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Dumpster diving do’s and dont’s for every daring Torontonian

What do K-Media and Oscar the Grouch have in common?

We're both green and believe trash can be treasure.

This holiday season, the K-Media team found ourselves waist deep in other people’s Christmas presents – in the dumpsters of Yorkville.Why Yorkville?

In the city of Toronto, the Yorkville-Bloor area has a reputation for being a spot for wealthy elites. We wanted to literally dig up dirt on them, and maybe score a little something for ourselves in the process. The most difficult part of dumpster diving was quite literally finding the dumpsters themselves. Yorkville-Bloor area has very few of them. We reached out to the Bloor-Yorkville BIA to find out why, and got this statement: 

“This neighbourhood does not have many dumpsters, due to a lack [of] open real estate and back laneways. We also have a number of larger office buildings, hotels, condos etc. which internalize their waste control systems, in order to keep loading areas clear for deliveries. Building owners sort recycling inside and often have compacters on site to reduce the bulk of the waste items.”
-Yorkville BIA

Long story short, there are very few external dumpsters in this area.

When we did find the bins, we noticed a problematic tendency to toss recyclable and compostable materials in the garbage disposal. The city of Toronto is currently working toward improving their massive landfill issue, and as of 2020, had diverted 413,673 tonnes of residential waste through its various recycling programs. That’s roughly the equivalent of 3 CN Towers. Households can help matters by making a better effort to separate their waste. Check out this retro-style kitchen composter.  

Overall, dumpster diving was a successful venture, but not as immediately rewarding as you’d expect. There was plenty of searching, digging, and a few “icks” involved, but we came away with some surprising finds. As salvage newbies, there were a few notes we wish we had before we set out. We’re sharing them with you below.

Do: Come with personal protective equipment.

In a time when pandemic hygiene is on the forefront of everyone’s minds, it can be a little scary to go through other people’s items. You can combat potential risks by bringing along a few personal protective equipment items to significantly reduce the risk of exposure. We’d recommend:

Do: Plan your route.

One of the biggest hurdles we faced looking for other people’s trash was… finding it. In a posh neighborhood like Yorkville, people don’t want to be reminded of their refuse. When we did find some dumpsters, they were tucked below large building complexes or wedged between parking lots. The dreaded perpetual construction of Toronto put a kibosh on other dumpsters in sight, lurking too far behind high chain link fence to access. We’d recommend scavenging in a neighborhood you know fairly well. It’s easier to come across good finds if you know when a store is throwing out their product, or if a friend or neighbour tips you off. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, ask around first!

Friends, or sub-reddits might be of help here!

Do: Bring bags

Reusable ones that can be wiped down or washed are great. Nobody wants to wade through dumpsters with their arms full. You’ll thank yourself later.

Do: keep an eye out for litter critters

Toronto is home to many a raccoon, especially if you’re scavenging in the night time. Bang on the sides of a bin before diving in. A little tap might save you from impeding too far on a trash panda’s territory.

Don't: Wear flimsy shoes.

If you got work boots, wear 'em dumpster diving. Part of the fun of dumpster diving is getting down and dirty. If you’re brave, this means getting into the bins themselves.

Make sure you’re protected by wearing proper footwear and thick pants to cover any exposed skin. If it’s cold, make sure to bundle up in water resistant layers before hitting the streets.

Don't: Go diving on a garbage day, or the day after.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but different areas of cities have different pick-up days.

Check out your local collection days before you hit the streets.

Hot tip: Go the evening before garbage pick up to score some oversized used furniture. You can check out accounts like Stooping Toronto for crowd sourced info on where to find the good stuff!

Don't: Go alone!

We found it easiest to rummage through rogue bins with one team member holding up the lid and the other flipping through the contents of the dumpster. You can cover twice the ground and get an extra pair of eyes on what you’re looking for. Should there be security of overzealous neighbours on-site, your friend will see them before you do. Plus, you get one extra person proselytizing to the masses on the power of trash.

Keep your eyes on our calender for the next Toronto dumpster dive. All are welcome to join! 

Until next time, stay trashy!