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Hazards of Dumpster Diving

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Dumpsters tend to catch fire frequently. As a firefighter, our policy is to wear full protective clothing including SCBA when fighting a dumpster fire. It is not uncommon for very toxic materials to have been discarded not to mention what could be growing in the gunk that builds up on the sides of the container. If it was anywhere near any type of medical facility I would definitely shy away these all together.
Stay Safe,

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Id say the most common hazard would be the stability of the load, being haphazardly tossed in, watch your footing, trust nothing to support your weight till tested and when necessary un-bury stuff the hard way rather than simply jerking it out from underneath other stuff.

What hazardous material it might contain varies with the type of dumpster business, more often than not I favor large construction dumpsters these days :P Broken glass, florescent tubes, glues, nailsscrews in boards ect are common in such dumpsters. But checked at the right time (following the plumber and electrician) will provide a goldmine of flexible conduit, wire, and steel pipe remnants. ;)

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I was 'rescueing' a few nice, large sheets of heavy cardboard from a local dumpster behind an appliance store one day, when it occurred to me that if anyone happened to see me, they might think that I was crazy!

Since only TRUE recyclers understand the thrill and challenge of finding useful stuff in trash,........I dumpster-dive when no one is looking!......well.......unless I happen to spot something REALLY good!


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A biggy, to go with the broken glass and other sharp objects, is infectious agents like bacteria and such. Always try to remember gloves. Getting cut by a dirty piece of anything, especially if the dumpster holds household garbage, is a good way to get really sick, really fast since it has easy access to your bloodstream.

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there is a mounting body of evidence and a number of medical professionals that hold nearly the opposite view.

1. Bacteria have us outnumbered at five nonillion (5x10 to the 30th power) to 6.5 billion (6.5x10 to the ninth power) gloves aint going to save you. They are absolutely unavoidable. In fact there are ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells in a human body :P

2. The "war on germs" is a con, a dangerous one at that. All you do when you "wipe out" microbial life with chemicals or antibiotics is to level the playing field so that the first new bacteria to show up has no competition. You just hope it is benign or beneficial. If its a pathogen your attacking thats one thing, but make sure you get it all, we have enough human bred superbugs already.

3. There has been a number of studies which suggest that exposure to "germs" are beneficial to your long term health. Follow the basic concept of immunization and it seems self evident.

4. There has also been studies that show there are health risks associated with living in an overly sterilized environment.

bring the gloves, for the chemicals :P

Cancer and the bacterial connection (LA Times)

All Creature Great and Small by James Herriot

It didn't pay to approach Mallock's too closely unless you had a strong stomach, so the place was avoided by the townspeople, but if you ventured up the lane and peeped through the sliding metal doors you could look in on a nightmare world. Dead animals lay everywhere. Most of them dismembered and great chunks of meat hung on hooks, but here and there you could see a bloated sheep or a greenish swollen pig which not even Jeff could bring himself to open.
Skulls and dry bones were piled to the roof in places and brown mounds of meat meal stood in the corners. The smell was bad at any time but when Jeff was boiling up the carcasses it was indescribable. The Mallock family bungalow stood in the middle of the buildings and strangers could be pardoned if they expected a collection of wizened gnomes to dwell there. But Jeff was a pink-faced, cherubic man in his forties, his wife plump, smiling and comely. Thier family ranged from a positively beautiful girl nineteen down to a robust five-year-old boy. There were eight young Mallocks and they had spent their lifetimes playing games among tuberculous lungs and a vast spectrum of bacteria from Salmonells to Anthrax. They were the healthiest children in the district.

that was my first clue, one I thankfully found in my youth, I dont get sick, I dont use household disinfectants, I rarely even clean the near daily contusions & lacerations, I never get infections as Im constantly being re-immunized. On the other hand I would take antibiotics in the event of a serious pathogen, but they are few and far between. (Unless its a hospital's dumpster, or a school's :P )
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I'm gonna bet that scientists also believe that injecting infectious agents into your blood stream is BAD. There are lot of germs you can pick up from trash that can KILL you. there is nothing about gloves that are "over Sterilized" Frankly I find what you posted to be Incredibly dangerous advise. Using bleach to sterilize your house is one thing. Telling people that germs in a dumpster aren't dangerous is something else.

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there is a whole class of Americans that live and eat out of dumpsters,

and what I said was, that its the status of ones immunity system that would be the determining factor on how deadly "germs" could be.

Serious pathogens like cholera, plague, anthrax, tuberculosis, typhoid, leprosy arent likely to be in a dumpster. Tetanus on the other hand is ubiquitous, preferring an anaerobic environment, Salmonella, Staph, Strep in their many varieties are everywhere including your skin. The idea that a dumpster has a higher concentration than the dirt in your backyard, or under the seat of your car isnt necessarily true.

I didnt recommend that you dont bring gloves, but I wouldnt personally hesitate if I lacked a pair, and I wouldnt be very concerned over a scratch or nick either, but then I didn't haven't led an overly sterilized life.

Mankind and bacteria have for the most part been playing well together for millions of years, long before the chemical companies leveraged the discovery of pathogens as disease vectors to sell their products. Now your more likely to be exposed to a witches brew of chemical compounds in combinations never clinically tested, and laying outside human development than you are to contract one of the handful of serious pathogens.

