For a long time, dumpster diving carried a stigma. It was looked down upon and considered something only the starving would do because they had no other options.
Bidding sites like eBay and local resale have made dumpster diving into a profitable endeavor for some. For us preppers it can be an effective way to get prepared without incurring the costs.
Dumpster diving might be the preparedness solution you have been looking for.
Let’s Start With Legality
Trash is in the public domain. The problem is where the trash is stored. I found that in 1988 the Supreme Court already went through this issue of dumpster diving in none other than sunny California.
Technically, dumpster diving is legal in all 50 states. In the 1988 Supreme Court case California v Greenwood, it was established that searching through trash is legal as long as it doesn’t interfere with other laws in a given area. (Source)
The biggest issue you have to look out for is trespassing. Many of these retailers have placed the dumpsters on the back of their property, some have put them behind locked or chained metal doors. You cannot break into those, or you will get in trouble with the law.
Preparing To Dumpster Dive Safely
Depending on how involved you are going to get, you need protective gear. If you are climbing all the way into dumpsters then you are going to need protection not just from bacteria but also from sharp broken glass, plastic, and wood.
Dumpster diving can be dangerous, so you have to be very careful. A think pair of hip waders would be a great layer of protection for your lower body. A thick jacket would be great to protect yourself from anything dangerous, too.
Gloves are a must, and you should include some kind of eye protection, too. You cannot be completely sure about what you are going to encounter when you are dumpster diving for your prepper stockpile. There might be treasures and there might be curses!
Don’t wind up critically wounded inside the local Walmart dumpster.
When do these stores take their garbage out to the dumpster? If you just happen by a store on a whim, then there is a good chance that you will not make it there in time. Now, you can conduct a full-scale stakeout if you so desire it.
Related: How To Repurpose Old Items Into New Projects For Your Backyard
I would recommend you take the easy route. Walk into the store and ask customer service when they throw the trash out.
It might be a bit embarrassing, and they may not know but there is a good chance you run into someone who says something like, “At close we take all the trash to the dumpster.”
Walmart is a massive retailer, and the super center offers 142,000 different items in a wide variety of categories.
This massive inventory makes Walmart a perfect place to dumpster dive for preppers. There is really no telling what you are going to find in the Walmart dumpsters.
Do some intel on local Walmart’s to see which one gives you access to their dumpsters. Lots of Walmart’s keep their dumpsters under lock and key. Diving into those could become a legal problem for you.
Walmart is going to move foods off the shelves due to short dates and damages to packaging. Everything must be faced and perfect on the store shelves. If there is damage to that packaging then those foods go to the dump.
Related: What Really Happens When You Only Eat Walmart Cans For 30 Days?
Sometimes whole pallets of items can arrive or be damaged at a location. These things must go! It is so important that the store look great. That is what Walmart wants. Everything that doesn’t fit that mold goes into the trash.
Best Finds At Walmart:
- Shelf Stable Foods
- Outdoor Equipment
- Fitness Equipment
- Cleaning Supplies
- Medical Supplies
- Personal Care
Targets are another great retail location for dumpster diving. They have a wide variety of products, like a Walmart.
You can find food, electronics, clothing, personal care, shoes, and other housewares. Target has a much smaller outdoors and camping section, so those items are harder to come by.
Related: 12 Prepping Items You Should Look For At Target
Target turns over lots of inventory regularly. Nationwide they are also doing some serious store renovations and this could be a great time to nose around in their dumpsters.
Best Finds At Target:
- Personal Care
- Personal Hygiene
- Medical Supplies
- Shelf Stable Foods
Home Depot & Lowe’s
It seems like everything at these big box hardware stores has gone up in price.
From the lumber to the nails, we have seen price increases on it all.
Dumpster diving in these stores is almost always going to yield something of value for the average prepper.
If you want to put those tools you find to good use, here you will find 16,000 woodworking projects with already “done-for-you” plans with step-by-step blueprints.
The risks of jumping into a hardware store dumpster are much greater and you have to be aware of that.
There could be splintered lumber, broken glass, metal pipe, and anything else that can pierce your flesh in the hardware store dumpsters so proceed with extreme caution.
Best Finds At Home Depot:
- Extension Cords
- Building Materials
When you walk around a Five Below store you probably don’t get really excited about the array of prepper items on the shelf.
Well, there are a lot of things that can either be used to better prepare or you can resell or barter items to benefit from a dumpster dive.
One of the best items is socks and clothing. There is also great fitness gear inside a Five Below. There is plenty of food and drink that you can find in the dumpsters at Five Below.
Best Finds At Five Below:
- Seasonal Items
- Shelf Stable Foods
- Fitness Equipment
Pet stores are great places to dumpster dive.
You are going to find dog food which is an incredible barter item or something that you might need to store yourself.
Pet stores have flea and tick treatments on hand.
You might not worry about fleas and ticks right now but as public services grind to a halt, pests in general will show up in places you are not used to seeing them.
