Tag Archive | Dumpster diving

QuinkFair DC Dumpster Dive 9/19/22

My stock advice to activists on what campaigns they should pursue is “join the one where the people working on the issue inspire you”. Next week i get to follow my own advice. There are lots of different approaches to dumpster diving. My favorite is risking getting quite filthy combined with making it a fun adventure. This is where Peaches shines.

Peaches is always happy to lead people new to dumpster diving into the art. They have reliable places they know in the DC metro area, but there are always shifts, old sites converting to compactors and new ventures opening up that are often more wasteful than their established counter parts. On our last dive Peaches took us to pop up convenience stores which throw out all manner of products, we scored 30 boxes of 10 vape pens, with a retail value about $3K.

Peaches = Good divers are light on their feet

If you are not comfortable jumping into a dumpster, there is still a way for you to help out. Specifically, when the dive is finished at 3 or 4 AM you can be part of the crew which processes the treasure we have hauled in. This includes sorting, cleaning, compost handling and in some cases cooking.

All of this is being staged out of Casa Peaches in NW Washington DC quite late Monday Sept 19th and very early in the morning on Tuesday Sept 20th. Here is the Facebook event, and if you are not on Facebook, but want to come (especially if you need a ride) contact paxus@twinoaks.org

Box, gloves, head lamp, poker stick – a well-equipped diver

If you are still trying to decide if you want to come to QuinkFair (Sept 23 thru 26), here is the draft program.

Community Supported Dumpster Diving

Supermarkets are hugely problematic.  They distort purchasing behaviors, contribute to obesity, cut wages to farmers and more.  There have been several responses to this situation, including farmers markets.  The direct workaround for supermarkets is Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short.  CSAs have customers buying shares directly from farmers and typically every week they get part of the harvest in a box they go pick up.  When harvests are good, customers share in the bounty, when harvests are low customers agree not to complain, and as a result, they feel like they are in the game together with the farms.

CSAs give better prices to farmers by cutting out the powerful broker of the supermarket.  They provide money faster to farmers, earlier in the season when they often most need it.  They share the risk between farm and end consumer in a way that supermarkets have no interest in sharing.  They typically offer better profits for farmers and lower prices for end customers.

Our fine friends in Freedonia have taken this idea to the next level.  [If you don’t remember Freedonia is our pseudonym for actual urban communities which are doing clever but illegal things in undisclosed locations.]  They are starting Community Supported Dumpster Diving (CSDD) or what one communard calls Community Supported Gleaning.

Active dumpster diving collective households pull in dramatically more food from dumpsters than they themselves can use.  Other collective households agree to sort, clean, prep, store and divide the bounty as it comes in (often at absurd o’clock in the morning).  Finally a set of other collective houses come and pick up the recovered food and feed it to their people.

There are gems in those dumpsters

There are gems in those dumpsters

If you have not been dumpster diving in an urban area, you might miss the cleverness of this plan.  Normally, dumpster divers are presented with a dilemma.  There are 60 bunches of perfectly good banana’s here, but if i bring them all back 1) we will never eat them in time and most of them will rot.  2) We will spend a bunch of time cleaning and storing them and will end up losing out on other dumpster bounty.

CSDD solves this problem in several ways.  Crews get sent out knowing their own collective household need not clean and consume everything they rescue.   By having the different people doing food prep from the people who are doing the dumpster diving, you avoid asking exhausted dumpster divers at 3 AM to then spend hours cleaning and in some cases food processing all the bananas.  By spreading the dumpstered treasure over several different collective households, you share pro tips, strategies and critical information about urban dumpsters among a growing crowd of experts and don’t burn people out by having to do so much dumpstering in an given week.  By having separate crews doing cleaning and food processing, you rescue a greater fraction of the salvaged food.

Get the right gear - Cartoon Credit WikiHow

Get the right gear – Cartoon Credit WikiHow

There are complex discussions going on between Freedonia and other collective households.  Who can join the CSDD?  Is it possible to just buy shares (like in CSAs) and not do any of the work?  How do we evaluate the different types of efforts, space needs, storage costs, administrative work etc?

