Mongo, Freegan and Dumpster Dive: Continuing The Life Cycle of “Junk”

Fellow sustainablogger Robin Shreeves recently wrote a great and helpful post — Your Trash Just Doesn’t Disappear, Stupid! (Or How To Make Sure Useful Things Stay Out of Landfills) — that touches on a bit of a phenomenon that piques my interest: mongoing, freeganism, dumpster diving.

The term “dumpster diving” probably conjures certain derogatory images: “bums,” lowlife dregs of society sifting through mostly rotten morsels of discarded food for sustenance.

Pushing aside such an unfortunate view of human beings living, hopefully only temporarily, in such unfortunate circumstances, let’s look at what dumpster diving has become: environmentally friendly, if not downright urban chic.

Now, not to contradict Robin’s post that points out that stuff doesn’t just disappear; I wholeheartedly agree with her premise. But in my city, St. Louis, and I think in a number of others across the country, there is the possibility of that magical kick-it-to-the-curb and *poof,* it’s gone in the next day (or two or three), if what has been put out is re-useful.

In my neighborhood…

Have a television that isn’t quite dead, but isn’t of need in your household? Go set it in the alley by the dumpster. Have some extra bookshelves? Put them by the dumpster. A broken, but fixable chair? Dumpster.

Before long, either a neighbor who likes to fix chairs or TVs will snag them up, or an early 1980s pickup truck overloaded with salvageable items and resourceful, if down-on-their-luck men, will rumble down the alley looking for goods to sell for scrap or to repair.

Ted Botha wrote a book called Mongo: Adventures in Trash about this way of living in New York City. Jeff Ferrell wrote Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking and Street Scavenging. John Hoffman wrote Art & Science of Dumpster Diving.

Freegans go for this strategy as a means of lifestyle that embraces sustainability and social consciousness, free of mainstream economics.

I have latched onto the occasional item I find by the dumpster in the alley behind my house for art projects or household utility. (I also acquire firewood the same way, by scavenging fallen limbs neighbors have cleared from their yards and put in the alley.) It’s a sort of neighborhood block swap meet with no official hours or structure.

But stocking the for-mongo shelves is only one option. As Robin suggested, Craigslist, Freecycle, Salvation Army, etc. are always good avenues. I try to be somewhat discerning in what I put out by the dumpster.

My rule of thumb has been to watch the stuff I put out there, and if it’s not been taken within a few days, then I need to reclaim it to dispose of it via other means. I’ve never had to reclaim anything.

And so the cycle of stuff-life continues.

Photo: hikikomorix, via Flickr (Attribution License)

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  • Elisabeth

    I am from the St.Louis area too and I totally agree with the mentality that some have around here about what they toss out. It sickens me so much! I have been looking online for a dumpster diving group that meets in St.Louis but have had no luck. Any advice? I really want to try it but I don’t want to do it alone.

  • hi elisabeth. thanks for your comment.

    unfortunately, i don’t know of any organized groups on the prowl to salvage goods — yet.

    doing a google search, i found a number of people who are members of and seem to identify with the ideas of frugal living, community salvage and dumpster diving (those are the tag phrases they’ve selected on the site).

    they haven’t formed an official group for those interests, yet; they just have identified that they would like to.

    maybe all they need is for one person to step forward as the leader?

    or maybe you can reach out to one person from that list and see if you can try it as a pair — and then go from there.

  • Urban_Forager2009


    St. Louis has a group of people that are starting to lean the way of forming a group. So Far we have 3 members (myself included) But we are looking for more. I would like to get a group of at least 10 people who are interested before we plan an excursion into the wilds of St. Louis. The Groups name is Enviro-Mentals (a play on words but appropriate) Freeganism, Gleaning and Urban Foraging are just a few of the things that I would like to promote. You can find the Group at Come check us out.

  • Paul

    I would definitely be into that. I am not going to join a yahoo group, but please include me in any email list for activities, meetings, idea, etc. It’s, and I live in the city near the loop. I’m kinda new to foraging and dumpstering and such business, but I’m down. Thanks a ton!

  • J

    Hi, I am from St. Louis and would love to be included on a dumpster diving group. I just viewed Lisa Ling’s report on Oprah, and think that dumpster diving would help the planet and myself so much.
    Please let me know when and where.

  • Beth

    I also saw Oprah and would like to hook up with a group in St Louis County to dumpster dive or get tips on how and where to go.
    Let me know where and when

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  • Kati

    Hello, I have been searching for a dumpster diving group as well because apparently I’m the only one of my friends that thinks this is a great idea! If anyone happens to read this and has a group formed or is just interested in dumpster diving please email me at with dumpster diving, freegan or something of that nature in the title I would definitely be interested! (The yahoo group is no longer together 🙁 )

    • Kendal

      Hi – I’ve been looking for a group like this since we moved to ST L…. have you found one (since that yahoo group disbanded)?

  • Lucia

    Hey, I’ve made a short video on dumpster diving recently that I thought you might like and share. It’s for a competition and every view gives me a vote, so I’d really appreciate it if you found the time to watch it!

    • Thanks for the heads up on this competition, Lucia – I just checked it out, and may write a post about it… and, yes, I’ll give you credit.

      Enjoyed your video – best of luck!