles up and down just about every street, scoping out the junk piles, looking for treasures.

Most people would question whether there could ever be anything of value on the trash piles. Why would anyone waste their time looking through piles of junk? Those who do it certainly disagree. You know what they say: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

You could call them treasure hunters, but the more popular term we are all familiar with is dumpster divers.

Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners but which may be useful to the dumpster diver. The name applies even when there is no actual dumpster involved. The practice of dumpster diving is also known as urban foraging, curb shopping, binning, alley surfing, aggressive recycling, curbing, D-mart, dumpstering, garbaging, garbage picking, garbage gleaning, dumpster-raiding, dump-weaseling, trash picking, treasure hunting, skally-wagging, skipping, or trashing.

Whatever you call it, it’s just different names for the same thing -digging through trash.

Some people might laugh it off and think that only a few people might lower themselves to rummaging through another person’s junk. But the practice of dumpster diving has become very popular, and it happened long before the economy went south.

I did a Google search on dumpster diving, and it’s amazing what you can find. There are tips and tricks, facts and blogs, guides and advice. There’s even a dumpster diving social networking site. I guess that’s where dumpster divers can go and compare notes with fellow treasure hunters.

I know most people reading this will not be going dumpster diving any time soon, but come on. Admit it. You’re just a little curious about it. I know I won’t be stopping at a junk pile and taking the time to sift through it this Friday night, but I must admit I’ve slowed my car down in order to take an extra long gaze at piles of trash on the boulevard. It’s fun to go out for an ice cream treat and drive around on Friday scoping out all the piles. If nothing else, just to be snoopy.

It’s human nature to secretly hope to find that diamond in the rough, so to speak. Heck, you never know. We’ve all seen that lucky duck on Antiques Roadshow who found an item in the trash, only to learn that it’s worth thousands.

So to satisfy your curiosity, I found a website with a few tips, should you ever decide you want to dumpster dive. At least you’ll be prepared.

You will need a flashlight (if you are going in the evening). You can hold it in your teeth to keep your hands free, get your friend to hold it for you, or buy a cheap and most adventuresome and groovy headlamp from a bike shop. A stool is helpful to get over the top of the dumpster or see toward the top of a large trash heap. Also useful is a long pole with a hook. This is good for pulling things up if you don’t have a stool. Always remember to bring bags to store and transport your new-found treasures. And just to be on the safe side, always carry wet wipes, anti-bacterial lotion and a basic first-aid kit. You know it makes sense.

Make sure you always follow dumpster diving etiquette. Yes, there’s etiquette even when it comes to trash.

Don’t go behind a closed fence or past a no-trespassing sign to reach a dumpster or garbage heap. Don’t leave a mess. Leave the dumpster or trash pile better than you found it so those who enjoy this hobby can continue. Don’t take paperwork with people’s confidential records. Take only what you can use, and leave the rest for someone else.

Maybe you would never consider dumpster diving, but for many people it’s become a popular hobby. After all, humans evolved by hunting and gathering. In a sense, we’re just going back to our roots – even if we have to dig a little for those roots.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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