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Dumpster Dive

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"This is a weird hay trough..."

Dog in the trash at the pizza place
That's a good idea, dog; I forgot to eat today
Aesop Rock, "Salt and Pepper Squid"

Making a Dumpster Dive is going into the dumpster note  intentionally to get something.

Dumpster dives tend to show up three ways in fiction. The first is the homeless person or stray animal going in to get leftover food, usable items, or metal goods like pop cans to sell for money. The second is average characters going in because they dropped something and have to retrieve it. Crime shows are the prime source of the third, which is going in to get evidence, weapons or even a body. Often leads to finding a MacGuffin or Plot Coupon. If Played for Laughs, the character may wind up being picked up with the trash and carried away. The aftermath often involves complaints about the smell, which sometimes even several showers can't remove.

Not to be confused with Down in the Dumps, but this can end there if the character is unlucky enough to get picked up with the trash.

Compare and contrast with Trash Landing, though that in itself is not a Dumpster Dive. That's when the character ends a fall in a Dumpster or other trash.


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    Fan Works 
  • In Aftermath: A Story of Blended Cliches, Ranma being caught when reduced to this causes a Despair Event Horizon, Something Sailor Pluto had been working Ranma towards to rebuild her.
  • Cor Autem Aurora: The first thing Sora does upon arriving to Eos is to go dumpster diving, which rewards him with a few pieces of gumi blocks and just enough local currency to buy a few necessities.
  • Shows up in many a CSI fanfic, often with someone getting threatened with dumpster duty for not behaving or a character repaying a favor by taking the next few dumpster dives.
  • In Internship by Neeko96, Lila throws a design Marinette was supposed to submit to Gabriel into garbage, so Adrien spends half an hour digging through. The design is destroyed by then, but Gabriel does agree to use another design of hers (which makes it a separate trope), along with deciding to keep a more thorough watch on Lila.
  • In Karma in Retrograde, Touya Todoroki went dumpster diving for rejected and thrown away clothes to fill his closet due to how little money he had while attending U.A. He's embarrassed to admit this at first, but Izuku, Ochaco, and Momo all get into this after he leads them to his old stomping ground while shopping for clothes. They find everything from perfectly usable beanbags to posters.
  • Little Hands, Big Attitude:
  • At the start of Taking In A Stranger, Pearl finds Marina dumpster diving. Marina came to Inkpolis to be a singer but she didn't know how aggressive Inklings could be towards Octolings. She soon learned to keep her distance. To get food, she'd have to look for it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Animal House, D-Day and Bluto do this to retrieve the carbon for an upcoming exam, so they can use it to cheat. They don't know that the Omegas had switched the carbon for a fake, leading the Deltas to getting every answer on the exam wrong.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark has his first conversation with the youngest recruit on his team, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, after the latter has come in from an afternoon of dumpster diving; the teen is pleased to have pulled a perfectly good DVD player from the trash.
  • In Hackers, Acid Burn and Crash Override (the two protagonists played by Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller) raid the trash dumpster outside the oil company that has the computer they want to break into (see below). As the company didn't shred their paper waste, the hackers are able to obtain a bunch of passwords and other personal information from discarded memos and such.
  • Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile manages to turn dumpster diving into a bonding exercise — Lyle had been feeding himself via thrown-away restaurant scraps, and once he has befriended the Primm family, he often drags them along for a meal. They adapt to it surprisingly quickly.
  • Moonfall. After the news breaks of the Moon's orbital decay, Brian Harper realises Conspiracy Theorist K.C. Houseman who tried to warn him of this was on to something. A security guard catches him searching the dumpster outside Griffith Observatory for Houseman's notes (that Harper threw away) and comments that it's just as well that no-one's been to pick up the garbage since then thanks to widespread Apocalypse Anarchy. It's the guard himself who finds the notes for him.
  • Shredder Orpheus has an offscreen version where Razoreus shows up with pizza he picked up dumpster-diving. He and Orpheus share the food before Orpheus leaves to confront Hades.

