Thursday, February 5, 2009
Book Review: The Art and Science of Dumptster Diving
Here's another short review of a fascinating book, The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving, by John Hoffman. I saw this book recommended somewhere (and I can't remember where!) and thought it might be interesting, although I was pretty sure I wasn't ready to try dumpster diving myself. And I have to say, having read it, that while I do believe you can save a lot of money and get a lot of great stuff by trying this, I'm still not going to do it! But.... it is a great book to read and if you are willing to try it I bet you'd be successful if you read this guide first.
The book is divided into chapters, which start out talking about what is involved in dumpster diving, whether one can be self sufficient by diving, and what kinds of things can be found. Hoffman then moves on to techniques, which are quite specific. These include what to wear, how to dive, how to deal with other people who might be watching, diving along with you or enforcing (police or store employees), how to stash your goods for a later pickup, and more. This is truly a practical guide from someone who does this regularly. The next few chapters discuss the "big three" dumpster hot spots (bakeries, supermarkets, and book stores), the "lucky seven" dive spots (discount stores, candy stores, wholesale florist dumpsters, toy stores, fast food restaurants, residential areas, and college dumpsters), and how to convert what you find to cash if it's not something you need personally. Towards the end of the book, Hoffman explains about recycling programs and how they affect diving, searching for information (rather than items), and how to progress from being a beginning diver to an experienced one.
Hoffman is a super conservative, right wing, gun toting opposite of me, yet his thoughts on not wasting and using what's available are as green as any liberal, and he practices what he preaches in a huge way. I was continually amazed by what I read in this book. I had figured that it was possible to find good items in a dumpster, but I thought that the mess and plowing through stuff that wasn't any good wouldn't be worth it. I believe now that if you are motivated (and a little bit brave!) it would certainly be worth it. There are a few times when Hoffman advocates bending or breaking the law, which at first made me feel superior to him for not wanting to do such things. Then I started thinking about how many of us break the law routinely - speeding, pirating CDs, using supplies from work for personal use, and wondered if his transgressions were really worse. As he never advocates hurting anyone, and his actions keep things out of landfills, I'm not sure that they are. In any case, there is a lot to think about with this book.
As interesting as the dumpster diving techniques are, I found the personal stories of Hoffman's youth and adult life even more fascinating. He grew up poor, but his whole family dived regularly, and thus he had everything he could want. He also learned to be extremely creative in making what he needed with found items.
It really tells us something about our society when you realize that with a little time and effort, you could find almost everything you need to live out of what people throw away. I would rate this book 3 out of 5 stars, and suggest that it's a good read for anyone who wants to think about how much we waste in America, and a great read for those ready to take the plunge into diving.