The Art of Dumpster Diving

Imagine how much money you would save if you didn't buy all your food. There are ways to get food without buying it from the supermarket or your favorite restaurant. Although most people wouldn't think about searching a trash can for food and clothing, there are a growing number of dumpster divers that live off of society's "waste."

"It's like Christmas every single time you open [a dumpster]," Austin Draper, a former SMC student and avid dumpster diver said. "If you're lucky you get something you've been wanting."

Draper has been dumpster diving for the last five years. When he was 13 his friend showed him to a San Francisco bagel dumpster and instantly he was hooked on diving. "Ever since then I've focused my attention on the stuff that people don't pay attention to," Draper said.

On any given night, Draper might find a bounty of food or absolutely nothing. "The dumpsters have been poor around here recently," Draper said. Whole Foods, one of Draper's favorite spots started to deter dumpster divers.

Draper's friend Dan Tia said he found gallons of Naked Juice, loaves of sourdough bread and humus in a Whole Foods dumpster. Now Whole Foods locks their dumpsters or compacts their trash, Draper said.

Now Draper looks for food behind New York Bagel and Deli along with Trader Joe's. Sometimes he finds food in the alley behind his house. Once he found a box half eaten box of chocolates. "They were probably from a lonely woman that ate half and threw the rest away," Draper said.

Most people don't consume edible food when it doesn't look aesthetically perfect. "We live today in a world that's only based on image," Draper said. "The reason they're throwing most of this [stuff] away is one of the bottles in the case broke, or a label is crooked or scratched or it expired that day."

Draper also gets most of his wardrobe and other treasures from dumpsters. "I've found a Chinese dagger, a really nice one," Draper said. He's also found 500 dollars in trashcan. "I opened the dumpster and lift up this cat food can and then all these 20s and 50s spilled out," Draper said.

However, all of Draper's dumpster runs haven't ended so well. Once Draper came across a dumpster that was guarded buy a two story high fence that happened to be open. Later he learned the dumpster he was about to open belonged to the Santa Monica Cosmetic Surgery center. "It was full of sacks of blood and fat," Draper said. "We didn't get any on us, but it was so disgusting."

While Draper isn't dumpster diving he tends gardens around Santa Monica in plots of land that are empty but get water somehow. This is a growing trend called gorilla gardening that is popular amongst environmentally conscious city dwellers. "I don't really live on a farm or much land," Draper said. "So I just worked with the land finding empty spots around the city."

In a plot near Wilshire Boulevard and 26th Street, Draper is growing lettuce and snow peas. This narrow planter next to a sidewalk gets water from a sprinkler, but was previously just soil. Draper's passion for gardening is bigger than his small plots.

"I promise you that gardening is a cure all to the sicknesses we are experiencing right now," Draper said. "It will help with education, it will help with health, and it will help with building communities." City dwellers can't depend on agribusiness forever because it isn't sustainable, Draper said. "They're using tons of fertilizers and killing the soil."

Gorilla gardening and dumpster diving help conserve resources, but won't save the planet from environmental destructions. "[Dumper diving] is really a great thing, but it's only temporary," Draper said. "It's a transition into a non-capitalist civilization."