During the summer, at my gym, they open the outdoor pool and water park early in the morning. Many mornings, at 5:00AM, you can find me in the morning twilight, doing water aerobics. I’m not always alone. Sometimes another club member will join me, but they usually find it too cold. I’m well-insulated, so the cold doesn’t bother me.
At least once a week, I hear the whirring of a bicycle tire coasting into the nearby parking lot and see a little red flashing light appear next to the club’s dumpster. When there’s enough light in the sky, I see a man alight from the bike and open the dumpster. Using a head-lamp, he pulls out everything, looking for something useful that he can either use or sell.He’s a dumpster diver. He goes to places where businesses have their dumpsters in an accessible place and rummages through the stuff they throw away to find things he can use or resell. As a social worker, I’ve known such people.
One person told me that he goes out every night from dusk to dawn and makes the rounds to his favorite dumpsters. The thing that makes it minimally worth it is the Oregon Bottle Bill. It was the first such legislation in the Untied States and has been adopted by many other states. When a person buys certain bottled or canned drinks, a 5-cent deposit is added to the price. Later, you can return the empty and get your nickel back.
There is a limit on how many bottles/cans you can return in one visit to the store. In Oregon, it is 144, meaning that the most you can earn is $7.20. These days, it hardly covers the gas to make the trip. There are programs in the state that will let you return as many as you can fit in two of their green bags. They will count them for you and credit an account. That also barely covers the gas.
The point is, a lot of people just don’t bother and throw the containers away and they end up in dumpsters. People like the man who dives in dumpsters near my pool and the one I interviewed can almost always count on finding a lot of returnable containers. The one I interviewed said that he had developed a few relationships with store owners that were willing to let him exceed the 144 limit. Stores don’t have to honor the limit, but most do.
If it were only bottle deposits, the more professional dumpster divers wouldn’t make much. While looking for bottles, they often run across things that still have some value. One told me that he often finds televisions and other electronics that still work. He sells them to secondhand stores and makes some money.
Other dumpster divers are not only looking for things to sell and bottles to return, but for food to sustain them. If you buy a sandwich, eat half of it, and throw the rest away, you may be feeding a homeless person. Not all of them are homeless. There are a lot of people with good jobs and homes that are quite willing to search a garbage can for half-eaten food.
My attitude towards the club’s dumpster diver has changed over the three summers since I’ve observed him. Last week, he called to me over the fence and asked how the water was. I answered politely and then watched and exercised while he methodically went through the whole dumpster and laid aside things he was planning to keep. When it was over, he threw the rest back in the dumpster, very responsibly cleaning up after himself.
When the man spoke to me over the fence, I immediately knew I would be writing about it here. The problem was, I couldn’t think of an analogy. I just knew I was supposed to talk about it. Of course, there was the obvious old truism, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but that didn’t strike me as particularly profound at the time or greatly applicable to this forum.
I also thought about the comparison between me diving into a pool to exercise my body while someone else was diving into a dumpster to troll for other people’s trash. That’s maybe a little closer to what I finally came up with, but not quite there.
I used to think that they couldn’t possibly be making enough money from it to make it worthwhile, but I’ve learned from research that it can yield a lot of monetary value for them, whether they are reselling or reusing. I’m not sure how that plays out as an hourly wage, but it has been a good supplement for one man on disability. Of course, I thought that if he could spend a whole night doing the labor-intensive work of going through garbage, he was not so disabled he couldn’t get a job.
So not meaning to malign people who are depending on what dumpster diving yields for them, I found an analogy in something else I’ve been pondering a lot this week. I’ve thought a lot about victim mentality. I knew I had hit on the application to this forum when I read, “Stop Acting Like a Victim!”
After reading this article and many of the comments, I had the thought that being in a victim mode is like living off of other peoples’ garbage. Rather than producing something of their own, they are spending all of their time rummaging through the garbage of what others have done to them and putting it back in the cycle of their lives.
I think this is particularly true of many of the elements of a supposed cure for same-sex attraction, finding a same-sex mentor to make us feel better. I’ve never found it to be true that you can attract friends by being needy. (See my article, “The Unattractiveness of Neediness” at LDSR.org.)
There is a lot of talk about this in NorthStar, the idea of how to find good same-sex friends who are caring and supportive. A lot of the time, I find the discussion to be based on a widespread victim mentality related to friendship. It involves a lot of time contacting people to try to interest them in our problems. In my experience, this is no way to attract a friend. In a way, it is dumpster diving for friends and ends up just collecting a bunch of junk friends who really can’t be counted on.
Instead, what has worked for me, is instead of rummaging through dumpsters of neediness and victimhood for what I can find there, I have to produce something of my own to earn friends. It is simple. To make a friend, be a friend. My closest male friends did not become friends because I was singing the blues, but because I was singing songs of joy.
I remember a tape the Church produced and distributed through the missionary program. On it was a song by Michael McLean, called “Be the Joy.” The message of the song was that we should be the joy in the life of others and that this is the way to be happy. I think it is absolutely true. It is also like the line from the old Primary song that says, “When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.”