If you thought clipping coupons was the most extreme thing students did to save a buck, you can throw that opinion out with the trash.
From furniture to food, the dumpsters — and even yards — of Athens offer a bountiful spread for students who aren’t too picky.
Dumpsters on campus can be lucrative, even popular spots to hit, especially at the end of the year when students transition from one living arrangement to another. If University of Georgia students feel any shame from dumpster diving, the benefits quickly outweigh it.
“It was right after finals freshman year,” said A’Shondee Kinlaw, a fourth-year English education major from Homerville. “I was moving out of Brumby and saw the big dumpsters. I remember my roommate telling me about dumpster diving after she had done it, and I thought it was the most disgusting thing, but once I saw the dumpster I was enticed.”
Kinlaw only entered the dumpster because she saw one of the sides was down and she wouldn’t have to climb into it.
“I walked in and found an ottoman and two lamps,” Kinlaw said. “To my surprise, I was disappointed that I didn't find more.”
Even trash that doesn’t make it to the dumpster can be treasure to the vigilant UGA student.
“I was driving through my friend’s neighborhood and we passed a yard full of someone’s [abandoned] furniture,” said Meg Joiner, a UGA alumna from Griffin. “My friend took the love seat and cute red chair, and I took a cute brown chair that has flowers on it."
In the case of recovered furniture, the cleaning process might not even be that complicated, and the benefits can be long-lasting.
“I just sprayed some Febreze and wiped it with Lysol, and it’s still in our apartment,” Joiner said.
The best treasures to be gleaned from dumpster diving may be of the edible variety.
After a workout session sophomore year, Mimi Morton, a fourth-year accounting major from Fayetteville, and Hannah Dees, a fourth-year furnishings and interiors major from Vidalia, realized they needed to refuel — with cherry filling and sugar glaze, that is.
Dees and Morton drove quickly to the donut dispensary of their choice.
“We didn’t think about it being closed or what time it was or whatever,” Dees said.
They soon arrived, only to find they were too late.
“We’re like ‘Let us in, let us in,’ and [the employee] says ‘Sorry, we’re closed,’” Morton said. “We just looked at each other — we literally just missed it. It closed at 10 [p.m.] and we got there at 10:05.”
Dees was acting on a friend’s advice when she decided to check the dumpster.
“I run out, jump in the trash can, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, Hannah, they’re here!’” Morton said. “It’s so heavy, so I had to get Hannah to come help me.”
Dees and Morton estimate they scored between 200 to 300 donuts.
“It was basically a big utility garbage bag. Think about Santa’s bag,” Dees said. “It was huge and it was totally clear, so we could see what we were getting, and it was just the clear, glazed donuts that had obviously just been in the [oven].”
The duo made a video of their exploits, which was posted to their sorority’s listserv. Once they arrived back at the sorority house, girls from all different floors began to flood into Dees’ apartment, partaking in Dees and Morton’s triumph however, being a hero to her sorority sisters couldn't banish all of Dees' reservations about dumpster diving.
Will Guerin, a fourth-year psychology major from Atlanta, was also lured into the world of dumpster diving by the sweet, glazed promise of free donuts.
A little over a year ago, an acquaintance brought over a large quantity of donuts taken from a Dunkin’ Donuts dumpster, and Guerin was hooked — he now estimates he dumpster dives an average of twice a month.
“I guess some friends of mine had talked about it in the past,” Guerin said.
While the Dunkin’ Donuts location that inspired Guerin’s hobby is now open 24 hours daily, he and his friends moved on to other locations like Aldi, which is preferable for dumpster diving thanks to its lack of a trash compactor.
“At Aldi we’ve found a lot of things that would be cool to eat,” Guerin said. “Chocolate-covered raisins, juice boxes. There was a ton of pancake mix the last time we went as well. Usually you’ll find a couple things but in a large quantity, so I guess they needed to throw out all of those on a particular day.”
Anti-virus software, a tin of unopened sushi and a large quantity of bubble wrap are some of the most interesting things Guerin has uncovered in the past.
Despite his success, dumpster diving hasn’t replaced Guerin’s need for a grocery list.
“Dumpster diving is better to get food you wouldn’t normally buy,” Guerin said. “It’s always supplemented my diet. It’s really more fun than anything, not that big of a cost-saving maneuver.”
The legality of dumpster diving is something all potential divers must consider, regardless of their haul.
“Somebody told me [dumpster diving] was illegal, so then I was worried for about a week that I was going to get arrested any second,” Dees said.
While there is no state law technically forbidding the practice of dumpster diving, UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson says divers can nonetheless find themselves in trouble.
“It’s not a yes or no answer, that’s the difficult thing about this,” Williamson said. “There’s not a specific law for going through a dumpster, but if the dumpster is situated behind a fence or in one of those wooden areas meant to conceal it, if they have a ‘No trespassing’ sign near or on the dumpster, you would be breaking the law.”
In addition to conflict with property owners, individuals may find themselves in conflict with the police if they are seen throwing trash on the ground.
Guerin has only encountered the police once while dumpster diving behind the Hobby Lobby on Atlanta Highway. While he was neither arrested nor given a citation — only warned about transporting too many people his vehicle — they did inform him of the dangers of diving.
“[The police officer] had a big spiel about heroin users dumping their needles in the dumpster,” Guerin said. “It doesn’t seem like a plausible thing. Why would they go behind Target or Hobby Lobby? I think they would just throw [the needles] on the ground, but maybe they’re classy individuals and like to throw away their needles.”
Ultimately, Williamson would urge students just to visit Ikea or raid their purses for spare change whenever they want a donut or a new futon.
“It’s something I wouldn’t advise people to do,” Williamson said. “There’s not a state law I’m aware of, but people could find themselves in conflict with the property owners.”
It’s up to the student to decide if the risk of dumpster diving is worth the reward.
“We ate donuts all night,” Dees said. “I’ve never felt so popular.”