Daniel and Amanda’s Weblog

February 18, 2008

Why we dumpster dive and recycle, Part 3

In Part 2, I discussed the reasons why we recycle. This post will focus more on reasons why we dumpster dive. And this, my friends, is (I think) the last post in this whole series! My goal in writing this series has been mostly that of inward reflection…thinking out loud about our reasoning behind some of the things we do. In a few days, Amanda and I will be appearing on a well known national talk show to talk about our dumpster diving habit. I figured writing about the topic first would help me better articulate my thoughts on the subject.

We had/have some reservations about being public about it. 1) We’ve only been doing it a couple years now, where people have been dumpster diving ever since there were dumpsters to dive in, 2) We’re a long ways from where we want to be regarding our energy use, simplicity of living, and even waste production (we don’t even compost yet!) and 3) Most people wouldn’t necessarily welcome national media attention for digging through trash. But we later decided that we didn’t have to be representatives of the entire dumpster diving population, that imperfect people can make a positive difference, and that nationwide attention probably wouldn’t ruin my career. :) A platform to call for change. A once in a lifetime opportunity to speak some of our convictions to the world. It still seems weird how that something two ordinary people are doing can bring so much attention. I guess it’s because the act of dumpster diving, especially when the divers are both professional career persons, is anything but ordinary. Which brings us to one of the reasons we dumpster dive…

Dumpster Diving is a radical way to point out the overconsumption and careless waste in our country. (Radical enough to be noticed by national TV, I guess!) Hopefully not just to point out the flaw, but to educate and encourage the audience to change some of their own habits. We are not going on TV to convince people that they, too, should dumpster dive. But we do hope to ask everyone to come up with creative ways to decrease their own personal consumption and waste.

Remember when the desert fathers made their radical move away from the affluence of their day? Well, we’re not like them. :) But, in a very small way, it’s similar. They weren’t asking everyone to join them in the desert. Instead, they were making a radical statement against the church’s new marriage with the wealthy empire by taking vows of poverty and moving to abandoned areas. Amanda and I feel that our nation’s consumption and waste is out of control, and we feel so strongly about it that we will live in a way that speaks loudly against it. Like I illustrated in the story I wrote, our nation comprises around 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume around 30% of the world’s resources and produce 30% of the world’s trash. I mentioned in the last blog that one of my reasons will explain why recycling isn’t enough. This is it. Yes, we need to reduce our country’s waste production. But we are also consuming the same percentage that we’re wasting. The earth has a limited amount of resources, and we are using far too much. We may have been born privileged into a highly luxurious, technologically advanced way of life with every comfort imaginable. But that doesn’t give us the right to irresponsibly trash the planet. It’s simply unacceptable, and we all need to do our part to care for the earth.

Now, to be perfectly honest, we don’t think about all that every time we dumpster dive. It’s not like we’re sitting around discussing how our nation is over consuming and over wasting, then decide to hop in the car and go save the world by redeeming trash. But dumpster diving does help us keep consumption and waste in mind, and is a constant reminder to use the old instead of buying the new. It’s drastically reduced our desire to go to the store and buy something, and therefore has helped us in our desire for simplicity as well.

Now, for some more tangible reasons why we dumpster dive…

It saves money! Every item redeemed is a dollar saved (or $40, occasionally!). Just like with the money saved from living simply, this frees up more resources for good (giving, getting out of debt, work less / volunteer more, etc). Josh estimates that he only spends about $10 a week on food nowadays…the rest is obtained from dumpsters. We’re not quite that good at it, but we do save a lot every month. When we got married, we started our grocery budget at $200 a month. So far, we haven’t come anywhere close to that number, mostly because of redeemed food.

It’s an adventure! Amanda likes to relate it to a treasure hunt, because you never really know what you’ll find. I think it’s like a birthday, where the presents come wrapped up in a big dirty metal box. Either way, it’s fun, exciting, a little daring and thrilling, and often results in joyful celebration when there is much loot. On a side note, we do often discuss how that we should probably celebrate more when the dumpsters are empty! Our preference would be that dumpster diving isn’t possible since stores didn’t throw good things away. Instead, we’d rather they donated all good food to local food banks, and slightly damaged items, poor selling items, or overstock items to Goodwill (which we think Target does some, by the way). But, until that day happens, we can at least have fun when we score big. :)

It’s a cheap activity! Read what my former community member Ariah Fine said. “Some people like to go bowling, to concerts, out to eat, I like to dumpster. We all want entertainment, I’ve just struggled to spend $8 on an evening of leisure when so many in the world never think about leisure and entertainment as their stomach growls. So, I’ve endeavored to find things to enjoy that don’t include spending money (thus redeeming my dollars from wasteful self-pleasure), one of those things is dumpstering. And it’s been a lot of fun.”

