The other day, my friend texted me a picture of about 15 boxes of Krispy Kreme dozens in the back of her family van. Her caption was “Kyle (her teenage son) just dumpster dove behind Krispy Kreme with his friends. OMG.”
The Krazy Coupon Lady’s co-founder Joanie famously dumpster dove (in a paper-only recycling bin) in the past to get extra coupons from newspaper circulars. So after the donut text, I was curious whether dumpster diving was a thing. I headed to Reddit and social media to find out.
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1. Bath & Body Works dumpster divers have found candles and partly used items.
- Courtesy of SageJustus on Reddit
2. Krispy Kreme & Dunkin dump their donuts at the end of every day — and they’re (probably) still edible!
Okay, there are a couple of exceptions. Donut shops like Krispy Kreme tend to throw their donuts and other baked goods in the dumpster at the end of the day. The location near me throws them out near the end of every night shift as the store is closing, but things can vary from location to location.
Some places may have a dedicated bag or box for these delicious discards that you can look out for in the dumpster — if you’re okay with baked goods that were prepared early in the morning and, you know, getting in the dumpster. Other stores might just throw the baked goods in loose, and that’s something you should stay away from.
TIP: There are ways to get free Krispy Kreme donuts without dumpster diving, too.
3. Same goes for what people have found in a Dunkin Donuts dumpster.
- Courtesy of AHS9INSIDER on Reddit
Dunkin Donuts has pretty much the same M.O. as Krispy Kreme. One Redditor found a massive amount of seemingly uncontaminated donuts thrown away in special boxes within bags that didn’t contain any other trash.
Plenty of Reddit dumpster divers agree that Dunkin is one of the go-to places to find completely unspoiled donuts for free.
4. Ulta dumpster divers have found brand-new makeup, though some is intentionally damaged before being tossed out.
Ulta was a tip-top place to find brand-new, unused makeup for a really long time. But in recent months, managers at many locations have been damaging the products before they’re thrown away in an attempt to deter dumpster divers.
Again, policies change from store to store, so yours may not be one of them. But it’s a recent trend for Ulta in particular.
5. Bed Bath & Beyond dumpster drivers have found some high-end goods — including a spendy Keurig and Dyson AirWrap.
- Courtesy of Jzee87 on Reddit
While most regular dumpster divers say Bed Bath & Beyond is a nonstarter because of built-in trash compactors in their dumpsters, there are still some non-compactor locations. Although one Redditor said their Bed Bath & Beyond finds were inconsistent, they were able to find a boxed roaster tray, an unopened blanket, and a Keurig K-Cafe Smart coffee maker.
This Redditor also found a Dyson AirWrap with its cord cut — which could be repaired for far less than the store’s $600 price tag.
6. Walgreens dumpster divers have found lots of shelf-stable snacks and personal care items.
- Courtesy of River_Historical on Reddit
- Courtesy of ell522 on Reddit
On Redditor reported to fellow dumpster divers that they found two dozen bags of Nice! brand nuts, Vitamin Energy bottles, and packaged cookies in the Walgreens dumpster, and only two of the bags of nuts were expired.
Walgreens is one of the more popular places for dumpster diving (at least according to Reddit). Another diver claimed to have found $500 worth of vitamins, cold medicine (which never “goes bad”) and candy from the Wags dumpster. And yet another found a bunch of Keto products, Goli apple cider vinegar capsules, and Vital Proteins powder.
7. Michael’s dumpster divers have found mint-condition planners and crafting supplies.
- Courtesy of Wrenigade14 on Reddit
Even fragile paper products can be found intact in the Michael’s dumpster. One Redditor said they found about $200 worth of stuff, including a bunch of calendars/planners, a beading set, and candles in ceramic containers.
8. GameStop still throws away video games in their dumpsters.
- Courtesy of Rosen_Rosalina on Reddit
About 10 years ago, you could get a lot more from the GameStop dumpsters — if Reddit is to be believed — but people are still finding valuables there.
One Redditor found 13 Wii games in his GameStop dumpster in early 2023. Another diver reported finding more than 100 games for multiple platforms, which they turned around and sold for a quick $26 on Facebook Marketplace.
