Article & Photography by Bre Mascetti | Owl Staff
I couldn’t imagine myself surrounded by heaps of leaking garbage bags smelling of wet dog and dirty diapers. But that is exactly what I found myself doing one Friday afternoon in the town of Bel Air, Maryland.
Initially, I had done an elaborate research paper on “Freegans.” These self-described radicals fight and protest big corporations and the consumer driven lifestyle companies perpetuate. As a self-proclaimed “rebel without a cause,” I was intrigued. I already donate to my local consignment and second-hand shops, but what else could I do to contribute to the cause?
Freegans take their ideology to the extreme. This community forages for clothing, food, and other useful goods from residential and retail dumpsters, and avoid paying for any merchandise.
I thought going to Bel Air would be perfect. It is the perfect size city to find business’s overstocked, discontinued, or damaged goods. But after a debate with a friend, I realized I needed to know my laws.
I scoured the internet to no prevail, so I called my local town hall where they connected me with Bel Air’s Chief of Police. I was assured that there were no local laws banning the act, but was reminded to obey the “No Trespassing” signs and stay aware of curtilage, the
residential areas associated to a home. I decided to further my research.
I found many Facebook groups associated with Freeganism and dumpster diving. The communities had pictures and videos from the members dives; it was clear to me that when it was my turn I would not leave disappointed.
Witnessing these real-life dumpster divers score loads of trash was inspiring. I had to get in the dumpster! I rallied a few friends and a stockpile of gloves to go exploring the back allies
in town. Suited in rubber boots and medical grade gloves, we approached our first group of dumpsters.
The first two were completely empty. I was starting to worry. What if I found no treasure?
We kept going. I saw a large dumpster across the parking lot at the rear of a major retail store. I could already see a brand-new toilet and office chair piled on top of pallets of
wood. We climbed the edges of the container. The chair had broken hydraulics and was missing a wheel, but could easily be replaced. We found industrial light bulbs, bags containing little metal pieces, and expired beef jerky.
Our adrenaline was starting to rise. We found something. We pulled up to a more secluded location with plenty of dumpsters overfilling with treasure. I was mostly excited about this location because one of the dumpsters belonged to a make-up store and I heard they throw out the best products.
I was not wrong. After a brief dig through empty, broken-down boxes, we found a box taped shut. Jackpot! Mascara, eye shadow pallets, lipsticks, all still in their original boxes! We found products worth big bucks just waiting to be thrown into a landfill. We dug through the box picking for our favorites. Our bounty was large just from this one dumpster.
As we looked through the bins, a car pulled up. I assumed it was driven by an employee at one of the stores. We were slightly nervous and didn’t want to cause conflict so we decided to leave.
The Facebook groups have posts warning about the privacy of dumpster diving. They prefer the store names not to be mentioned in case a manager or corporate boss decides to lock the dumpster or post ‘No Trespassing’ signs. We did not want to perpetuate this issue and moved on to the next stop.
We tried various office supply stores, video game shops, and more retail shops to no avail. I heard a rumor that trash pickup day was on Tuesdays, but I guess that rumor was false. Most of the dumpsters were empty!
As we were walking back to the car, I spotted something behind one of the dumpsters. It was two tall wooden chairs decorated with scratches and watermarks left by the rain. They seemed to need a few tightened screws, but would be perfect in someone’s house as bar stools.
This was not our only furniture find. One company had a large table broken to pieces in their dumpster along with other small office supplies. Next to that dumpster, we found a stool with “X” marks carved into the cushion.
For our last stop, we decided to go to the back of a grocery store. Other divers find most of their treasures at similar stores.
The first dumpster we came to was piled high with the most foul-smelling trash we had encountered that day. Bags were filled with what appeared to be rotten fruit and produce. That was not what I came here looking for.
There was a dumpster right behind it. We opened the bin and found exactly what sought: heaps of bread with the ‘Sell-By’ dated for that same day, bags of Italian baguettes, French bread, and sliced bread.
Rescuing quality food before it is sent to line the landfills is what being a Freegan is all about. They save not only money, but the environment. The members on the Facebook groups were right, dumpster diving is an adrenaline rush and addictive. I already have another dive planned. I am hopeful that with more experience will come more finds.
Although I was first hesitant to get in the dumpster, I am not remorseful. I’m hoping that my experience inspires other to get the dumpster and save the planet one tube of lip gloss at a time.