  • Harry does this at one point in Incompetence. A policeman finds him so he pretends he's looking for food, and is forced to eat it to avert suspicion. Later he realises the policeman was the villain in disguise, who did this just to Kick the Dog.
  • A scene early on in Metaltown has Ty and Chip waiting outside a restaurant for trash to be thrown away, after which they dig in for anything remotely edible.
  • In Someone Comes To Town Someone Leaves Town, this is how Kurt acquires hardware to cover the town of Kapuskasing in a public wi-fi network. Also, Kurt tells Adam a story about how he was questioned by a cop while dumpster diving, told the cop of the riches that you could find in dumpsters, and later found the cop dumpster diving for baseball cards to complete a collection.
  • In Survivor Dogs, Lucky used to get most of his food from dumpster diving back when he was a City Dog.
  • In Wizard of the Pigeons, hunting dumpsters for salvageable items is part of Wizard's daily routine.
  • In one of Michael Stackpole's Wolf and Raven stores set in the Shadowrun universe, he brings pizza to some homeless children. One of them doesn't believe it's really pizza because it didn't come from a dumpster.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 2 Broke Girls, Max and Caroline have to look through their trash after accidentally throwing away Earl's tax returns.
  • In Andi Mack they go dumpster diving because a clothing store was wasting clothes.
  • Angel
    • A flashback shows Angel scrounging for rats in the dumpster to quell his thirst for blood.
    • In "Forgiving", Team Angel are searching Wesley's apartment for his diaries; as they can't find them, Fred figures he either took them with him or threw them away. It's the latter, and Fred finds them in a dumpster.
  • In the Better Call Saul episode Rico, while investigating an Evil, Inc. that was defrauding his elderly clients Jimmy's forced to go through their dumpster looking for the evidence they shredded (ruining his suit in the process). He gives up and starts to walk off... only to find it in a recycling bin right next to it.
  • Chuck: The season 1 finale, "Chuck vs. the Marlin," ends with Chuck and Sarah combing through a dumpster looking for Devon's grandmother's ring, so he can propose to Ellie.
  • CSI used it several times.
    • One in particular was a girl who dropped her trash can into a dumpster from a dorm trash chute. While she fell in after she was crushed by a car and died, there was a dive to look for evidence later.
    • Sara was doing this just before Grissom's return from his absence in season 7. He was so glad to see her that he didn't care she smelled like garbage.
  • CSI: NY.
    • "Bad Beat" has a weapon search in a dumpster. Lindsay, still new to the show and wearing coveralls to keep her clothes from getting stained, complains about the 'rookie doing the dirty work' stuff getting old. But she does find the weapon:
      Lindsay: Ah, now, see? That's a shame.
      Mac: What's a shame?
      [She pulls it up out of the dumpster.]
      Lindsay: Somebody went and threw away a perfectly good shotgun.
    • "White Gold" finds Sheldon examining a corpse in the bottom of a dumpster. Fortunately for him, it had been emptied before the body was dumped there.
  • Dark Angel: One episode has Max trying to find a valuable painting that had been mistakenly sent to the wrong place and been thrown away. Since Logan had invited her to a family wedding, she was wearing a nice, and expensive, dress that she didn't want to ruin, so she took it off and rummaged through the trash naked.
  • One episode of Diagnosis: Murder had a couple of cops trying to get rid of a time bomb that had been planted in their car by throwing it in a dumpster. Then they had to go back, because some homeless guy saw them and decided to go see what they'd tossed in. They manage to get him away before it explodes, but soon after they guy throws up in the back seat. It was a brand-new car, too.
  • The Dollhouse episode "Briar Rose" begins with a homeless man digging through a dumpster....only to understandably freaked out upon the discovery of a human hand.
  • The Everybody Loves Raymond episode "Diamonds" concludes with Ray and Debra sifting through a dumpster to find Debra's engagement ring, after Ray had previously gotten rid of it to replace with a better one.
