My first experience with dumpster* diving happened, as I like to imagine it does for most people: in college. I was out one spring night with friends at a bar in downtown Bellingham, WA. My hipster friend Maia and I went outside to get some fresh air. We were laughing and talking when suddenly we were hit with the delicious scent of freshly baked donuts coming from Rocket Donuts across the street. It was 2 a.m. so we knew they were closed but we talked about how good it smelled and how much we wanted some. Maia spun towards me suddenly and said “let’s dumpster dive! They definitely throw out day old donuts.”
*Little-known fact: ‘Dumpster’ is actually a trademarked word
It doesn’t take much convincing for me to try new stuff and add to that I was drunk, so we sprinted across the street and into the alleyway next to the shop. Maia pried the lid off a garbage can and ripped into a bag. I stood nearby swaying back and forth, not sure how to proceed. She clutched handfuls of napkins and coffee grinds and shook her head. “I’m not seeing anything good in here.” I peered over her shoulder.
“That’s so weird I would have imagined that there would be decent donuts in the garbage here.”
“Maybe the homeless people already got them?” Just when we rounded the corner out of the alley we ran into a guy our age.
“Are you guys here for the free donuts too?” he asked.
“We were trying to dumpster dive some donuts but there weren’t any back there,” Maia said. He started laughing. It turns out that this particular donut shop predicted the number of dumpster divers in the town of Bellingham, Washington. So Rocket arranged a deal: they would put all the donuts into tupperware containers and leave the front door unlocked after 11 p.m.
We had just been let in on a secret: free donut night.
Unfortunately Rocket doesn’t do this anymore. Word spread like wildfire that there were free donuts downtown Thursday nights. We would frequently run into other drunk college kids as we entered surreptitiously through the unlocked side-door. But this was my first foray into the sticky underworld of dumpster diving.
Dumpster diving is not anything new, but I recently became re-interested in this subject. I’ve been out of undergraduate college for two years now and I am beginning to miss all the earnest idealism. The people I knew in college who regularly dumpster dived (dove?) were the type of gung-ho environmentalists that are almost impossible to take seriously: they didn’t wear shoes, they smelled like patchouli, they inquired whether your frisbee was “regulation,” they never flushed the toilet, etc. I once had a neighbor roll a giant, bright blue, 50-gallon drum into our shared back yard and spray paint “Bitchin’ Compost” on the side. She began to fill this up with food scraps and garbage, not realizing that this would attract rats and raccoons. She moved away a couple months later, having done nothing with her oil drum of garbage (you call that environmentally friendly?).
I moved to downtown Seattle from the suburbs last fall and have yet to get over the insanely expensive grocery bills I rack up buying produce. This in addition to the fact that America throws out half of the food it produces makes one want to look for other solutions. I was always so jealous of the dumpster diver friends I knew. They’d come back from the bakery with armloads of perfectly normal baked goods. These foods were safely bagged and hadn’t made contact with other garbage so it was all safe to eat. A couple guys in particular dove (dived?) so regularly that they almost never needed to go grocery shopping. I’m notoriously cheap and this appeals to me.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I approve of dumpster diving and maybe I’ll try it again. Anyway, I encourage you to add it to your bucket list!