9. T.J.Maxx & Marshalls dumps clothing and home goods, and dumpster divers have found them.
- Home goods
- Single shoes
If you find single shoes that still look brand-new, you can donate your finds to organizations like National Odd Shoe Exchange that help amputees.
10. Dollar General stores are treasure troves of packaged snacks and household products.
- Courtesy of Nebula_Nub on Reddit
Some of the most popular places to dumpster dive are the dollar stores. In April 2023, Redditor “lebe4885” shared a massive haul from the Dollar General dumpster, including dozens of packages of cookies (including Oreo and Keebler Chips Deluxe), 6 dozen eggs, and 70 Twinkies.
Another Dollar General dumpster diver posted a pic of a huge pile of stuff they salvaged, including Quaker Chewy Bars, Pirate Booty, Goldfish crackers, and Terra Chips. (They also had Fabuloso cleaner, but should probably check to make sure it’s not part of the Fabuloso recall.)
11. And divers have found gobs of seeds at Dollar Tree.
Redditor “TheChewyTurtle” also shared that they’ve found gobs of seed packets in Dollar Tree dumpsters at the end of spring.
After any holiday — whether it’s Christmas or Valentine’s Day — there’s going to be some decor and other festive items in the Dollar Tree dumpster. If the store can’t liquidate them, they’re going to throw them out … the best kind of post-holiday sales.
12. People have found lots of usable paper products in Staples dumpsters.
- Courtesy of mschreiber1 on Reddit
In April 2023, a dumpster diver shared to Reddit that they found a massive amount of products in their Staples store’s rubbish, including Post-it Notes, notebooks, batteries, register tape, headphones, a stapler, a bag (with a slashed handle), and even a working Etch-a-Sketch. Other Redditors agreed that this wasn’t a fluke; office stores are treasure troves of usable goods.
13. Office Depot dumpsters may also full of perfectly fine paper goods.
Office Depot dumpster divers have found similar treasures in that store’s garbage.
14. Petco dumpster divers have found live feeder insects and unopened pet products.
- Courtesy of TheChewyTurtle on Reddit
Petco dumpster divers have found something that’s a little eerie — live animals. Redditor TheChewyTurtle reported finding live Dubai roaches, mealworms, and crickets in the Petco dumpsters — perfectly good food for snakes, lizards, and birds.
The same shopper also found dog food, pet conditioner, and a dog harness.
15. Big Lots dumpster divers have found snacks, pillows, and everything in between.
- Courtesy of JunebugB23 on Reddit
One dumpster diver reported finding a massive haul of snack foods, including Kettle Chips, Snickers, On the Border tortilla chips, and Cheetos Mac & Cheese. This Redditor said they often find food at Big Lots because most people don’t shop for food at that store, so it ends up getting thrown away.
- Courtesy of River_Historical on Reddit
Another diver found a bunch of never-used pillows outside the Big Lots dumpster (but was struggling with how to properly sanitize said pillows).
Note: Why are good pillows at the dumpster instead of at a charity? Businesses are allowed to get rid of products that they can no longer sell or that are damaged, and they can receive some kind of compensation for them, such as a tax deduction.
16. Aldi dumpster divers have found wine, loads of snacks, toilet paper, and more.
- Courtesy of reigninthepain on Reddit
Aldi dumpster divers have found a bunch of different non-perishable items intact, including cheese puffs, knockoff Nutty Bars, still-packaged rolls of toilet paper, and even 10 intact bottles of low-carb wine. It’s a favorite among dumpster divers who have the store in their area.
Some extra tips if you wanna get in on the action:
I have respect for people that are dumpster diving in a safe and legal way. Some are trying to find a way to make ends meet. Others donate the items they find to those in need. Some people redistribute these items as an exercise of eco-consciousness, to do their part to cut down on rampant food waste.
And still others take the stuff they find, turn around and resell it, transforming dumpster diving into a side hustle. (But is it legal to resell stockpile items?)
Dumpster dive college dorms for textbooks at the end of the semester.