  • The Firefly episode "Trash" had the crew, along with Saffron trying to steal an incredibly valuable antique gun from a highly secure private home, which they do by dumping it down the garbage chute and reprogramming the automated dumpster to fly out to the middle of the desert where they could pick it up. Saffron eventually betrays them then goes to pick up the loot herself. She is next seen inside the dumpster looking for it, except Inara got there first and already has it. She then seals the dumpster with Saffron inside to wait for the authorities while Serenity makes their getaway.
  • One episode of How I Met Your Mother showed Marshall having a minor breakdown after the death of his father, thinking he's wasting his life as a corporate lawyer when he grew up wanting to be an environmental lawyer. He ends up diving into a dumpster to find the plastic rings from a six-pack Lily bought him.
  • I Dream of Jeannie: In the first episode, "The Lady in the Bottle," Major Nelson rifles through the back of a garbage truck in an attempt to recover Jeannie and her bottle. With Major Healey, Dr. Bellows and General Stone looking on.
  • In "Surprise" from The Inside Man, Mark Shepherd tells the Handler that he's already exploring all computer angles, that the company is pretty good with their systems, so he thought he would see how they are with their "trees." "Trees?" asks the Handler, confused, and Mark specifies "paper."
    Handler: Oh, right. Dumpster-diving.
  • In an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the gang visits a dump to find things they can use. Charlie finds a scimitar he calls an "Ali Baba sword."
  • Leverage: "The Juror #6 Job" has Hardison and Eliot combing through trash to find out which juror a Corrupt Corporate Executive has bought off.
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Psychic," Monk makes Sharona do a dumpster dive in order to find a vital clue.
    • Later, in "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife," Monk would himself chase after a garbage truck in search of key evidence.
  • Done in the Moonlighting episode "Atlas Belched", where David has to go dumpster-diving to find a lost rolodex for a client.
  • In Roc, the main character is a garbageman and uses his job to supply the house with much of the things it needs. In the pilot he's shown with a day-old newspaper ("Hey, this isn't USA Today, it's USA Yesterday.") and he picks up a broken VCR which his friend Wizz fixes for him - but you have to hold the play button down at all times in order to watch a video.
  • Sam's Game: In "Slogan", Sam, Alex, and Phil are having difficulty coming up with a cereal slogan for a competition. They are aware of a man who is very good at slogans, but he's died, with his contribution to the competition put in the bin, so they eventually go through his bins. Alex seems to find it, only to find that it's actually his shopping list, so they give up their search. Before they can leave, however, things get embarrassing when the man's wife comes across them, and they have to pass it off as a scavenger hunt.
  • A Seeing Things episode has Louis and his Crown Attorney friend searching a dumpster for a syringe, which proves embarrassing considering they attract the attention of a Salvation Army officer who is convinced they are homeless.
  • Seinfeld:
In the episode "The Bottle Deposit" features a montage of Kramer and Newman collecting various empty bottles and cans, including resorting to dumpster diving, to collect refund money for recycling them.
  • In "The Secretary", George eats an eclair out of his new girlfriend’s mother’s trash and repeatedly insists that since it was barely in the trash, it shouldn’t be considered bad. Nobody falls for it.
  • This is how a Junk Man/Rag and Bone Man such as those seen on Steptoe and Son and Sanford and Son gets much of his wares.
  • In an episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, London and Arwin do this when looking for a brooch London had borrowed from Maddie for a party, only to lose it. They also encounter a homeless person who wonders what they're doing in his dumpster. The next day, (after London and Arwin failed to find the brooch) the homeless guy shows up at the hotel revealing that he found the brooch.

