Tag Archives: dumpster diving

Dumpster Diving Part Two

Dumpster Chair

Dear Reader:

As promised, here is my one and only literal dumpster find–my office chair.

I’ve done a quick bit of research regarding the price of a new wood + cushion armchair (okay, I looked at three websites) and found THIS example. Regularly priced at a little over $400, it is on sale for $309.80. My wood + cushion office armchair cost me much less, however–nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I picked it up outside a dumpster eight years ago, a cast-off from some apartment in the married-housing development at the University of Maine at Orono. Its 1970’s gold and rust-colored crocheted cushions caught my eye, and when I walked over to investigate (seeing if the arms wobbled, the legs fell off, etc.) I was delighted by the chair’s sturdiness. Yes, the cushions were butt-ugly, but I could easily re-cover them. I really, really liked the shape of the thing, and it was being thrown away. Could I possibly take something from the trash? Yup. Looking furtively around me, I dragged the chair across the street to our apartment and tucked it inside. It was my first (and, okay, last) dumpster dive.

I never did re-cover the cushions. Instead, I’ve thrown a blanket over the top and stuck the chair in the corner of my office where it is the perfect, and I mean perfect, chair for reading. Why? Flat arms. I can set my coffee cup close at hand while slouching against the cushioned back. The chair is low enough that my shortish legs bend at just the right angle. The seat is wide enough that if I want to curl my legs beneath me or sit cross-legged, I can do so with ease.

Snagging this chair saved me three to four-hundred dollars, and I reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill at the same time. Brilliant!

Apparently, I am part of of a trend called Freeganism. The term is derived from “veganism,” the type of vegetarian eating that nixes all animal products from the diet. The New York Times published an article about the trend in 2007, interviewing various Freegans, including a former communication director for Barnes & Noble who gave up her corporate job, bought a one-room apartment, and began foraging for a living. Click HERE for the article.

Although Freeganism seems to have begun as a DIETARY lifestyle (dumpster diving at restaurants, bakeries, etc. for free food), it seems to have morphed into broader lifestyle philosophy–one branch of the anti-consumerist tree. While I have my doubts that I would ever, except in the most extreme necessity, dig in the trash for food, I have no qualms about using someone’s cast-off non-food items. The money I save on a chair produced in China, for instance, can be spent on a locally-produced item instead.

Not only that, I’ve patriotically reduced the embarrassing amount of trash generated by Americans every year.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Between 1960 and 2008 the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. Click HERE to read the entire article.

The way I see it, the best way to prevent waste in the first place is to stop buying so much! The less you buy, the less you have to throw out. Simple. And if you need something, why not use something someone else has thrown away? Not only are you reducing the cost of raw materials, packaging, and shipping of a new product, you are keeping waste out of the dump, the landfill, and the ocean.

Think garbage doesn’t end up in the ocean, or if it does, it simply biodegrades and disappears? Think again. There are at least two “islands” of broken-down plastic floating in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. These tiny bits of plastic ride in on currents and get caught in a sort of vortex, accumulating into a giant “garbage patch.” Read THIS article from the National Geographic Magazine to learn more. Recycling our plastics–better yet, refraining from buying it in the first place–would at least help prevent the patches from growing and spreading and further messing up the ecosystem of our oceans.

First Edition!

So, what if you just can’t bring yourself to use used stuff? Do not fear. You can still take part in the Freegan phenomenon–as a contributor. Instead of throwing your old chair away, take it to your local Goodwill store or another local charity. Inquire at your local dump to see if there is a swap area . . . and if not, start one! Check out the Freecycle organization.

Donate used items to second-hand stores. Mom’s groups, churches, and other community organizations often host Swap Parties. Participate in a community or charity yard sale. Now that spring has finally arrived, it may be time to clean out the basement and the closets. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your used items could find new homes and new uses rather than add to the average American waste statistic.

This weekend I checked out the local Swap Shack and was amazed to see how empty it was. Apparently, I’m not the only one who likes free stuff. Ironically, on the rather bare bookshelves, I came across two textbooks: THE ECONOMIC WAY OF THINKING and MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING. Now I can learn all about economics while practicing economical, sustainable, local living. Thank you, to whoever brought them in! When I’m finished, I’ll bring them back in so someone else can read them.

