The 14 Best Places to Dumpster Dive

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    Dumpster diving is not an activity for the faint of heart. It’s a risk – but you can reap big rewards if you’ve willing to try it out. Some of the best places to dumpster dive include stores as well as local areas that you might not have previously considered.

    If done correctly, dumpster divers can find good food that would otherwise go to waste at little cost to them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my research, it’s this: never judge a book by its cover. Some items still have plenty of life left in them – especially when compared against their shelf price at your local grocery store or supermarket.

    The Best Stores and Locations to Dumpster Dive

    If you’re looking to find items that are still usable without spending a dime, dumpster diving is a fantastic way to go. It’s also an excellent way for anyone trying to live below their means to have access to goods they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford if they’re broke. Dumpster diving can be done in many great places, so it’s best not just focus on one area or type of place. Below are some of the best place where people can dumpster dive and what they might find there:

    images of trash bins

    Bakeries

    We love bakeries not just because of their amazing pasteries, but also because their glorious sugary confections are made fresh daily. Bakeries are known for tossing any products that don’t get sold into the dumpster at closing.

    Often, donuts, bagels, and other goods are tossed into garbage bags, tied up, and thrown in the dumpster. If you’re looking for a sweet tooth fix, this should be your first stop after closing time.

    Don’t be afraid to ask the business owners if you can grab the goodies before they even make it into the dumpster – it can be a great way to avoid having to do all the extra work!

    Construction sites

    This is a popular place for dumpster diving because any items that are deemed unusable or broken by contractors and workers can be tossed into the dumpster without a second thought.

    Construction sites often hide professional tools and materials that can be resold, reused, or even gifted to friends and family members.

    If the site is a remodel rather than a new build, you’re likely to find anything from cabinets to toilets or flooring. Even wood and metal can be sold or repurposed in a variety of ways. Even old furniture and cabinets can be painted with chalk paint and resold.

    Befriending the site foreman can be very helpful – chances are you can ask them to call you whenever something good is going to be tossed. This alone makes construction sites one of the best places to dumpster dive!

    Big box stores

    Some of the best places to dumpster dive include big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Target, and more. Big box stores are great for finding free items like clothing (including accessories), furniture (especially chairs), and even electronics.

    Know exactly what you’re looking for, and be sure that you’ll actually be able to use it before diving into a dumpster. You should also consider checking the trash can areas near the front of stores – managers frequently toss items they think are unsalvageable rather than waiting for them to get picked up by a garbage company.

    Beware of certain items that are extremely commonly tossed, including foams of any kind, liquids (even bottled water), and foods. You can also look for containers on your next trip to the big box store – these containers are definitely worth picking up!

    Malls and Retail Stores

    If you’re looking to dive at nearby strip malls, retail stores, or a regular mall, make sure you check out the best dumpsters after it’s closed for the night. Usually, every mall has a huge dumpster near the rear of its property that is almost always full of brand new items – everything from shoes to backpacks to more electronics.

    Some locations might even have separate dumpsters for food items or home goods. Once again, be sure of what you’re diving into before you dive in! Some of the best places to dumpster dive here include Ulta, Bath and Body Works, and Gamestop.

    While it’s not illegal to go Gamestop dumpster diving, mall or store security can be tight. We recommend that you don’t check out any of these items until after the mall is closed for the night. While you might not be likely to find actual gaming consoles, you are likely to find lots of valuable items like accessories, posters, and other gaming items.

    Salvage Shops

    It’s not uncommon to find great items at salvage shops – but it does require that you know exactly what you’re looking for. You’ll definitely need to do your research beforehand if you plan on hitting up a salvage shop on your next dumpster diving trip.

    Salvage shops will often have items that are very similar to those found in thrift stores. Make sure you check out any salvage shop you visit before paying for anything – there might be something hidden at the bottom of a bin just waiting for you to claim it!

    Electronics Stores

    When most people think of dumpster diving, electronics aren’t really something that they consider. However, this is definitely one place where you can find brand new tech just waiting to be found and taken home!

