How To Dumpster Dive

August 11, 2023


I am not a lawyer, I am a judgment broker. This article is my opinion, and not legal advice, based on my experience in California, and laws vary in each state. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.

Dumpster diving is an old trick used by judgment enforcers to discover clues about judgment debtor assets. Some judgment enforcers think it only makes sense to inspect the trash of rich judgment debtors. However, sometimes rich debtors are more careful to hide, shred, or burn records, than to toss them away. Sometimes seemingly poor and average judgment debtors toss away the best clues to possible valuable assets.

Dumpster diving has risks, and if something goes wrong, do not blame me, because my articles for your entertainment only. For the daring, here are some tips on dumpster diving:

The first consideration is – when are the judgment debtor’s trash cans full, and when are their trash cans picked up? Then, consider that playing with someone else’s trash is probably not legal. Do not trespass onto anyone’s personal property. Wait until the trash cans are on the city street. In some locations, people have to bring their trash to a transfer location.

One shortcut that has been used before, is to directly contact the garbage truck driver or the person riding shotgun with them, and give them the address of the judgment debtor, and offer them cash to deliver the judgment debtor’s garbage to you; around the corner, in exchange for cash. How much cash depends on many factors, $60 to $120 is perhaps an average.

With this shortcut, you can easily move the judgment debtor’s garbage to your inspection area. This shortcut is much more difficult in cities with mechanized trash collection systems. If the garbage worker will go for it, this is the safest way to intercept garbage.

If that shortcut will not work, then you have to do it yourself, or hire someone who will. Note that if the contents of the trash is being collected by any service other than the city – for example, a private garbage company, you might be stealing their property. Once garbage is placed in their receptacle, it is their property.

An easier shortcut, is to determine which garbage company the judgment debtor uses. Then you can call that company and ask which day they service that street. You can scope things out on the first pass, then you will know what color garbage bags they use. On a future garbage day, you can arrive soon, or just before the garbage truck comes down the street.

These days, many places have separate garbage and recycling containers. The good news is often the most valuable clues will be in the (usually cleaner) recycling bin. The bad news is that two cans are usually twice the hassle. Also, recycling material is rarely in bags, and might have to be picked out manually.

While many people use plastic bags to put their trash in, and ties their plastic bags shut, and then places them in their trash can; not all do. If there are no bags, and just loose and icky trash in the garbage can which is not inside plastic bags, that is much more time consuming, a big hassle, and extra messy.

People who have gone dumpster diving, recommend that one brings a flashlight. One reason is to separate documents from newspapers and advertisements.

If the trash is bagged, there are two ways to go; you can replace the judgment debtor’s garbage bags or not. Some dumpster divers do not replace the bags they take, calculating that most people would not notice that their garbage is gone, and if they do, they may think it is because of the official garbage person.

Another option used when garbage bags are replaced, is to take another person’s trash (perhaps the next block over) that uses the same color trash bags as your judgment debtor. The trash bags are taken from one garbage can, and used to replace the bags in your judgment debtor’s garbage can. This way if the missing bags are noticed, the confused person will not be your judgment debtor.

If the trash is in bags, and you replace the debtor’s bags, bring at least six bags of replacement recycling material. If you do not know what color trash bags the judgment debtor uses, bring more than one color of bags. The reason to bring choices of bag colors, is to match the bag color inside the garbage can. The recycling material can be (e.g.) crushed newspapers (maybe one of the last remaining uses for newspapers). The goal is to quickly change your bags for their bags.

The best vehicle to use when dumpster diving is a pickup truck. After your dumpster dive, you can put the tail gate down, and sort the garbage on the tail gate. When done, you can use a garden hose to clean the back of the truck. Another option is to use a floor, with a tarp, plastic sheet, or a drop cloth.

Experienced dumpster divers wear a low-cost surgical mask, goggles and V-Force gloves. They use tongs, and have large spoons and forks nearby. While sorting, they put actual garbage into a new garbage bag, and the stuff to save into small plastic bags.

Some divers put a bit of Vicks Vapor Rub cream under each nostril, to help reduce the fragrance of the garbage. A can of bug spray may be handy. For those who dumpster dive, may your judgment debtor’s paper shredders be broken, and may all of them have working garbage disposals.

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