Best Finds At Pet Stores:
- Pet Food
- Pet Meds
- Flea and Pest Management
- Heat Lamps
These warehouses are cropping up all over the nation. Amazon does a lot of trashing and discounting. If you have a local Amazon warehouse in your area it is certainly worth taking a ride there and having a look at the dumpster access.
Amazon has the wildest breadth of products you can imagine.
Jumping into an Amazon warehouse dumpster could yield almost anything! So, come prepared for that.
Best Finds At Amazon:
- Amazon Sells EVERYTHING!
Don’t Forget The Barter
Of the hundreds of thousands of products that could potentially find their way into the dumpsters at these retailers, most of them will not be tactical products or items that you might want to store away in an emergency kit.
I recommend opening your mind to the fact that almost anything could hold some value as a barter item. Dumpster diving is a premier opportunity to gather some high-profile barter items that you could use in SHTF or even right here and now!
We are living through tremendous inflation right now and the U.S dollar is in tremendous trouble. Bartering is coming back, and you are going to see it. You should get ahead of it all now and start your own bartering community.
Dumpster diving can become a true source of prepping gear and even bartering items to get the things you need to better survive this radically changed world.
There was a time when dumpster diving was something only the homeless and destitute would consider. I think the fact that we are having this conversation speaks to just how far we have fallen as a nation, despite the statistics.
That said, if you plan well and follow the rules, dumpster diving will put quality preps in your possession for no cost. In the times that are ahead, they could be preps that mean the difference between life and death.
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i know a guy that likes to dumpster dive and found a duffle bag full of 30 round ar-15 mags that were loaded. he sold them before i knew about it. bartering is definately coming back and i’ve started getting barter items and storing them for future use. another way to get things is to talk to store managers at a change in seasons. last fall a dollar general manager sold me all the canning items to make room for christmas items. i paid pennys on the dollar and now have over 200 boxes of canning lids and rings and dozens of cases of canning jars at 2.00 a case of 12 jars. we can but i have alot left to barter with. hopefully this info will help.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
It is truly amazing at what people throw in the trash.
Sad but over 40 % of the US food supply is thrown in the trash.
Chickens can eat it all … so just give it to them
i often find the cans of snow from walmart for 10 cents each….. they make a good target to shoot at.
The rest of this article might work……. who know’s take chances but it would help if you had someone on the inside.
Dumpster diving has a lot of risks. There are youtube channels all about it. You have to be careful around Walmart. Some of them consider their trash a valuable commodity and will have you arrested for theft if you dumpster dive there. Depending on how law abiding your cops are you may want to take that into consideration too before you dive right into the dumpster. I know, my son and a friend of his got arrested for dumpster diving at Walmart when he was 17. The cops arrested them and held them without bail and without letting them have a parent or lawyer present during all interrogations. They roughed them up and threatened them with more physical violence if they didn’t confess. The idea of asking before diving has its merits. all stores record a loss on their taxes every time they toss some merchandise in the dumpster but they only want you getting stuff from them through the cash register. Some stores have their employees destroy anything of value before putting it in the dumpster.
Don’t forget curb-side scavenging. Not so much for food, but for housewares, tools, electronics, furniture, etc. Better in middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods are your best bet. Folks are too lazy to take things to a charity and will put perfectly good stuff out on the curb.
Bonus time: the last few days of the month when folks are moving out in rentals.
trespassing on Amazon property will get you pinched FAST & HARD – you’ll need to climb fencing and I’d think twice about that stupidity >>> good chance you get caught taking something over the fence and they’ll throw in a theft charge …..
Federal property where the US Military owns the property puts the dumpsters off limits, making it a conspiracy of theft of government property when you are dumpster diving. One cannot get out of this Federal Crime when arrested, as one of my father’s friends was arrested for”stealing” a couple of empty one gallon metal hydraulic cans during the 1990s.
The military throws away a lot of perfectly good stuff. In other countries you can find a Philippino or someone in a government dumpster gathering good food for his family.
Yeah, the Brandon administration threw away over 85 billion dollars worth of top grade military equipment, supplies and weaponry, including aircraft, artillery and tanks!!
Just need to travel to Afghan to get it! Ah, shoot!! China beat us to it!!
My battalion was getting ready to deactivate just before Desert Storm. After Desert Storm while we were waiting for our time to leave Saudi Arabia, a bulldozer came to our site. They dug a giant hole and drove the 2 1/2 ton tool trucks with all of the mechanics tool boxes into the hole and covered up. 4 trucks with close to a million dollars’ worth of tools plus between 60 and 75 toolboxes with probably between $700-$1500 worth of tools each just buried. Wished I could have gotten one of those toolboxes. Another time I saw units throwing away unopened cases of MREs (enough to fill 6 large dumpsters) while getting ready to leave Iraq after Iraqi Freedom. Then there is all of the stuff that gets sent to DRMO or destroyed every year.
There is a pretty good chance that any dumpster worth diving is already “claimed” by someone else. I have seen fights between the guy in the Cadillac and the guy in the Lexus, right down to a couple of homeless guys fighting. In this area most stores do not allow dumpster diving just for the liability of it
One important thing I learned while on a camping trip.collage kids will throw away good/great camping stuff at the campground dumpsters. it’s just a matter of hitting the dumpsters at the right time.
