From wheels of gourmet cheese, portabella mushrooms and dozens of eggs, to computer parts, futons and hardwood desks, the dumpsters of Athens hold treasures for those willing to dig.
"You can find cool stuff that people throw out for no reason," said Chris Grimmett, a senior from Savannah who has gone dumpster diving since high school but has started doing it more frequently this year. "People think it's gross, but you look at it, and if it's bad, you can tell."
Grimmett and his roommate, Sylvan Cox, who graduated from the University in 2008, said another one of their roommates, Devin Myers, convinced them of the benefits of dumpster diving.
"I've dumpster dived for stuff like appliances and electronics," Cox said. "But food, I was a little uncomfortable, and [Myers] converted me. His big credo is 'trust your nose.'"
Myers, a senior from Atlanta, said he began dumpster diving after living in Florida as an exchange student, in an area where dumpster diving was more accepted, and brought the practice back to Athens with him.
"My roommates started out as nonbelievers, complete skeptics," he said.
Now, they commonly find pastries, fruits, vegetables and bread that have just reached their expiration dates, and sealed packages of chips, cookies and teas - some of which have not passed the expiration date. With perishable items, divers have to be more cautious, but they still are able to find meat and dairy products, especially yogurt and cheese, that have natural cultures to help them stay fresh.
Grimmett has found pricier items such as lamb in Dumpsters, and the roommates recently found an $80 wheel of gourmet cheese and 13 dozen eggs, which they made into omelets and sandwiches.
They were reluctant to share all their foraging secrets, partly because the police "frown on it," Grimmett said. "I've been harassed by cops before. I got caught by five cops in one night once. It was pretty ridiculous."
Jimmy Williamson, University Police Chief, said he was not familiar with any law against Dumpster diving.
"I'd probably get out [of the car] and ask them what they're doing," he said. "From a police standpoint, it would be considered suspicious" because they could be involved in identity theft. But he said he would not lock anyone up for looking for food.
Jim Corley, director for the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department, said Dumpster diving is against state law "because it's a health and safety issue. People throw away needles, they throw away sharp instruments. My guys get cut up all the time just picking up the trash."
But, Grimmett said, "It's not very risky." Both Grimmett and Cox said they had never gotten sick from eating the foraged food. They said they search behind smaller grocery stores, where trash is kept neater than at larger stores. They said more than half of their food comes from Dumpsters.
"With food, it's definitely taken the place [of shopping]," Grimmett said. "We don't need to go out and buy things."
Cox said the change had even been beneficial.
"I actually probably eat healthier now, as far as a balanced diet. A lot of organic foods and the stuff I wouldn't spend my own money on," he said.
They also have foraged for non-food items, especially at the end of the year when students move out of apartments and dorms. They have found lamps, rugs, futons, mini refrigerators, couches and a bed and desk.
Roxann Chalfant, a 2006 University graduate, has gone Dumpster diving for years as part of her parents' business, Bottle Benders. The family finds bottles in Dumpsters to make glass wind chimes and has been in business since the 1970s.
"There's a whole little network of people who scavenge stuff," she said.
She has not had much trouble with business owners whose Dumpsters she searches and said they are often willing to set aside bottles if asked. But she limits her diving to glass and never has eaten food from Dumpsters.
Dumpster diving is a key part of a movement started in New York City known as freeganism. Freegans, a compounded form of "free" and "vegan," try to limit consumption of resources and participation in the conventional economy and fulfill most of their material needs through Dumpster diving, according to the Web site.
This cuts down on waste, avoids items produced in ways that violate human rights, and allows freegans to refuse to work for corporations they consider unethical.
"I feel like I'm becoming a freegan, a legitimate freegan," Myers said. "I haven't bought food for a month . I like to think my cost of living is extremely low, and it gives me a confidence in life. I feel like I don't need to make that much money in life to be happy. I can live off the land even in a city or suburbia."
Although Grimmett does not consider himself a freegan, his motivation goes beyond saving money.
"People are throwing it away, so the morality of it, it's just like recycling or helping the environment," Grimmett said.
Cox said for him, the benefits of Dumpster diving are "probably a mixture between the savings and the ecological philosophy behind it."
For Grimmett, Dumpster diving is not only a practical way to find food and household items.
"It's just a rush, it's free stuff," he said. "Every Dumpster is like a Christmas package just waiting to be opened . It could be nothing or it could be really good. It's like playing the lottery, except you win more."