Dave Sheffeild of Love in the Dumpster started dumpster diving in college to help make ends meet. He found his biggest haul ever by checking the dumpsters outside the dorms at the end of the semester. There were $1,500 worth of textbooks in there! He filled up his truck and flipped them, making his broke college days a little less broke.
TIP: If you don’t want to dumpster dive, here are 33 other ways to get free textbooks.
Secure massive hauls at business parks.
Another great place to look for massive dumpster dive hauls? Business parks — particularly business parks that include warehouses.
“When they decide a product isn’t going to work for them, it can be like three pallets that they’re going to throw out,” Dave says.
Hunt for raw materials at industrial retail parks.
If you’re dumpster diving as a side hustle, you might want to target industrial retail parks even above warehouse parks. That’s because the raw materials they throw away — whether that be sheet metal, granite, or anything else — can often be flipped for a hearty profit fairly easily.
Just keep in mind that these places are more likely to have their own recycling-for-profit programs, so you’ll want to check before you take anything out of their dumpsters in particular.
Is dumpster diving illegal?
It really depends. There’s a lot of nuance. For example, when garbage is put out to the curb, legal precedent says it’s fair game. It’s now in a public space and is therefore public domain. So if you’re into curb picking, that’s not illegal.
But the vast majority of dumpsters are kept on private property. In these instances, going through the trash could be considered illegal trespassing under the right circumstances. Your local laws will determine whether or not it’s completely illegal. But if they don’t, the person who owns the property gets to decide if you’re in trouble.
A lot of businesses rent real estate, so the policy will likely be set by the mall or strip mall property owners. The first time you get caught, you might just get a verbal warning. But if it’s a repeat problem, the property owners or the store manager may decide to prosecute you, which could result in fines.
There are some big red flags when it comes to potential trespassing. You should never ever dumpster dive if the business has:
- A no trespassing sign posted on or near the dumpsters.
- Any other signage that indicates dumpster diving is not allowed.
- A lock on the dumpster.
Should I ask permission or beg forgiveness for dumpster diving?
I asked an expert — Dave Sheffeild of Love in the Dumpster, who has been dumpster diving for over 15 years and created a business out of flipping the stuff he finds — about asking permission for dumpster diving. He said that asking permission is not necessary for most businesses, with one notable exception.
“If you’re diving in dumpsters that are dedicated to scrap metal or other specific industrial materials, you should ask permission,” he said. “The business may have a revenue stream set up for recycling these products themselves, and might not want you taking them as you’d eat into their profits.”
For other businesses, begging forgiveness might work just fine and can even turn the encounter into a positive one. Dave shares his approach: “When they start yelling at you, I’ll say something like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. You guys throw out some really great stuff so I’m just grabbing it.’ Now you’re having a conversation.” In the past, he says, these conversations have even led to store employees letting him know about more merchandise he could take that was still inside.
However, Dave is clear that whether you issue apologies or not, if asked to leave, you should leave immediately without debating it. “Don’t try to negotiate. It’s not worth it.”
Related: Start a side hustle flipping free stuff.
Be prepared for run-ins with law enforcement — especially at night.
Dave recommends limiting dumpster diving activities to daylight hours to avoid potential run-ins with law enforcement. He says most encounters with law enforcement happen at night when police officers may mistake divers for intruders or a concerned citizen may report suspicious activity.
While the vast majority of police officers don’t care, some may try to charge divers with trespassing. “Usually, they’ll either tell you to carry on or ask you to leave immediately with no consequence,” he said. “But some officers may try to pin you for trespassing.” (A charge you could fight with a lawyer, but no one wants to go through all that drama.) However, he also acknowledges that there is a considerable lack of diversity in the dumpster diving community, and some people may face greater risks.
“I do get comments on my videos along the lines of, ‘I couldn’t do that because I’m Black,’ or ‘Yeah, easy to do that when you’re white,'” says Dave. “And they’re probably right.”
TIP: While most content creators in this space are white, you can find content from people of color, too. Dave recommends following creators like Dumpster Godiva.