  • The music video to the song "Remains" features the "Human Doll" being thrown out by her "Owner" after she is burnt, whereupon a homeless man pulls her out of the dumpster and the two walk away, hand-in-hand. Its somewhere between sweet and creepy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Chez Geek has a “Dumpster Diving” card, which lets you bring one other discarded card back into play. Rather disturbingly, this means that a Significant Other who has been removed by Justifiable Homicide can be brought back from the dumpster...
  • In Genius: The Transgression, the "Dumpster Diver" merit improves a character's ability to build things on the spot, presumably by using this trope.
  • GURPS Action 2: Exploits mentions dumpster diving as a way to get documents and passwords from the enemy.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The massive hive cities host billions of humans, with every layer going through the refuse of the layer above. The deeper you go, the more dangerous the denizens, who have to fight off cults, mutants, and spiders the size of tanks.

  • The play Trash' is built around this trope, as two estranged sisters spend the entire play digging through a municipal dump to find a letter from their dead mother that was thrown out. At the end, they find the letter but leave it in the trash unopened.

    Video Games 
  • In 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, Lucy can poke around in the alley's dumpster as long as the vampire is not on her tail. There are two useful items to find, though one needs duct tape.
  • The Anaksha Mini-Adventures have the title vigilante assassin doing this on a number of occasions to get the items she needs for each game's Chain of Deals.
  • In Bear & Breakfast, Hank and his friends used to go dumpster diving for magazines and pamphlets at Timber Crossing until a fence was put around the Thicket, their home. After the humans left for a while, the trio was able to go over the fence and raid the garbage containers again. Took does this regularly to find decorations to trade for any litter Hank picks up.
  • In the online game Billy vs. SNAKEMAN, people who are in a village, and have access to Burgerninja content, can do this as an ingredient hunt for combine-able items that later help later.
  • In Borderlands, dumpsters are one of the containers which can be opened (they usually contain ammo and money, but sometimes contain guns). One quest involves retrieving a character's Porn Stash from several of them.
  • In Chulip, your main character can look through garbage cans and dumpsters for loot that can include a sweet potato to eat. But be careful, sometimes you can end up with poop on your hand which does damage to your fragile heart. At least you can sell the poop afterwards...
  • Corvo can do this in Dishonored. Dumpsters are useful because you can hide inside or hide the bodies of the people you kill or knock out, find food to replenish your health bar, or find bottles you can use to distract the guards.
  • In EarthBound (1994), Ness can dig around in trash cans to find certain things. In the first town alone, he is able to find a hamburger in the trash can of the local fast food restaurant, and it's no less effective than the one he can order fresh at the counter.
  • Gaia Online: there's a "mini-game" called this where users can donate and obtain unwanted items to the dumpster.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: Huang Lee can engage in dumpster diving. Red dumpsters contain firearms and other weapons stashed by the Triads for emergencies, while green dumpsters contain an assortment of random items ranging from useful ($10 bills, clean food, and small batches of inexpensive narcotics* for Drug Dealing) to profound wastes of time (dead fish, moldy food, worn-out boots, used condoms, and discarded sex toys).
  • Honkai: Star Rail: A Running Gag regarding your player character, the Trailblazer, who seems to have a rather bizarre attachment to trash cans.
  • LunarLux: Bella can interact with trash cans in Regolithia over and over. Eventually, she can dig up a secret number to use at the Number Trader. However, trash cans in other colonies have their own separate events and dialogue and may or may not have treasure.
  • In MySims Agents, you need to dig through the trash to find clues for cases.
  • In No Umbrellas Allowed, you can scavenge trashcans for money or items after work. Some passersby even comment on how gross it is, and your customers will haggle any picked-up items for a cheaper price, even regular items that you buy from other customers, because they're suspicious of you.
  • Searching for Shop Fodder in garbage is normal for Hunters in Shin Megami Tensei IV and its sequel. In fact, it's one of the two most reliable ways of making money, since Money Spider enemies are rare.
  • The Sims:
    • In The Sims 2, Sims who have a Sloppy personality are able to rummage through bins.
    • In The Sims 3, Sims who are members of the police can look through others' rubbish bins for evidence.
    • In The Sims 4, Sims with the Glutton personality can rummage through bins for food. The Eco Lifestyle expansion pack allows Sims to search for spare parts for use on the Fabricator Machine.
  • In Stardew Valley, interacting with trash cans has a small chance of yielding a random item. Usually this is trash, but Pelican Town's citizens have been known to throw away valuables such as diamonds. Don't expect this to endear you to any NPCs who may be watching... with the exception of Linus, a homeless (by choice) man who does the same and has a cutscene demonstrating both the mechanic and how it's treated by others. If Linus sees you in a trash can, he just chuckles and asks what you've found.
  • Tick Tock Isle: Rivet's trash can has torn pages from her Secret Diary, that give clues for her sidequest, and an item for said sidequest.

  • In Jupiter-Men, Quintin is covered in trash when he and Jackie go rummaging through a dumpster and a pile of garbage bags for his missing camera.
  • Megatokyo: Largo does this to find computer components.
  • Sailor Ranko: Tsubasa is good at wearing trash cans. He finds and gives to Ukyo incriminating evidence about Nabiki's creative use of Exact Words. Namely, the text she wrote for Genma to read, for her to sell the information she "heard from Genma".

    Web Original 
  • Bee in Bee and Puppycat gets Puppycat some presents, claiming that a pet shop she worked at was going out of business. A Cutaway Gag reveals she was actually doing this.