Hubby brought home a one armed manakin from one of his dumpster dives… he “accidentally” left in my back floor board.. It was not so funny when I drew my firearm and started yelling telling it to get out of my f’n car in my own driveway.. currently that manakin sits at my dinning room table, seasonal dressed… Some people say it’s very disconcerting to walk into my house and see someone sitting in the shadows..
I worked at a Kmart store, my job was to print out the days list of items to pull for outdated or expired item. Then damaged and seasonal. They were sent to a clearing house and then many went to Big Lots stores. I found this on internet: “Outdated, damaged, and out-of-season items from supermarkets, collectively known as “unsaleables,” are sent to large clearing houses known as reclamation centers. These are most often operated by the supermarket chains themselves or wholesale distributors.”
Inn1988-ish the SUPREMES decided that once something goes in the trash it’s FAIR GAVE for anyone as long as you aren’t breaking some other laws. Like trespassing. But it must be posted as such. You can’t break locks or even just open those “dumpster hider” things that some places use to keep it tidy. If an employee tells you to leave then leave without arguing with them and maybe even an apology. But make sure they ARE an employee and not another diver trying to protect his “territory “. I’ve been dispatched to a number of fights like that where 2 homeless guys were fighting for that very reason. Cops consider the calls for dumpster diving nothing but a neusense because the manager won’t prosecute for trespassing or anything else because it’s a waste of time.
Also watch out for animals in dumpsters. Like mice,rats possums and raccoons. If they are IN the dumpster they may feel trapped and will attack/defend themselves. Especially raccoons and opossums. I’m a retired cop and have done my own small share of dumpster diving but not often or even recently. I have found some perfectly good and useful items but not always. As someone said stores now sell/give stuff that CAN be used by stores that sell outdated,slightly damaged and things that haven’t sold for a while or other reasons. Grocery Outlet is one example of doing that. I would also recommend having someone with you as backup and another set of eyes. One of you should be OUT of the dumpster at all times for safety reasons.
I also thought about the possibility of animals and am not on a hurry to meet up with a raccoon or rat who thinks I’ve invaded his territory.
Most places near me have their dumpsters in a locked place or have no trespassing signs posted. I think many places don’t want to open themselves up to litigation.
Curbside pickup otoh is a pretty big thing here. I don’t think laziness is always the reason–a few times I’ve tried dropping off items at thrift stores only to be turned away because they’re not accepting donations. Left curbside, someone will take it. Maybe use it, maybe sell it. I had a bunch of hosta I removed from a garden bed and had no use for it. Didn’t know anyone who wanted it. Put it curbside with a free sign and ended up meeting a new around-the-corner neighbor who was thrilled at such bounty.
I also think the suggestion have another person with you prudent. Not just for safety, either. If you find a large item that would be perfect, another pair of hands to help you move it would make things much easier.
Grocery stores can also be a place for dumpster diving for livestock feed. Pigs and chickens especially love garbage obtained from the grocery store. (and can mean more home-canned goods on the shelves!) Some things can be salvaged for the family to eat now or even to can for later.
You might even be able to get fresh food waste before they ever reach the dumpster!
Also, there are other items that are past their best-buy date that may find their way into the dumpster.
Watch out for the possibility of drug paraphanalia hidden in the dumpster. Such disposal is not unheard of.
I used to get flowers out of the dumpster behind the florist on my way home from school and make beautiful bouquets to bring home to my grandma. 🥰
Would if I could.
HD does NOT have dumpsters you can salvage from. The dumpsters are loaded through a trash compacter (giant hydraulic press) that crushes stuff inside. Most everything of value is damaged or crushed additionally prior to being thrown into the compacter.
Long time ago, a homeless man climbed a locked/fenced and no trespassing signed garbage dumpster behind a Burger King. Then fell asleep. No one know he was there. They turned in trash compactor, he was crushed to death.
Commercial buisness’s that have 40 c/y rolloff dumpsters pay anywhere from $500 up. They will have a lot of crating materials, I, use to use them 35 Years ago, when starting my buisness.
OK Here is one word of warning. A year or so ago I was shopping at the local Family Dollar, it was right after Easter, and they had a whole bunch of candy left over. While checking out, I joked with the manager about having to put all the non- food items back in storage until next year. She very matter-of -factly told me that everything that was not sold was to be destroyed by having Bleach poured over it, before being tossed out.
Dumpster diving is absolutely out of the question in my network. I don’t care how hungry I am even after the SHTF. I would rather die quietly from starvation. ESPECIALLY after the SHTF when no doctors are available to extricate the embedded parasite that has implanted itself in your scalp, your bed, or under your fingernails. Someone comes along and tampers with a product and the establishment does the right thing and trashes the item. Do you really want to bring this home to your kids? Knowing what I know about dumpsters, you can’t see the culprits but they sure can see you.