Wear thick gloves, good shoes, and other protective gear while dumpster diving.
Okay, so now you know you’re operating in a legally grey area. If you choose to go ahead anyways and your local laws allow for it, you’ll want to take some extra measures to make sure you’re safe when you’re jumping into dumpsters full of who knows what.
Before you head out, load up on some gear like:
- Thick gloves
- Thick jeans
- Sturdy shoes to prevent slips
- First aid kit (just in case you get a scrape)
There’s also a chance you could get nicked by some metal while you’re in a dumpster, so before you go, make sure you have a plan for getting a tetanus shot immediately after any cuts — if you’re not already up to date, that is.
Allot your time and build a dumpster diving ‘territory.’
When you’re watching dumpster diving videos online, it can give you the impression that these people are out there finding treasure every time they take the lid off a trash container. But it’s not that simple.
“What they don’t show you is the 15 dumpsters they looked in before that were empty,” Dave says. “They’ve spent half an hour or an hour searching for the cool thing in their feed.”
You can cut down on your search time by building a territory in your area. Here are the steps to get really efficient:
- Choose a set area where you live, with maybe 40 or 50 dumpsters in the area. (Some strip malls can have 6 – 10 dumpsters in a single location, so it won’t have to be as large of an area as you may think.)
- Consistently check those dumpsters once a week for a couple of months.
- Record which dumpsters have good finds, when those dumpsters tend to get the best stuff, and which ones are always empty or always full of just pure trash.
- Of the 40 – 50 dumpsters you check during those first couple months, you should be able to identify five to seven that are consistently gold mines. From there on out, you can limit your search to these five to seven dumpsters … assuming the business owners don’t mind.
Dave uses this method and is now familiar enough with the territory that he can fill his pickup truck full of stuff every time he goes out.
Keep an eye out for dump trucks.
There are a few horror stories out there about people who were dumpster diving on garbage day, and the dump truck picked them up while they were inside. This can be super dangerous, as there’s a trash compactor in these trucks. Trash compactors can seriously injure you.
So if you do choose to dumpster dive, always be alert. And if you can, try to figure out when garbage day is so you can better prepare your dives.
Skip dumpster diving at the big-box retailers like Walmart and Target.
Another place where you’ll commonly see trash compactors built in to the dumpsters are at the largest big-box retailers, like Walmart or Target. While the individual dumpster type may change from store to store, Dave recommends checking out “second-tier” retailers like T.J.Maxx or Kohl’s instead, as they don’t have built-in trash compactors as often.
If a dumpster has a trash compactor built in, you should never get inside, regardless of the store name.
Tip: Hey, if you’re looking to get freebies from Walmart, you’re not totally out of luck!
Grocery stores are probably following local laws — not purposefully wasting food.
You want to be careful when dumpster diving for food. If you choose to do it, check the food expiration dates, and never take a frozen or refrigerated item that has thawed out. Of all the food you might pull out of a dumpster, packaged items tend to be the safest, relatively speaking.
When you see how much food is getting thrown out at grocery stores, it’s easy to become enraged. How can they throw out perfectly good food when there are so many people hungry in our communities?
Well, the answer is it’s not that simple. When you donate to a food bank or local charity, there are often strict rules surrounding expiration dates. For example, if the best-by date is tomorrow, the grocery store isn’t allowed to donate it. These rules may be set by the charity or may be covered by local law.
Keep an eye out for recalled items in the dumpster.
Another thing you’ll want to watch out for — whether you’re dumpster diving at a grocery store or anywhere else — is that items sometimes end up in the dumpster because they’ve been recalled. Before using an item, be sure to check the list of food recalls for any potential issues with it. Obviously don’t use or eat anything that’s been recalled.
You don’t want to dumpster dive at restaurants.
If you’re going to dumpster dive for food, definitely don’t do it at restaurants. They’re not going to be throwing away raw ingredients. You’re just going to find other people’s leftovers, plus a lot of restaurant dumpsters have nasty grease traps.
“There’s gonna be nothing good at the Outback Steakhouse dumpster,” says Dave.
There are safer, better ways to find food deals near you.