Buried Treasure This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     “You will remember this night forever,” he told me. My friend was taking me dumpster diving for the first time. We both needed costumes for a party so he decided to show me around a few of the city’s finest waste baskets. After finding costume materials in the thrift store dumpsters, we stopped at a grocery store, where we found a dumpster half filled with potatoes and bread. We gathered bags of potatoes to share with friends and to use for cooking with Food Not Bombs (a group that shares free vegetarian food and protests war and poverty). I was later told that using the dumpsters is how one gets true “urban pirate cred.” I was delighted - how could I possibly be more honored than to be titled an urban pirate?

My first dumpster dive opened new doors for me. I had struggled with spending money, and now I think it will prove difficult to buy anything after seeing what people throw away. Something about all those wasted resources is not right. It seems we are constantly buying more and more and throwing away perfectly usable items, while many cannot meet their basic needs.

Now I use a small portion of these discarded items, and in this way do my part to help reduce waste and over consumption.

Even thrift stores throw away many clothes, books, toys, tools, dishes, and furniture because they don’t have room. Supply stores and retailers toss out returned products with minor imperfections. Grocery stores get rid of food as soon as it reaches the expiration date to make room for new products and to avoid dealing with overripe produce. Much of this “waste” is entirely safe and many would be glad to have it.

People dumpster dive for many reasons. Some have no other way to get what they need. Others do it as a way to slow consumption or reduce the negative environmental impact of dumping trash and wasting resources. Then there are those who just can’t stand to see so much thrown away. Some people look for materials for artwork, building projects, or fixing cars, bikes and furniture. There are also some who rummage to find metals for recycling. I’m attracted to the activity by a combination of these.

Much of the waste we produce is unnecessary and could be prevented by reduced consumption. When we buy products to make our lives more comfortable, fashionable or glamorous, we often don’t realize its impact on other people, animals, and the environment. Of course, the next best thing to reducing consumption - better even than recycling - is reusing products, and dumpstering is a good way to do this.

People who have never done their shopping in a dumpster believe it is dirty, dangerous, and humiliating. In reality, a diver with an old pair of jeans, a flashlight and a little common sense (wear boots and gloves to guard against glass, needles and other sharp objects) should not have any trouble staying safe and can feel good about being a resourceful and responsible consumer. Clothing or office supply dumpsters aren’t as messy as food dumpsters, and a person who does get a little dirty can easily get clean with soap and water. Dumpstering is a good way to save money, labor, and resources and lessen our environmental impact. We get the items we need without using more raw resources, and we save a few things from landfills.

When my friend gave me that dumpster tour, he also gave me a sense of empowerment and a new perspective on garbage. Everyone throws things away, and therefore almost anything can be found there. I knew that we had a wasteful society, but now I can do something about it. By living simply and taking what little I need from others’ unwanted goods, I am able to begin to break the habits of wastefulness. The influence of that first urban pirate adventure on my attitude and perspective created a continuing impact on my life.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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