I WON’T, however, be bringing back the Anne Rice book pictured above. It’s a hardcover first edition by an author I adore. It will reside safely on my bookshelves . . . just above my dumpster chair and the Swap Shack reading lamp.

Ah, life is good.

Dumpster Diving Part One

This episode fueled by Green Mountain Southern Pecan coffee.

Dear Reader:

I love coffee. I love the smell of it brewing first thing in the morning. I love the steam caressing my face when I lift the cup to my lips for that first, oh-so-delicious sip. I like my coffee bold, dark, intense. I enjoy the way the caffeine zips along my nerves, waking up my sluggish brain. I’ve cut pictures from magazines that feature people drinking coffee. It’s my one true addiction. Giving it up makes me cranky. Once I did give it up when I was following a macrobiotic diet, but I substituted a “grain” coffee instead. I managed to survive, but I felt deprived. A trip to Hawaii and access to that state’s incredible Kona ended my seven-months’ cafe-deprivation period, and I have no regrets. Coffee is one of my greatest pleasures, my strongest of comfort foods, a most dependable beverage because no matter where you go, no matter how bleak and terrible the location, you can usually find a cup of java.

Coffee is egalitarian. Run-down diners on the edges of small towns serve coffee and so do fine restaurants. Elisabeth Ogilvie in her Bennett’s Island books about fishermen and their families is forever referencing the “mug up” of coffee. (If you want a shot of pure Maine literature this summer, I highly recommend Ms. Ogilvie. Click HERE to read a little bit about this author.) Coffee tastes good served in thick, heavy mugs and in thin, delicate bone china. It even tastes good in paper cups, as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are well aware. Coffee complements both sedentary and active pursuits–reading, talking, driving. I wouldn’t recommend it while playing tennis or soccer, but celebrating after the game with a large cup? Sure! My family usually heads over to a Dunkin Donuts after the Maine Class A Boys Basketball Tourneys, for example. It is comfort in defeat and celebration in victory, with or without sugar and cream.

So what does all this have to do with Dumpter Diving? Well, yesterday morning I filled my coffee filter with some Green Mountain Southern Pecan, poured in the water to the six cup mark, and pressed the ignition button. The cheery red light came on, the pot began to gurgle and croak and sigh the way it always does, and I went over to the computer to check my emails while the lovely smell of fresh-brewed filled the air . . . except it didn’t.

Investigating the cause of such a wacky turn of events, I discovered that while the unit was ON, it certainly wasn’t working. The machine had, as all coffee makers eventually do, died.

Now, it wasn’t the end of my world because I tend to be rather inventive around the house. I’m pretty good thinking outside the box. The coffee filter was still full of fresh grounds. The glass pot was still intact. All that was needed was a manual application of boiling water. I could do that myself. I grabbed the tea kettle and set the water to boiling, poured the water over the grounds a little at a time, stuck the coffee pot beneath the filter cup, and voila! Not-so-instant coffee!

I couldn’t be too upset by the breakdown of my coffeemaker because, you see, I didn’t pay a penny for the thing. I know what you are thinking, but no, I did not dive headfirst into my neighbor’s trashcan for their old, discarded unit. I did the next best thing, however. I went to the dump.

The call it a transfer station now, but basically our town has a nice little dump where you can sort your recyclables, discard your old tires and furniture, throw your brush onto the community pile to be burned at a later date, and stow your meager bag of excess garbage in the “household trash” bin where I believe it is picked up and taken somewhere for energy-production or possibly a landfill. An attendant greets you from a cute little gardeny-looking cottage as you drive in and directs you to the proper areas. (I’ve noticed a big pile of wood mulch, too. I need to ask if that is free for the taking.) These are all wonderful components for a dump, of course, but the best part by far is the Swap Shack.

The Swap Shack is where you bring stuff that you no longer need/want that someone else may find useful or fun. I like to go in there and poke around. There is usually a halfway decent selection of used paperbacks. I’ve picked up drinking glasses and baskets and a couple of VCR movies. One day, on the back shelves with the old Crock Pots and frying pans, I saw this coffeemaker. My old one was pretty much done, its heating element dying like a red giant star growing cooler and less effective every day. I signed the book at the front of the Shack indicating what I’d taken, and brought the white, Black & Decker twelve-cup capacity coffeemaker home. If it worked, great. If not, I’d just return it. No problem.