It’s the only way we’ll ever obtain certain “luxury” items! The coffee pot, for instance. We don’t drink coffee, but my family does and I make coffee for some homeless folks when I volunteer at my office once a month. It would’ve been hard to justify a purchase of a new coffee pot over the borrowing of one every time I needed it. But it’s sure nice to have now that I found it in the trash (and replaced the cut cord)! The pepper grinder is neat, too, but we never could have justified spending $10 on it. It’s like going on a guiltless shopping spree…guiltless because your convictions about using money wisely are completely irrelevant when shopping in dumpsters!

So there are some reasons why we dumpster dive. We’re a little crazy, we know, but we’re OK with that. Who knows, maybe a few hundred of the 7.4 million who watch this show daily will be spurred to action. Maybe someone will decrease their spending habits and experience joy in their newfound respect for the earth. Maybe a corporate leader or grocery store manager will do what they can to donate everything possible to local homeless shelters. Maybe some will catch a brief glimpse of our happiness and realize it’s possible to be wonderfully free and content with less. And then, instead of pursuing the American Dream, maybe they will find happiness in doing small things with great love for God, their neighbors, and the rest of His beautiful creation.



  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tim Ramsey

    Comment by Tim Ramsey — February 18, 2008 @ 10:28 pm | Reply

  2. Wow!! Well said. May the “True Force” be with you and give you words of wisdom for the world to hear….and follow. You sound a lot like the prophets who told the people they would be severely judged because they had forgotton the poor and made a mockery of worshipping God because their lives did not show their honor to Him.

    Comment by Carol "Mama" Burt — February 20, 2008 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

  3. Hey,
    Thanks for commenting on my site. Its great to find like minded Christians.

    Great series on dumpster diving. I live outside of a college town now and every year the city sets up several large dumpsters at the end of the year. The students here take all of the crap they bought in the last year and just throw it all away, because they don’t want to take it home. Its absolutely disgusting. Its funny though because there are so many dumpster divers there just circling around waiting for all the good stuff there.

    My wife and I grocery shop at a local Amish store that other grocery stores donate their dented, bruised, and expired food to. Its not as cheap as $10 a week, but we can usually get a month’s worth of groceries there for about $100.

    Comment by Jason J — February 20, 2008 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  4. great post. you made some excellent points!

    Comment by jody — February 21, 2008 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  5. […] Why We Dumpster (From my ever lovable friends Daniel and Amanda) […]

    Pingback by Links: at Trying to follow — February 21, 2008 @ 9:03 am | Reply

  6. Hi! I loved seeing you guys on Oprah and was excited to learn that you live in Nashville as well (as I do). I am really just trying to learn more about living a simple life and found your story inspiring!

    I haven’t been into regular dumpster diving…but have been in the recycling dumpsters collecting all the coupons that people just pitch…it is saving me hundreds monthly. I do want to strive to reduce our waste though. Thanks for taking a leap of faith and telling your story!

    Blessings, Jenn

    Comment by Jennifer Cullimore — February 28, 2008 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  7. […] detailed account of the beliefs and values behind their “freegan” lifestyle. Daniel says that Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but they use 30% of the world’s […]

    Pingback by Meet the Burts: Unlikely Dumpster Divers : Sustainablog — March 6, 2008 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  8. B”H

    Hi Daniel and Amanda,

    I like these posts you’ve written on the topic of dumpster diving. They are so greatly needed. I think you have handled the issues and objections honestly and fairly.

    My wife and I are a middle-aged couple with kids nearly your age (17 & 21) and we have been d-diving on and off for more than 15 years. I was wondering if you are familiar with the book, The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving ? I think one can still find a decent copy of it for cheap on http://www.half.com ISBN-10: 1559500883 . There’s a wealth of good and practical info in there. Unfortunately, it not written by a believer and the spirit and motivation behind the practice are more often than not quite self serving. For a while my wife was talking about doing a similar version written from a posture of conservation and blessing. For now however, she is busy with other matters.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter and keep up the good work.

    Blessings in the name of the LORD,


    Comment by Shlomo — March 14, 2008 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  9. Daniel and Amanda,

    Interesting reading! Thanks for sharing. I just got into dumpster diving this year thanks to a homeless friend I made. He’s been showing me the ropes, and boy has it paid off in groceries. We get such an abundance (especially of produce) that I often take it to church and share it with others. We have a stand-alone, upright freezer and it is so stocked that I can’t fit any more into it. With the economy the way it is, I have felt led to start storing up stuff for us and others in case folks fall on hard times. It really is a shame how much waste there is. Sometimes things are thrown away just because the outside carton got damaged.

    God bless you both in your continued efforts!


    Comment by Lynette — March 22, 2008 @ 6:37 pm | Reply

  10. I am also a Christian dumpster diver; here is a question for you: do you tithe on what you find? We do tithe already on our gross income from work, and we give and donate a lot of new food that we buy since we save money from our own grocery budget from diving, but we wondered if the gleaners in the Bible were expected to tithe as well. What do you think?

    Comment by E — December 23, 2008 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

  11. […] detailed account of the beliefs and values behind their “freegan” lifestyle. Daniel says that Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but they use 30% of the world’s […]

    Pingback by Meet the Burts: Unlikely Dumpster Divers – Sustainablog — June 27, 2011 @ 12:31 pm | Reply

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