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How to Dumpster Dive

It's the ultimate in bargain hunting -- salvaging food and other items that businesses toss every day, much of it in excellent condition. See if you have what it takes to dumpster dive.


  • Step 1: Check local laws Check with your local authorities to see if dumpster diving is legal in your area; laws vary from county to county. In many places it's legal as long as you're not trespassing.
  • Step 2: Have the right gear Have the right gear: heavy-duty rubber gloves, a headlamp, a broom handle with a nail in it to hook bags, a stepladder or stool, duct tape to seal damaged bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a basic first-aid kit in case you hurt yourself, and heavy-duty trash bags to cart off your haul.
  • Step 3: Wear coveralls Wear a pair of coveralls over your clothes; when you're done for the night, strip them off, stuff them in a bag, and take them home for washing. Set aside an old pair of shoes for your dumpster dives.
  • TIP: It helps to have a partner to hold heavy lids open and stand outside the dumpster if you decide to climb in.
  • Step 4: Time your dives Time your dumpster dives; the best time to hit food stores and restaurants is right after closing time, when they've thrown out what they don't think they'll be able to sell the next day.
  • Step 5: Understand expiration dates Understand food expiration labels. "Sell by" items remain good for several days past that date. "Use by" indicates the date the item will begin to lose freshness; normally, food remains safe to eat a few days past then; it just might not taste as good. Of course, if it looks or smells bad don't eat it -- especially when it comes to meat and fish.
  • TIP: Canned foods stay good for years as long as the seal hasn't been broken.
  • Step 6: Follow etiquette Follow the two rules of dumpster diving etiquette: Don't take more than you can use, unless you plan to share your bounty; and leave the area tidier than you found it.
  • FACT: In 2010, dumpster-diving college students found a speaking-engagement contract for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and leaked it to a state senator, who forwarded it to the press.

You Will Need

  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves
  • Headlamp
  • Broom handle with nail
  • Stepladder or stool
  • Duct tape
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First-aid kit
  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • Coveralls
  • Designated shoes
  • Timing
  • Restraint
  • Partner (optional)

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