But the Freedonians i spoke with said the project (still in early stages) is going fabulously so far, people are not sweating the details and are upping the collective dumpster diving game dramatically – dropping food prices for people living in cooperatives, reducing the amount of wasted food in the system and providing adventurous activities for people who might otherwise simply be sleeping.

Who builds a better future?  Those who are willing to try.

Who builds a better future? Those who are willing to try.

i am excited about where this idea can go, and that it proves that by cooperating we can create a lifestyle which is both more resilient and more fair.

Becoming a Digital Nomad

When i was growing up, one of the most transformative adventures one could take was walking off the land you knew with a small bag and a daring attitude and sticking out you thumb and hitchhiking away.  This is still true, except the clever traveler will add to their small bag an internet connected device.

There is a growing knowledge base of digital nomads and the first and perhaps most important piece is hitchwiki.org.  If you have ever hitched much you know there are places that are hard to get through, good spots where drivers are likely to pick you up and routes to avoid.  The problem is that regular maps and guidebook almost never tell you where these places are.

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state - source hitchwiki

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state – source hitchwiki

Hitchwiki tells you not only what the laws are in different regions but also what the local customs are and how to best catch a ride.  It also has user edited maps of the roadway system, including stories and advice for how to have a successful journey.  Knowing the hitching culture and hot spots dramatically increases your chances of getting where you are going.

But what if you don’t know where you are going?  What if your adventure is not highly scripted and you are looking for like minded people who might put you up, without asking you for money?  Many people have heard about couchsurfing, but there is a better radical hospitality system called BeWelcome.org.  It is better because the people who are involved in it are more interested in connecting with travelers in a meaningful way and less about being party tourists.  While BeWelcome is far sparser than couchsurfing, it is designed to accommodate hitchhikers and it makes sense to populate this democratic and transparent site with new people, rather than continue with the for profit beast.


It is also worth pointing out that the software developers who created BeWelcome built much of the Couchsurfing site, before leaving the WalMart of peer to peer hospitality for ideological reasons.

But lets say you have no money and want to eat.  Enter TrashWiki.  Another site which has content contributed by many users, it is dedicated to finding food and other valuable things which have been thrown out.  In some cases this is where the good dumpster are.  In other cases it is where pre-dumpster things can be found or where you can find dumpster diving partners.  Better than OK Cupid if this is your area of interest and you are looking for a match.

Digital nomadism is about using the power of the internet to take a step away from conventional lifestyles and instead trust strangers, rescue waste and see new parts of the world.

Dumpster Dialog

“What are you doing?” She asked in her hot pink jogging outfit, removing her headphones.

She did not look much like this, but you get the idea.

She did not look much like this, but you get the idea.

What we were doing was obvious. We were climbing into the dumpster outside her graduate student housing at UVa and removing things of value. Several unopened containers of Naked Juice are at my feet and a blood red vacuum cleaner.

“We are retrieving things from the dumpster.” I said in a friendly tone.

UVa uses huge dumpsters

UVa uses huge dumpsters

“Why?” She asked. I thought this was clear as well, but given that she was willing to engage us, I thought she deserved a more complete answer.

“It is a resource redistribution system. People who have less [I motion towards Ocelot, a new Acorn intern, who is brushing off a salvaged consumer electronics device] rescue things from the dumpster which have been thrown out by people who are better off.”

“We have seen a lot of people doing it today.” She has stopped about 20 feet away from us.

Dress appropriately for dumpster diving

Dress appropriately for dumpster diving

I consider saying something about how this income disparity thing is a real problem. But I can’t figure out how to say it without making it sound like I am insulting or blaming her. I can see the other crew has finished with their dumpster and is heading towards the van.

“Lots of people moving out. So many nice things are being left behind. We have to go now, have a great day.” i offer as i jog with Ocelot down the hill to our comrades.

UVa forces students out of university housing nearly immediately after their final exams. Most students do not budget their time well towards the end of the semester and careful packing is often the casualty. We grab the vacuum cleaner and other treasure and head down the hill.

Despite our friendly chat, I assume she called campus security after we left. I did not want to chat with them as well, so we beat a hasty retreat.