    Western Animation 
  • The Bad Future episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius showed that Sheen became a dumpster diver.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "The Eggbaby," Terry leaves behind a computerized eggbaby he must take care of for a Family Studies project in a dumpster as he goes off to deal with the villains of the week. As his attempts to arrest them leaves Batman empty-handed, he returns to the dumpster just in time to see a garbage truck proceeding to empty its contents, prompting him to worriedly rush down, scoop up the eggbaby, and jet away.
    Waste Collector 1: "Batman...dumpster diving?"
    Waste Collector 2: (shrugs) "A fella's gotta eat."
  • In Bee and Puppycat, this is how Bee really got Puppycat's presents for him when she claims the pet store she used to work at is going out of business.
  • Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama often rummages the dumpster for food, and in some episodes he appears to actually live in it.
  • The Ghost And Molly Mcgee: Scratch is shown to be fond of eating leftover or discarded food, even out of trash cans. In fact, part of his Establishing Character Moment in the first episode involves him being summoned by the Ghost Council while he's eating a slice of pizza out of a garbage can.
  • Goof Troop:
    • In "Big City Blues," the homeless man Buster wants to get some food for Max and PJ at a place that's very affordable, that turns out to be a dumpster. The two boys are turned off by the prospect of eating garbage, and it helps compel them to donate some of their own food to the homeless.
    • In "Puppy Love," PJ dives through the dumpster to find his crush, Rose Deckenbloom's poem, which she threw away because everyone laughed at her when she read it; PJ thought it was beautiful.
  • Kaeloo: Mr. Cat and his alley cat friends are prone to having parties in alleys, where they get drunk and eat food out of the dumpsters.
  • In The Legend of Korra after the Equalists take over Republic City Team Avatar is taken in by a group of homeless people, who offer them shelter and food "taken from the finest dumpsters in the city." Asami has an I Ate WHAT?! moment right after.
  • The Spongebob Squarepants episode "Missing Identity" revolved around Spongebob trying to locate his missing identity (actually his name tag), eventually leading to him and Patrick looking for it in the dumpster behind the Krusty Krab. In the end, it's subverted because it turned out that Spongebob had his shirt on backwards the whole time along with his name tag.
  • Blunk from W.I.T.C.H. lives this trope. In fact he pretty much lives in the dumpster, scavenging for random items he can use for trade.

    Real Life 
  • Freeganism is an offshoot of veganism that supports, among other things, dumpster diving to avoid wasting food in order to live more sustainably.
  • A longtime practice of hackers to get electronics, and by criminal hackers (Crackers) to obtain corporate information. This far less common nowadays due to shredding documents and destruction of hard drives before disposal. That being said, the growing interest in repairing and upgrading electronics means that some people have made quite substantial amounts of money rescuing devices from the shredder and giving them new lives, even if that means clambering around in a bin or through containers in an alleyway to get to the goods.
  • Dumpster diving is a living in Manshiyat Naser, whose residents live off Cairo's garbage, making it one of Cracked's The 6 Weirdest Cities People Actually Live In.
  • Cracked has pointed out in an another article that dumpster diving can be an easy way to earn big money.
  • Due to the ever-increasing difficulty of getting lithium-ion batteries shipped through air mail to certain countries after the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 scare, dismantling old laptop and power tool battery packs for the 18650 cells inside (commonly called "laptop pulls") is a common practice among flashlight collectors and enthusiasts. It helps that a pack can be ruined by only one cell being dead or damaged, while all the others being perfectly fine.
  • It should be noted that in Real Life, taking other persons’ trash without their permission (or, more to the point, against their will) usually constitutes an act of theft. Even if a piece of your property lands in a rubbish bin that also belongs to you, it technically doesn’t stop being your property. Even if you dump a piece of trash in a third party dumpster (landlord, public service, disposal company, etc), it‘s just considered a transaction during which the trash passes into the property of said third party. Things get a lot fuzzier when somebody dumps their belongings in a public place, at which point it can be considered abandoned.


Video Example(s):


Fine Antiques

Mr. Krabs' Garage Sale consists of him selling literal trash, which he tries to pawn off as "antiques"

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / HonestJohnsDealership

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