Treasure from another person’s garbage. Tips and finds


A few weeks ago I wrote about how to give away stuff you don’t want anymore. The other side of that is finding free stuff. It can be fun and rewarding to go scavenging for treasure. You never know what you may come across. Currently, I stick to non-bagged residential “garbage.” Foraging for stuff behind stores, known as dumpster diving or skipping, is more involved.

Below are some reasons, tips and suggestions, as well as photos of recent finds.

Why pick up garbage? You can …

  • find free stuff that you need.
  • discover treasure.
  • prevent useful things from being trucked to landfill or incinerators.
  • find gifts for family, friends or strangers.
  • give new life to an item that needs some simple fixing.
  • rescue cans, bottles and papers that belong in recycling.

 There is an excellent photo series at Instructibles called Dumpster Dipping (for a small planet or just for fun). The author describes it as:

“… an enjoyable activity involving a pleasant bike ride, a hunt, the thrill of discovery, the mystery of recent archeology, forensic storytelling, good Karma recycling, and a form of shopping with green environmental impact. It helps me get in touch with my early human hunter gathering roots. It is similar to gold panning, … It is also possible to undo your entire carbon footprint through the recycling of other people’s former stuff.”


  • Go around your immediate neighbourhood. Nearby finds are easier to carry back.
  • Garbage day offers the best selection, and the last chance to save stuff from landfill.
  • Look for houses that are throwing away a large amount of stuff – after a Spring cleaning or someone moving out. The first of a month is a good time to find stuff left behind by former tenants.
  • I don’t bother opening up bags, unless they are located beside a lot of nice unbagged items, and look like they may contain useful stuff.
  • If there is something in particular that you are looking for, keep it in mind. As you ride around the city, chances are that you will find it.
  • Ride on different roads each day.
  • Install a carrier and bike bags on your bicycle. Or have some plastic bags on hand.
  • For a large item such as a table, place on top of your bike and push it home.
  • Beware of couches, bedding or carpets. Recently, bed bugs have become a problem in Toronto and people may be discarding infested items. Fortunately, below freezing temperatues will kill bed bugs and other pests. During warmer weather, consider knocking on the door of the house to find out if the items are safe.
  • Don’t leave a mess.

Recent finds

The photo above is of stuff I found in early January during a short trip on my block and around the corner.

The haul included a solid wood chair, rackets, a toy, canned food items (some had past expiry dates – we composted these and recycled the cans. Others were given to a food bank), two stuffed flowers, a brand new dish rack with labels still attached, nice green glass bowls, a weight, and lots of wire mess that we gave away.

de-drying-rack-repair.jpgI also found a broken clothes drying rack. We needed an extra one, so this was a welcome find. All it needed was one drywall screw. See photo, right.

For environmental reasons, we don’t have a machine for drying clothes, only a front-load washing machine We dry all our clothes on the backyard line, a line along the upstairs hallway, or on these collapsible drying racks.


A more recent find included: a cast iron frying pan (it is easy to remove the rust and season it), kitchen knives, a knife sharper, a wood knife block, tupperware, a nice glass plate and cutlery, a ceramic light fixture (from the days before plastic), two vases, sand paper, night light and more.

Links: See Freeganism at Wikipedia and
How to Dumpster Dive

clotheslineCheck out comment three below. Someone has been getting their entire wardrobe from a thrift shop dumpster. They have been writing a whole blog about it.

5 thoughts on “Treasure from another person’s garbage. Tips and finds

  1. Great post about a fun, constructive hobby that should be “de-stygmatised”.

    We do a lot of dumpster dipping at a nearby college campus and find wonderful treasures in good shape.

    e.g. The bookstore tossed 18 brand new $60 sweatshirts with zipper issues. I rebent and waxed the zippers, donated half the shirts to charity and gave away the others. Today I was picking up a box to recycle it (just like in that instructable you mentioned) and was pleased to find metal serving trays needed for a garbage art show reception next week. We are always tickled when “The dumpster will provide”.

    Happy Hunting.

  2. Articles like this increase awareness that there are people out there who believe that salvage is an environmentally conscious behavior — sort of like the evil twin of conspicuous consumption.

    i remember reading a very enlightening point made by a long-time Toronto garbage picker. it went something like, ‘it isn’t that someone admits to reclaiming other’s refuse that people find distasteful, it’s — god-forbid — they admit that they do it out of NEED’. i found this to be a very astute observation. namely, that in a city of riches, the ultimate sin is to admit that you are poor.

  3. People should be embarrassed to throw away perfectly good stuff. Just because you don’t think it is great anymore doesn’t mean someone else won’t. People should make more of an effort to find homes for the things they don’t want.

    A really sad thing is that in my town, there is a faith-based thrift store that throws many of their donations into their dumpster. So even well meaning people who go to the trouble to bag up and donate their stuff still need to check out the recipient to see what they do with all their extras. Otherwise it may be no different than pitching it yourself.

    I decided to spend a year wearing only the clothes I can haul out of that dumpster. I’m writing about it and other things of waste in my blog. I enjoyed your post.

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