    Whether or not you’re interested in tech yourself, some of the best places to dumpster dive for electronics are places like Best Buy or local cell phone providers. They’ll often toss brand new phones, tablets, and laptops that are still in the box.

    Check out their dumpsters at least twice a month or so – good things move fast!

    Colleges and Universities

    Finally, you can’t forget about college campuses and universities. Dumpster diving at universities is always a good choice; they throw away so many items that it’s rare not to find something of use!

    You’re most likely to find the best items at the end of the semester, when the students are packing up and cleaning out their dorms.

    Campus dumpsters are full of books (some which might be worth reselling with a porch pick up), furniture (both moveable and stationary), and even used computers.

    Academic libraries also have regular book disposal events; make sure to check them out for anything you might need!

    Rich Neighborhoods

    One of the best places to dumpster dive near me is on garbage day in affluent neighborhoods! No matter where you’re located, most people will throw away perfectly good items just because they don’t have anywhere else to keep them. As we all know – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

    Make sure you get to your destination before 7:00 AM – this will give you the best chance of getting what you want before people start coming by to dump their own trash.

    Be sure that you’re respectful of any people living around the area – don’t go into personal garbage or disturb anything that doesn’t belong to you. This is an excellent way to get arrested!

    Apartment Complexes

    If you live in an apartment or condo complex, there’s a good chance that your building has its own dumpster. They’ll often fill up with furniture and other random items. As a bonus, larger items are usually just placed next to the dumpster, so it’s easier to get things like chairs, mattresses, and other furniture.

    A great time to check out these dumpsters is on move-out day – this is when new tenants will clear out a bunch of their good stuff and leave it for whoever will come around to take it!

    These good dumpsters are typically found in the rear of a complex. Make sure that it’s a dumpster and not a trash compactor, which is too dangerous to risk any diving.

    Grocery Stores

    Finally, there’s grocery stores like Food Lion, Kroger, and Giant Eagle. It might not be a popular choice, but it’s a good one! Grocery stores throw out so much food – both fresh and expired. If you’re looking to dumpster dive for free food items, this is definitely the place to go.

    We all know that food waste in the United States is out of control. According to an article by RTS, in the US alone, nearly 40 million tons of food is thrown out every year. That’s 30 – 40% of the entire US food supply!

    With dumpster diving in grocery store dumpsters, make sure you’re not taking anything that’s spoiled. Often grocery stores will throw out items that are getting ready to expire and are still good.

    Never take meat or anything that needs to stay cold, since it’ll quickly become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria!

    Florists

    If you’re looking to find flowers (either for yourself or as a gift), you can find what you’re looking for at florists. They throw away bunches that are wilting, rotting, or over-ripened; simply pick out what you want and leave the rest behind!

    This is another excellent place to do on garbage day, since they typically throw out boxes of flowers around the same time.

    Bonus: Other Places to Find Used Items for Free

    After Swap Meets, Yard Sales, and Garage Sales

    While it’s not going to give you the best chances of finding the most valuable or rare items, dumpster diving at individual’s houses can be an extremely fun and rewarding experience.

    Know exactly what you’re looking for before you head to the person’s house – many people who are selling off their belongings (like old Disney VHS tapes) will throw anything away without so much as a second glance.

    Look for sale signs in windows – this is a sign that the individual might be clearing out their basement or garage. You can also canvas neighborhoods for signs of people moving out, too.

    Craigslist

    Craigslist is a treasure trove of all kinds of great things. Keep an eye out for items that are advertised as “free” – people often throw out things just because they have no use for them, or they can’t fit them into their new home anymore.

    If you’re looking to find larger items, Craigslist is a good place to look for your future dumpster diving adventures.

    Buy Nothing or Freecycle Groups

    Another great way to find homes with items you’re interested in is paying attention to your local Freecycle groups – many members of these sites are looking for someone who will take their old stuff off of their hands.

    What is the Best Day to Go Dumpster Diving?

    The best day to go dumpster diving is going to vary, depending on where you’re searching. If you’re looking in a rich neighborhood, you’ll want to go early in the morning on garbage day (or late the night before).

