Meet the Burts: Unlikely Dumpster Divers

Fresh food gathered from dumpster diving

I was intrigued by this couple after they appeared on Oprah Wednesday, February 27. I know it’s been over a week. Did you really think I caught the episode on Oprah? I heard about this from a friend who never misses the show. Honestly! OK, I watch it sometimes.

Daniel Burt is an eye doctor and his wife Amanda is a civil engineer living in Nashville. Their hobbies include living a lifestyle that makes a statement against rampant overconsumption and wastefulness in America. In other words, they dive in dumpsters to redeem things that have been thrown away.

Daniel explains, “We try to live very simply, and we don’t spend a lot on ourselves. We are very happy with having a little. We like to make it a priority to share a lot of our money. A lot of that comes from our Christian values of sharing and generosity.”

Amanda tells why donating their surplus discoveries to people in need is also helpful to the planet. “We just put it back into the system rather than into a landfill,” she says.

Their blog gives a more detailed account of the beliefs and values behind their “freegan” lifestyle. Daniel says that Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but they use 30% of the world’s resources.

In part 2 of his 3-part series of blog posts explaining why two professionals would take part in such an unusual lifetyle, Daniel sums it up this way:

We recycle and dumpster dive because we care about God’s earth and its inhabitants, and we believe that consuming and wasting too much of the planet’s resources is destroying both. It’s time we started loving our neighbors by shredding our credit cards and treading lightly on the earth…somewhere other than a shopping mall.

The couple believes that freeganism goes beyond recovering usable “waste” from ending up in the landfill. It is a lifestyle that begs the question, “Why do we have so much waste in the first place?”

To try to take the edge off the ick factor, the Burts make it clear that they aren’t trying to tell everyone they should go do a swan dive into the nearest dumpster. What they hope to do is help people begin to come up with creative ways of living less wasteful and less consumptive lifestyles.

So what do you think, Green Options Nation? Would you snatch perfectly good items out of a corporate dumpster that would otherwise be headed for the landfill, even if it meant getting a little dirty?

More info: Daniel’s dumpster diving FAQ

Image credit: gabriel amadeus at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Green Diva Meg

    while i’m not ready to dive in dumpsters for many reasons, i am ALL for trying to keep more stuff from getting into the dumpsters in the first place! we’ve gone on a mad recycling binge for a few years and it is amazing how little general garbage we send out – for a family of 5, we only have 1 – 2 bags per week. we’re also big reusers.

    also of interest were the google ads at bottom of page about dumpsters in NJ and garbage pick up companies!!!!!

  2. Alex

    If I knew where to do this in my town I would totally do it. I’ve gotten dirtier cleaning my bike than I probably would going into a corporate dumpster. It’s like freecycle all from one place. Hell, companies should advertise their waste!

  3. Alison Wiley

    Great post. I agree with the Burts that we can be very happy having a little. . . . . and also that consumption is a spiritual issue. We’re treading on Creation here.
    I frame all this on my blog as “The Diamond-Cut Life: chiseling our consumption down to the core of happiness.” Please come visit if you like: http://alison97215.wordpress.com/ — and thanks for letting me know that the Burts were on Oprah!

    best regards,
    Alison Wiley
    Portland, Oregon
    The Diamond-Cut Life

  4. Rosie

    My husband and I live in Korea where they throw a LOT of really useful stuff away. They call foreigners strange names because we pick up the good stuff and cart it to our places. I have tons of stuff in our tiny place that we picked up in the trash including mirrors, windows, a table, pottery, and lots of clothes. Although the clothes are not my size or not in the best shape I don’t care because I make dolls, pillows, etc out of them.

    Also, they don’t have dumpsters here so much as different trash cans for different stuff. Cans, plastic, paper, glass and food all have their own bins and then the waste bin. Also, people often put the stuff that might be useful to someone else in front of the bin instead of inside. (or maybe they started doing that since I’m always going through it at our apartment building…) This way I never really go dumpster diving. It’s more of a dumpster look around.

  5. The right isn't

    Christian values means you’re supposed to live like a pauper and work your butt off while giving the spoils of that work to other people? Sounds like communism. Pass. I’d prefer to live up to the standard that I’m working to, while still sharing some of my gains with less fortunate individuals. This is simply more extremism, the thing in our society that every problem can be boiled down to.

  6. Chad Crawford

    Re: The right isn’t – The Burts say that their hobby frees up resources and gives them access to surplus quality goods that poor folks can use. This is good stuff that is being thrown away, not scraps. If they really enjoy doing this and it keeps a few more things out of landfills, I don’t see the problem.

    Re: Rosie – I spent a summer in San Francisco near Haight Street. Instead of tossing something that someone might want, folks would just set them outside. Sometimes they had a sign that said “free” but usually it was just understood. Maybe if we all had this practice, and if we sorted our trash like Koreans it would encourage more reusing.

    Re: Alison – Thanks for the link to your blog. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the sustainable life. I love the tagline: “more joy, less consumption.”

    Re: Alex – Good point. The dumpsters that Daniel and Amanda visit are corporate dumpsters; generally at small grocery stores that don’t have compactors. What is thrown away at these places are mostly boxed and packaged overstock and recently “expired” (which just means past the sell-by date) products. If you find the right place, you definitely don’t have to get as dirty as when you clean your bike!

    Re: Alexander – Thanks for pointing out Urban Ore. We need more places like this!

    Re: Green Diva Meg – The Burts do say on their blog that they don’t expect everyone to go dumpster diving. They just want people to come up with creative ways to reduce waste and cut down on consumption. Thank you for the examples of how your family is working out your values!

    Thank you for your comments!

  7. Mary Downes

    There is a service called Freecycle.org which allows people to post stuff they want to get rid of for others to claim and keep out of the landfill. Kind of like Craig’s list, but everything’s free. No dumpsters needed.

    And it works – stuff we were sure was truly trash has been happily and gratefully claimed by people for uses we wouldn’t have thought of.

  8. gus

    I give my old stuff to my son who then passes it on. My old stereo is now on it’s third owner. He just took my old tv and dvd player.

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