Meet the #DumpsterBabes of TikTok

Dumpster divers across the US are using the platform to create an online space for those wanting to learn how to be more sustainable (or save money).

by Ashley Tan
08 April 2021, 7:00am

Screenshots via @BinBitches

Thanks to a year (and counting) of pandemic boredom, going to the supermarket has become less of a chore and more of a thrilling excursion for serotonin starved lockdown observers. For the Bin Bitches of TikTok, however, the real excitement lies not inside, but behind the store, in the grey receptacles loaded with what initially appears to be trash. Here, housemates Courtney, 24, and Leah, 30, film themselves rapidly rummaging through the bags, revealing a smorgasbord of colourful products. Unopened boxes of cereal, scented candles, makeup kits: you name it, they’ve scored it.

The Bin Bitches are part of a wider community on TikTok who are publicising their adventures via the #DumpsterBabe hashtag, which has to date blessed FYPs across the world with over 68 million views. There, bin raiders — or “divers”, as community members refer to themselves — show off not only their illustrious hauls, but also gadgets like the “grabby claw” to protect yourself from dangers like shards of glass, should you be interested in investigating your local dumpster. By publicising and normalising the activity (and safety concerns around it) the dumpster babes of TikTok are not only alleviating their pandemic boredom, but promoting sustainability and raising awareness about corporate waste

The United States alone generates around 239 million tons of waste each year. A lot of that includes perfectly usable products that go directly into landfills, never to be used or consumed. Scouting their local stores, the divers film themselves expertly springing into action saving unopened products that, only days before, were featured on display shelves for sale, enthralling followers with the endless mountains of salvageable goods that they find. “We saw how much dumpster divers in Texas were finding — they were selling it on PoshMark, online, and in big garage sales,” says Leah. “And we were like, ‘That’s in Texas, maybe up in Portland we won’t find the same amount of waste.’ But we have been.” In the last three months, the Bin Bitches have already amassed almost 15,000 followers. 

Although the trend has exploded on TikTok during the pandemic, it’s important to note that dumpster diving is nothing new. In fact, while we’ve been fighting it out for toilet paper, Georgia-based Nicky has been sorted for a few years — from the queue-free dumpsters behind her local supermarket. Also known as @dumpsterdivingwithnicky (with 22k followers), Nicky initially dumpster-dived out of necessity, having been recommended the activity by a friend during a time when money was tight. Several years later, Nicky has even made a business out of selling dumpster goods, uploading her daily finds on her e-commerce site Garbage Goodies. She also donates her finds based on the needs of her local food bank. “It’s exciting in general to find things,” she says, “but to know that you can help somebody who may need things is an even better feeling.”

That sentiment is shared by North Carolina-based Jules, 26. “Dumpster diving is like a scavenger hunt: I’m thrilled when I find something, especially if it’s a large amount of food,” they say. For Jules, dumpster diving has been a great way to contribute to mutual aid during the pandemic. Jules has set up a local pantry box that they regularly restock with their finds, something that has been received positively in their community. Jules has collected so much food that they’ve also been giving it away at their local Really Really Free Market, where market-goers share not only edible produce, but skills and knowledge too. “Currently, there isn’t a dumpster diving community where I am,” Jules says, “but I do hope to hold some skill-shares and foster that community.” To that end, they have been using TikTok to create an online space for those wanting to learn how to dumpster dive and redistribute food.

And while that all sounds very positive and good for the world, some people are (inevitably) not happy with the popularity of Bin Bitches and other divers. Dumpster divers and their followers may celebrate saving unused products, but our corporate overlords — shockingly — aren’t best pleased about their dumpsters being rummaged. While dumpster diving is technically legal in most US states, Consumer Reports notes that local laws differ, and divers can be arrested for trespassing if the dumpster sits within the store’s premises. “I did have one encounter with a manager from a grocery store who asked what I was doing and called the police,” recalls Jules, who quickly left. Though such incidents generally end without issue, dumpster divers are keen to build a good reputation for themselves. “We tend to leave the place cleaner than it was before we arrived, just so the people who work there realise dumpster divers are not the ones making the mess, nor are we the ones they should be upset about,” Leah says. 

The pandemic has not only put waste into sharp focus, but the thrill of picking up something useful has made dumpsters an integral part of divers’ daily lives. “Even if we’re not deliberately going dumpster diving together,” Courtney says, “I’m always going to look in a dumpster. There’s just always something to find! You can’t just drive past a dumpster now without peeking your head in.” 

Surgically removing products out of the dumpsters with their signature “grabby claws” certainly makes for an endlessly gratifying watch. But dumpster diving also forces many of us to come to grips with the amount of waste that’s generated by a capitalist society. “It’s hard because all of a sudden I don’t want to shop at one particular store, knowing how wasteful they are,” Leah adds. “We talk a lot about how, in America, we live in this culture of ‘if you want something you can go get it’ and expect places to have it in stock, which causes overproduction and waste. After dumpster diving, we’ve learned to be a little more mindful of the quick need for things,” Leah says.

She’s not alone: for many dumpster divers of TikTok, not only has diving become a part of their daily life, but also an influence in how they shop, and in turn, how much waste they produce themselves. “Nowadays, I only shop for perishables,” says Nicky. “Seeing the waste that stores produce encourages me to lessen the carbon footprint I leave in the world.”

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