Professor Trish Ivey
05 February 2015
“Dumpster Diving”: A Poor Man’s Sport
Lars Eighner (b. 1948) – a freelance writer and writing coach – dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin only after his third year and took a job at a state mental hospital. In 1988, a policy dispute forced Eighner to leave his job, which eventually led him to a life of homelessness. He was able to use his experiences as a positive and write about “Dumpster Diving” from his own perspective. Eighner shares his opinions and suggestions in his article in a way that almost makes “Dumpster Diving” seem appealing.
Although there are many suggestions and ideas of what some would use to define dumpster diving, Eighner defines it as scavenging or scrounging. He considers himself a scavenger, as he only collects the items he anticipates needing. Scavengers (also known as foragers) set aside surplus items such as the following: clothing and blankets, can foods and liquids, and other items that would be needed for survival; however, a scrounger will pass these up in search of goods that may be of monetary value despite the fact that they may have no shoes for their feet, no food to eat, or warm clothing. A good example of these types of scroungers would be a can scrounger.
Can scroungers overlook change, can foods, and other items of value looking for cans to exchange for small amounts of cash. This cash is typically used to purchase spirits and sometimes drugs. While searching for cans, scroungers mix the contents of the dumpster causing the items that a scavenger considers valuable to become unusable or lost. Scavengers take what they need and in most cases will leave what can be used but not needed by themselves so that the items are in plain view for others. Scavengers are a little more courteous of each other unlike scroungers. Can scroungers are a nuisance to scavengers, and with good reason are hated by Eighner and other rummagers like himself.
Becoming homeless and having to forage for survival is not a choice that some get to make. Unfortunately this is becoming more common, and those that are faced with this challenge learn to adapt as Eighner describes in his article. He states “at first the new scavenger is filled with disgust and self-loathing.” They feel shame and tend to lurk as to not be seen. Their minds cannot erase or overlook the fact that they are eating garbage. With more experience this stage tends to pass as the scavenger begins finding perfectly good items that have been discarded; in fact, the scavenger will become less shy.
Once this stage is reached a rummager becomes more open-minded and often begins collecting items of which is of no use to him. Items that may not be in perfect condition may be kept with the idea of them being repaired. A scavenger can see value and potential of discarded trash and often become addicted to collecting useless, unnecessary items. At this stage they could become lost and unable to control themselves. This is when a diver must maintain self-control and restrict themselves to the things that are of immediate use.
Many items of great value can be found while diving, especially food that has been disposed of that may be perfectly safe to eat. Scavengers must be cautious of certain foods. (Not all non-perishable foods are safe.) Canned foods are a more collective food found inside a dumpster and are considered the safest amongst most foods. Although it’s not very common, botulism is possible. This occurs in canned foods not having a slight vacuum seal, or not sucking air when first punctured. Cans that are dented, rusted and spew at opening are suggested to also be avoided. Other foods Eighner recommends to avoid are leafy fruits and vegetables as they could be contaminated by liquids. The ability to properly wash them is not readily available. Carbonated drinks should be tested for freshness by the fizz once the liquid is opened, whereas many juices are too