Chuck it for charity

Chuck it for Charity – Poster

UVa should be credited with reducing the amount of perfectly good things which are thrown out. They started the “Chuck It for Charity” program which makes it much easier for students to put things of value into the hands of Goodwill and the Salvation Army, instead of into the land fill.

And as this and many other dumpsters attest. There is still a place for people who are willing to get dirty to extend the life of these many material goods which were destined for too early a grave.

UVa Dumpster Dive

One thing that is especially satisfying for me is to bump into an organizer who has complimentary skill sets with another organizer.  So it is with Irena at Acorn.  She is good at staying on task, which is definitely one of my weaknesses.  We work together on several things: the Communities Conference, the mechanics of the Seed business and most recently on the UVa dumpster dive.

Irena kept pushing me to work with the gal who runs the sustainability program for UVa, and thus got us pre-qualified for Chuck It for Charity, which is UVa’s answer to the growing dumpster diving “problem” that they face at the end of the academic year.  But to understand this “problem” you need some back ground.

All the attire, courtesy of UVa dumpsters.

All the attire, courtesy of UVa dumpsters.

UVa is a large affluent school in Charlottesville, the nearest “big city” to Twin Oaks and Acorn.  The academic calendar is designed so that the last day of exams is the day before all the students need to be out of their dorm rooms.  So of course all of the students carefully manage their time so that they get their studying done for their exams early enough so they can pack all their stuff in time for the move-out deadline.  And if you believe this, you apparently never went to college.

Instead the students study non-stop right up until their final exam, take the test and then try to pack up everything in their dorm room in less than 24 hours.  This results in them simply throwing out a tremendous number of valuable things, from furniture to food to computers to (my big find a couple years back) an entire unopened case of beer.  And with all of this wealth going straight into the dumpsters, it attracts a significant number of dumpster divers trying to salvage this stuff before it goes to the landfill.

We found no shirts with this emblem

We found no shirts with this emblem

For a few years (say 5 years back and earlier) things were pretty okay.  Students threw stuff out, dumpster divers rescued huge quantities of stuff and it was still wasteful, but on some level it worked.  For many years Twin Oaks would send several vans and a dozen or so members into town to scavenge and rescue for the entire day.  We would then display them up at Emerald City in the warehouse (our “industrial park”)  and dozens of members, many whom would not be comfortable jumping into a dumpster, would come and free shop the rescued treasure.

But then things shifted.  My story, which i have no evidence for, is that someone in the legal department at UVa decided that some dumpster diver was going to get hurt and then sue the University, and the campus housing division and campus safety should be stopping dumpster divers from getting stuff in order to protect the university from this liability.  As far as i know, no dumpster diver has ever sued a corporation, and certainly no judge has ever ruled in favor of a dumpster diver over the corporation which owned the dumpster.  But reality and logic are not driving forces in liability issues.

As a result, a few years back Twin Oaks basically stopped doing the UVa dumpster dive.  Their crews got stopped in the act too many times.  I was banned for UVa for a year at one point as part of one of the last runs.  But not to be scared off, Acorn (in large part because of Irena’s persistence and initiative) went this year as part of the Chuck it for Charity initiative.


It was fun and slightly surreal.  We went and signed up, and were told that what they did not want was for people sorting through bags of clothes and cherry picking what they wanted and leaving the rest behind.  Of course this is exactly what we wanted to do.  So we had part of our group working behind the building sorting the clothes we wanted to keep (which was a surprisingly large fraction) and then re-bundling them.  Then we returned the clothes we did not want to one of the approved Chuck it for Charity sites, with markings on the bags so we would not pick them again.

Turns out no one wants rugs, so we got a lot of them for the rave.  And micro wave ovens and full length mirrors and cubbies and lots of clothes.  It seemed to me like we were more interested in the stuff than any of the other charities, but perhaps they came after we left.

dumpster and bike

And some from our party were not going to be satisfied without getting into a real dumpster, so we went to one of the large dorm complexes.  We were immediately told we could not be in the dumpsters by someone from student housing, but lingered around more discreetly (much of our group looks like college students, especially after they have donned the clothes the students were leaving behind) and got lots of food, including a number of cans of corn, which i was excited about.