    For bakeries, you’ll want to go daily after closing. For grocery, retail, and electronics stores, you’ll want to check multiple times throughout the month.

    While the day of the week isn’t as important, the best time of day is. Most of us would think that you’d want the cover of night to do your search, but it’s better to go very early in the morning, when you can see what you’re doing. When it’s dark, it’s easier to get hurt as well as miss big finds.

    What are You Likely to Find While Dumpster Diving?

    Depending on where you choose to dumpster dive, you can easily find a ton of great items. The most common items you’ll find include:

    • Books
    • Electronics and cables
    • Returned items
    • School supplies
    • Clothing and shoes
    • Metal, wood, building supplies
    • Furniture and decor
    • Food

    What You’ll Need to Go Dumpster Diving

    Now that you know the best places to dumpster dive, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared. Here are the items you’ll need to make sure you’re being safe and staying healthy:

    1. Bring a headlamp or flashlight. Sticking with a headlamp like this one seems easiest, since it’ll free up your hands to dig.
    2. Wear old clothes. Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs, and you don’t mind getting stained.
    3. Buy cut resistant gloves. Don’t risk a cut from broken glass or metal when digging with thick gloves like these.
    4. Wear tall boots. Protect your feet and ankles from glass and unstable ground with tall boots.
    5. Stock up on grocery bags. Grocery bags are easy to pocket and carry, and you can use them to easily carry the treasures you find!
    6. Bring hand santizers and wipes. After you’re done, you’ll want to scrub your hands to make sure you’re not bringing anything home.
    7. Carry a crate or small step stool. Dumpsters are tall, and not always easy to climb into. Grab a spare crate and bring it with to help you get in easier.
    8. Carry a knife. You’ll have an easier time ripping open trash bags if you have a knife like this (completely with LED light!).

    Rules to Remember When Dumpster Diving

    1. Understand local laws before diving. While dumpster diving is not illegal, some localities can frown upon it. Check out what your local laws are before you decide where to start diving.
    2. Never dive into trash compactors. It’s just an accident waiting to happen. Please, nothing in a compactor is worth risking your life. Stick with dumpsters and trash cans.
    3. Be choosy with food. Trust your judgement and don’t eat meat which can harbor bacteria and make you very sick.
    4. Don’t dumpster dive on private property. Only dumpster dive in public areas, like parking lots, and do so during daylight hours to reduce the risk of injury.
    5. Don’t go alone. If you can, bring someone with. Having a dumpster lid close on you without someone to help can be terrifying.
    6. Don’t go at night, it can be more dangerous. While I understand not wanting to get caught, don’t go at night. You’re more likely to get hurt or mistaken for a robber.
    7. Avoid hazardous waste. Don’t dumpster dive on hospital grounds or facilities where you know there’s likely to be hazardous waste.
    8. Don’t leave a mess. If you pull items out of the bin, put them back when you’re done.
    9. Shower afterwards! As soon as you get home, the best thing you can do is hop in the shower to kill any germs or bacteria that you might have picked up during your explotations.

    Is Dumpster Diving Illegal?

    While dumpster diving isn’t illegal in most places, there are some locations where you might get in trouble. Before you start diving, make sure to check your local laws or talk to local law enforcement about whether or not it’s allowed in the area.

    What Happens if You Get Caught Dumpster Diving?

    You might get a citation, but most likely not. In any case, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll be given a warning or a ticket if you’re caught in the act of dumpster diving.

    If you’re caught, be honest and explain what you’re doing. You’ll most likely be given a warning. However, if you’re on private property, you can be charged with tresspassing, and possibly theft.

    Becoming an avid diver is definitely a commitment, and you need to know what you’re doing if you want to get anything out of it. That being said, dumpster diving can be incredibly rewarding in certain circumstances. 

    Next, learn the ins and outs of using your EBT card at Target to help stretch your grocery budget as much as possible!

    Now that you know the best places to dumpster dive, leave a comment below to let me know how it goes and what treasures you find!

    Text that reads welcome to Debt Free Forties

    A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More

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