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Special Report | An inside look at the world of dumpster diving

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Who knew digging in a dumpster could be so thrilling? Believe it or not, more people than you may think consider these trash bins, treasure chests.

“This is just unforgivable. What is the number one thing that homeless shelters are always asking for?," says Julie Rodriguez of Utah. "I will tell you, socks.”

Rodriguez has been dumpster diving for the last 10 years. She records her excursions for her YouTube channel where thousands tune-in to watch.

While Rodriguez says she hopes to open people's eyes to what she calls a crisis, others choose to keep their salvaging side-gig private.

“We keep it a secret because of the perception, like who would want to jump in a dumpster?” asks a Central PA dumpster diver who requested to conceal her identity.

"Once I saw what the waste is and what's being thrown away, I was actually sickened by it,” she adds.

We found new kitchenware in a bin behind a big box store along Union Deposit Road. We also found a bag full of Christmas cards and not one, but two electric fireplaces behind another big box store.

"Dog food, cat food, pee pads, adult diapers, water,” our local dumpster diver adds.

So which stores are throwing so much away and more importantly why? Our local dumpster divers gave us a long list of stores they frequent. We called and emailed several of those stores for answers. A few got back to us.

In a statement, CVS said in part:

“Ensuring that unused products are donated in a safe manner is our utmost priority, and most consumable products must be at least one month from its expiration date to be eligible for donation."

But just days before, our dumpster divers found boxes full of candy bars that weren't expired for months.

"I think that dumpster diving might be kind of a way to help move the product that's still good into hands of people who still need it,” says Lancaster based attorney Juliette Zaengle.

"It's legal to dumpster dive from the stand point of if it's on public property and you haven't been told not to trespass against it. Even a sign is good enough,” says Zaengle.

In 2016, Zaengle defended a pair of dumpster divers who were caught by police at a Derry Township CVS.

"They had gotten stopped by the police and arrested and were charged with criminal trespassing and loitering and prowling at night. If it would have been a building, breaking into a building, that would be trespass. If they had broken into a secure portion there of, such as a dumpster that was locked or had a no trespassing sign on it, ya know that would be one thing,” Zaengle adds.

And that loitering and prowling at night charge?

"You can't loiter and prowl at night around a business. They weren't close enough, I don't think, to any of the dwellings houses that were around there,” says Zaengle.

Zaengle says her clients were planning on donating what they found. It's a common reason many are jumping into the bins.

"We don't do it because we want the stuff, we do it because it's just wrong. These things can be used,” our local dumpster diver adds.

Back in Utah, Rodriguez keeps a lot of what she finds, putting it to good use for her family of five. By putting herself out there for the world to see, will dumpster diving become less taboo?

"You guys, holy cow! We have disciples. Our message of saving and salvaging is spreading. People are catching the vision,” she says.

Below are the following store responses we received on this topic:

BED BATH & BEYOND

Please credit the below response to Jessica Joyce.
Thank you for reaching out regarding this topic. Bed Bath & Beyond takes many steps to find a positive use for unsold merchandise to avoid and minimize disposal. For example, we partner with Good360 to arrange for donations from our stores to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations across the United States.
Based on your description, it is impossible to identify the specific merchandise in question, so please understand that we are unable to provide specifics about the items you reference. Our policy is to dispose of merchandise only when required by regulation, the product is not in an appropriate condition to be used/sold, or is not eligible for recycling. For example, disposal may be required by the U.S. FDA or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission or other government agency.

TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY

At Tractor Supply Company, our mission is to reduce waste wherever we can to maintain quality products and services for our customers. We continue to work with our store managers and team members to maximize product shelf life, while at the same time, ensuring the best experience for all who visit the Harrisburg store.

CVS

CVS Pharmacy works with numerous nonprofit organizations to arrange for damaged or near-expired goods from our stores to be donated to people in need. In fact, this year we’ve donated about $60 million worth of product to charity, including Feeding America and Feed the Children.
Ensuring that unused products are donated in a safe manner is our utmost priority, and most consumable products must be at least one month from its expiration date to be eligible for donation. Our product disposal guidelines and procedures comply with applicable state and federal regulations, and they are consistent with that of the retail industry.
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