In the end, it was a long, exhausting and quite rewarding day.

Banana Brigade

There are many different organizing styles.  The one i am currently using in my experimenting with creating a new community is to dream up (often with others) interesting new ideas and see who gets excited about them.

The idea is simple

The idea is simple

The idea which has been getting a surprising amount of support, as in “tell me when this is happening and i will come up and work with you on it” support, is mass dumpster diving in the Death City area.  What we currently have is DC based dumpster divers who leave lots of food behind, because there is a limit both on what they can consume and what they can handle processing in the same night.

Enter the banana brigade.  Communards who are interested in helping can join trips up to DC and participate in food processing after late night dumpstering so as to both increase the yield of food captured by dumpstering and increase the amount that is taken from each dumpster, because there are more people eating the food.

It is easy to imagine a group of cooks and food processors who would help cull the bad bananas from the ones which can be used in banana bread.  We will start with this monthly in March and see how it goes.

Cancelled Workshop = Interceptors + Locking Shoes + Volleyball Injuries + Dumpstered Avocados

Angie and i were supposed to put on an Honest Seduction workshop in Philly last night.  It got postponed because not enuf people signed up, so instead i took Skye Rios and Luna (also from the “cool school” of Warren Wilson) to Death City.  i told stories of the Galapagos, and we talked about Skye’s NSF grant to fuse hydrogen with Hip Hop.

gravity has no hold on Luna and Skye

We visited the Keep, which is always hopping.  We played a lovely game of volleyball on the Mall.  Part of what makes this incarnation of the game so attractive is the anarchist format with which it is played.  Teams are dynamic, people who dont know each other will ask to step in and play.  People of different ages and genders and abilities all play together, mostly seamlessly.  While scores are kept, most players seem to be there to have a good time, rather than to rack up points.

Feonix and Steve BM 2011

The bike ride to and from was fun. In part because it felt like a dwarf critical mass action with Feonix and Steve and Luna and Skye and myself riding (complete with tandem) thru the city breezing past the rush hour traffic. It was also exciting because i got to wear Steve’s biking shoes.

At first i shared Feonix’s concerns that these shoes, which lock to the bike pedals would be a disaster, since i might be unable to get my feet out of the pedals, before i could avert an accident.  Instead i had an experience like the first time i learned how to use stilts at a protest training by David Solnit.  The training consists of walking around with stilts on with your hands on the shoulders of others to keep you from falling.  Then quite suddenly after uneasily bumbling around my brain kicked in and said “i know how to do this,” and the helpers step away and it is something you can do.  So it was with the shoes which click into the pedals and i was off to the races.

i played volleyball quite reasonably until i hurt my hand and the Feonix and i went to the sidelines where she checked the work phone.  Steve and Feonix are professional drunk drivers.  The phone has been busy and we jump into responding, Feonix starts to call clients back and by the time we make it back to the keep we have a multi-layered logistical situation on our hands.  Inebriated folks from across town are calling in wanting to be ferried home.  Drivers are dispatched to drive their cars, interceptors are dispatched to rescue drivers and quickly it is clear that the evenings rush is exceeding their capacity.  So i get pressed into being an interceptor.  i am about to drive way out into the burbs and pick up one of our drivers, but then the ride cancels, so i shift to another driver after i drop Steve at one client.

Drivers Incorporated Poster for Bars

After rescuing drivers, changing plans and struggling a bit with city driving, we returned to the perfect small collective house party at the Keep.  There was a feast from the recent huge dumpster bounty, including some decked out housemates and friends who had returned from some sexy formal party  [Housemates include Aries for Twin Oaks visitor, recently single Marshall, Jon of late night dumpster processing and the roommate with the bright pink eye shadow i cant remember the name of] .  And with the party in full swing, Steve and i went out for a last interception, a conversation about how our lives differ from most of our peers and a rich 3 AM dumpster dive of avocado and pineapple.

A long, full, rich day.

if you saw Aries, you would recognize this drawing