There is danger alright, and its sold to you off the supermarket shelves, the TV and the radio.

I'm gonna bet that scienetists also believe that injecting infectious agents into your blood stream is BAD.

Edward Jenner
William Coley
and one more time
Cancer and the bacterial connection
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I know all about the dirty kid theory and it's link to asthma, allergic reacions and cancer, and the fact that many bacteria are ubquitous and found everywhere. Parasites have also been included in the list Parasites and Asthma I've gotten enough of it in the few year's I've been in school, between my degree in Agriculture majoring in animal science and now my couple of years in vet school. I do believe that all the sanatizers in use right now are bad for you. What you forgot to point out is that they are usually low grade and usually not bypassing the defences your body has put up. Being cut bypasses your normal microflora, stomach acid, normal lymphoid tissue aggregations that monitor and secrete Immunoglobulins to prevent infection, as well as the mucocilliary apparatus of the respiratory system.
One thing you forgot to mention is that, while many pathogens are found on your skin and are considered normal flora, many can cause disease if found in the wrong place, ie. YOUR BLOOD! Tetnus, as you quoted likes anaerobic environments to GROW, spores are found in many places and grow in an anerobic environment such as a penetration wound, or a scabbed over wound that is made anaerobic by facultative anaerobes such as some normal flora on your skin and in the environment Public health of canada.

I'm not 100% sure how wearing gloves causes superbugs. Improper antibiotic use, ie. not finishing your prescription (you know who you are) or asking for them when it's a cold and expecting them, as well as improper and over sterilization selects for them. Wearing gloves prevents you from getting cut and the possibility of a systemic infection. Washing your hands after dilutes out any possible pathogens. Sterilization with those hand sanitizers IMO just selects for resistance unless used properly in high risk areas such as medical facilities.

Throw in the fact that we aren't the only individuals or species (which many of the quoted species are zoonotic) dumpster diving, many bacteria can live for longer than a few hours in the environment, and you can get sick from them. Wear your gloves and you prevent normally harmless bacteria that may reduce asthma and/or cancer risks from getting into the wrong place where they can cause disease.

Interesting article

I'd love to research more and add more but I've got to study for the pharmacology final so I can treat the animals that they get infections from dumpster diving ;)

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The Hazards of Dumpster Diving

Losing all the negative space in and outside your shop, and eventually calling the junk dealer because you become overloaded is of no benefit. If you can't find a particular succulent piece of that precious found material you so carefully drug home when you really need it, why bring it home?

Customers using scrap to repair things is what was my livelyhood, fixing it right so it would stay together. I used found stuff for my own projects, but not for customers stuff.

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I am very selective anymore for the same reasons irnsrgn states. It is far more productive to buy known steel and make something than to spend the design time to use something sorta like what I want. Even tools I'll bypass if they are going to need more than an electric cord. To find some nice large pieces of known scrap that has a use is different.

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Best friend i graduated from HS with, top 5% out of univ. of michigan in mechanical engineering. Flown all over the world for interviews. Takes a job in detroit with the big three. This guy is as cheap as they come, actually still has a bicycle driven air compressor that he made while were in HS and actually will use it once in a while. Calls me up, (while I'm still in college making almost nothing), with his new BIG idea. Tear down dorm lofts (beds frames)for $35, label for later assembly and sell in the fall for 100-250 installed in dorms. We did pretty good for the first year and noticed that lots of great dimensional lumber was thrown away by the people too cheap to pay us to take them apart:D. So we are doing some diving right in the middle of campus to top off our load and he pops out to greet his old HS girlfriend from about 1", ftf. She was shocked, he grinned and asked if she had a loft already:D, I about died, he laughed, she turned white as a ghost and we havent seen her since.

Alro steel is only 20 min away and will sell thier cuts for scrap price if you are polite to the foreman.

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  • 5 months later...

I work in a State Correctional Facility. One of my illustrious co-workers is INfamous for driving around his town (not far from work) and picks through everyone else's garbage cans, dumpsters, etc. for soda and beer cans.

New York is one of those states that, by law, has a 5-cent deposit on any soda/beer containers. Here he is, state worker making close to 60k/yr with overtime plus benefits, picking through trash cans at the local truck stop - often in uniform.

What's he do with the cash from the cans? Story is he buys a BRAND NEW VEHICLE about every 5 years - for cash/trade.

And that's what dumpster diving can do for you.


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Those anti tank projectiles, if they were APDS type would have good tungsten steel in them. Where was that dumpster?

If they were APDS (armor piercing discarding sabot) they could also have a penetrator made of depleted uranium. Probably not a good raw material for forging.

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My dad was dumpster diving long before recycling became the thing to do. He would bring home cans, cardboard, newspaper, food. By the end of the week we had enough to buy breakfast after we dropped it off at the salvage yard.

So I have been dumpster diving for about 37 yrs. Had alot of meals from those grocery store dumpsters and alot of wine made from the fruit they would throw out.

It's amazing what people throw out. Once we got a box that had 4 old railroad lanterns in it.

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