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Hidden in plain view all around us are marvelous boxes filled with mountains of free, fun stuff. Dumpsters.
Some of us sift through these piles of "trash" to find usable goods, and we're called dumpster divers.
First, when you see how easy it is to pull crates of food, clothing or furniture out of a dumpster, think about what that says about our culture of appalling consumption and needless waste.
Second, while dumpster diving can benefit both society and the individual, it should be a choice. We would be naïve to forget that the destitute sometimes have to subsist off others' waste. For these people, dumpster diving is a way of survival. For the rest of us, recreational dumpster diving is a privilege.
The truth is that we don't appreciate what we have. We carelessly discard food instead of taking the time to donate to the needy. We don't use self-restraint to keep from purchasing what we don't need in the first place. This ties in to very real social, economic and environmental problems.
A college campus is a notable exception to the rule that you can find better trash at retail than at residential locations. College students often cannot hold on to large items when they move across the country at the end of a semester and do not hesitate to throw out nearly-new furniture and other such items by the truckload. These usable goods are not often enough salvaged by dumpster divers but ultimately go to a landfill.
It should be noted, however, that college dumpsters are much more likely to contain appliances than retrievable food. For food dumpstering, you'll probably find more success off campus. Dumpster diving is a place to start for those interested in reducing our harmful landslide of waste, or in promoting a society that thinks twice before it throws out tons of edible food. So many still go hungry. It might also save you a few dollars, and can be a fun conversation starter.
While going through others' trash has been deemed legal in the United States by Supreme Court case California v. Greenwood, it can look suspicious to many segments of the population. Some cities may pass ordinances against it. In the unlikely event that there is a run-in with authority, the best course of action is to be compliant and straightforward about what you are doing.