- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
The New York Post
By JOSHUA M. BERNSTEIN
February 29, 2004 -- On a recent Thursday night at an
upscale Upper East Side café, Wendy Sher, 24, and John
Phillips, 18, settled into comfy chairs to discuss garbage.
They were disappointed, though; they had been expecting more
garbage aficianados to join them.
Sher and Phillips are devoted dumpster divers -- people who
regularly and gleefully pitch themselves into any of the
dumpsters lining the city's streets, digging through mounds
of trash in search of buried treasure.
The two were brought to this café through the Web site
meetup.com. More than 70 people signed up on the site for
But the low turnout at the café wasn't totally unexpected:
Why should dumpster divers buy food when they find it in the
Divers like Sher and Phillips scour the city, searching for
food, clothes and even used accordions. They are not alone.
New York divers range from anarchists Food Not Bombs -- who
collect discarded food to fuel their soup kitchen -- to
artists hunting for materials to, possibly, you. Just where
did that coffee table in your living room come from, anyway?
For many, dumpstering is more than a haphazard junk grab --
it's a passion. Rustin Wright, 37, a professional organizer,
has been diving since 1981.
Over the past 23 years, he has recovered everything from a
maple veneer desk to a tweed jacket to stainless-steel
shelves scavenged from a Sony movie theater.
Diver Wright attributes his scores to "lots of people with
great taste and not enough space."
The Brooklyn-based Black Label Bike Club lives -- and lives
well -- by the dumpster. Black Label, which has over 20
members, has found food, beer, magnetic poetry and
Their specialty, though, is revamping found bikes. Club
members create tall bikes (frames welded onto frames,
towering skyward), swing bikes (front wheel spins 360
degrees) and the bronco which, like a bucking bull, is
impossible to ride.
Doyle attributes the bike bounty to unnecessary waste. "It's
easier for people to buy something new rather than fix it,"
28-year-old artist Brian Matthews' expertise is fixing --
and rethinking -- cast-offs. "Tools are the gatekeepers to
newly refurbished toys and science experiments," he says.
Using found treasures such as treadmills, 16 mm Kodak
cameras and copper cable, Matthews has constructed
pneumatic-powered wings, puppet shows and even a catapult
out of trash.
"When I discover a piece of tasty junk . . . it is as if a
golden light bathes me in the moment," Matthews says
rhapsodically. "I hear squeaky voices coming from stuff I
find: 'Help me! I don't want to end up in stinky New Jersey!'"
What does end up in landfills is food. According to a U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, one-quarter of
America's food, or 96 billion pounds yearly, is wasted --
much of which, divers say, can be reclaimed.
Doyle says Black Label acquires most of its staple foods
from dumpster-diving. "Besides," he suggests, "by taking
food from dumpster, companies will pay less in composting fees."
Some hardcore divers, though, can't make that leap. "My
paranoia about germs keeps me in the Safeway," Matthews says.
"You've got to be somewhat careful [about diving for food],"
Wright says, pausing. "Stew, however, will cover many sins."
For more information on future meetups, visit
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
"It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
*anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
-- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
_Detective Comics_ #608