And it wasn’t a problem because it worked fine. I’ve had it for a couple of years (my husband says one year, but I’m pretty sure it’s been at least two), and it has been dependable and hardworking. There was one idiosyncrasy–if I failed to push the filter holder cup thingy all the way down, the pot cover wasn’t able to reach the lever that opened the bottom of the cup allowing the coffee to drip down into the pot. This resulted in a bit of a mess a couple of times as the water entered the filter cup and had nowhere to go but over the top, spreading coffee and grounds everywhere. Once I figured out what was going on, I simply took care to make sure everything was lined up and tucked in nice and tight. That Black & Decker worked liked a charm–and it was free.

The Swap Shack isn’t all take and no give. I’ve donated outgrown Halloween costumes, paperbacks, toys, and even a couple pots and pans over the years. It’s a means of exchange among neighbors, and it saves us time and money. It fulfills the “reuse” portion of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The less stuff that goes into the landfills, the better. Plus, it’s fun. You never know what treasure you’ll dig up in there.

Take this table, for example. There is not a thing wrong with it except the handle needs tightening. It tends to spin around like a mad whirligig if I hit is just right. It caught my eye at the Swap Shack because it looked as if it perfectly matched my computer desk. I thought the little table could go in my upstairs office with the desk, but it ended up at the end of my upstairs hallway near the clothes hamper, instead. Inside I’ve placed a bunch of Harlequin Superromance novels I won in a writing contest. The short shelves inside are the perfect height for the little books. It could be used to store stationery supplies, cd’s, dvd’s, maybe even jars of jam. Decorating philosophy #1: You can’t have too many small tables. Decorating philosophy #2: You can’t have too many bookshelves. This cute thing fulfills both at the same time. Lovely!

According to some, every woman, especially every woman writer, needs a room of her own. I have a tiny office upstairs where I store my books, my photo albums, my writing files, and other inspiring items. (Ironically, I do the bulk of my writing downstairs on the laptop these days . . . it’s closer to where the coffee lives.) Without quite meaning too, I’ve pretty much furnished my office with free stuff. The reading lamp beside the bookcase was another Swap Shack find. It works perfectly well, and I like the brass finish. Someday I’ll replace the lampshade. Maybe. Although I have good interior design intentions, I’m not very ambitious with the follow-through when it comes to refinishing my finds.

Take this file cabinet, for instance.

I dragged this home from the dump last summer. My plan was to buy some bright pink spray paint and make it pretty. Well, here it is, still gray and sitting beside my computer desk. This find was a bit disappointing as the top drawer likes to slip off the little plastic wheels and drop down in one corner if I try to open it too fast. However, I don’t need to get into the top drawer all that often, and when I do, I simply remember to apply a little upward pressure when I slide it out toward me.

I understand that there is an element of the ridiculous in all this. We are a family with two college-educated people, one of whom has a very decent job. What am I doing “shopping” at the dump?

I could go on about the recycling aspect, the staying out of the box stores aspect, even the saving money aspect, but I suspect that to get closer to the truth I’d have to say I simply like the idea of getting something for nothing. I don’t think this makes me a terrible person. After all, I give many hours of my time away in volunteer activities, doing for nothing. Perhaps on some level I consider getting something for nothing is a just reward. Mostly, though, I think I love the idea of cutting out the middle man, the money, the means of exchange. This way there is just plain exchange. This works for used items, and it also works for new goods as well as services when people engage in a barter system. Economics in this century is complex, convoluted, and dare I say twisted? Bartering and trading cut to the chase. I give you something in exchange for something. It’s the oldest kind of trade there is. What could be simpler?

In recent years, perhaps due to the economic downturn (recession? depression?) I’ve noticed that people are turning to barter, swapping, and trading. One local business,Nurturing Tranquility Salon & Spa , holds regular Swap Parties for clients. A local “Mothers” group organized a clothing swap in the clubhouse of our neighborhood association. An artist friend of mine, Sandra Waugh, swaps artist trading cards (ATC’s) with other artists around the country and the world. (Check out her art at http://waughtercolors.deviantart.com/gallery/)

None of what I’ve described so far fits the literal definition of Dumpster Diving. So far. But I do have in my possession at least one piece of furniture rescued from an actual dumpster. Stay tuned later this week for Dumpster Diving Part Two . . . Outside the Box.