Diving team

Come on in, the Dumpster’s fine

Father-daughter Ted and Heather Moore climb out of a large Dumpster with some new finds, including a clock and bedroll.

Father-daughter Ted and Heather Moore climb out of a large Dumpster with some new finds, including a clock and bedroll.

photo by amy beck

We had started our conversation over coffee, and one wild adventure later, ended up in a Dumpster.

Sweet! A mirror! And it’s in perfect shape!

Just a couple of hours prior to meeting Ted Moore and his daughter Heather, I had never pictured myself Dumpster diving. Now, I’m giddy about a used mirror.

“Are you going to become a Dumpster diver now?” Heather asked, laughing.

Ted and Heather dug through the Dumpster joyously, like kids coming upon not one but two cookie jars. It was like family bonding. And they invited me to be a part of it.

Trash talk

Diving into Dumpsters is probably as old as Dumpsters. The assumption is that most people who swim around in trash are homeless. But homeless people have competition: middle-class Americans.

But don’t worry: There’s more than enough trash to go around.

Last fall, a University of Nevada, Reno journalism class went Dumpster diving. They discovered that, in one day, the Reynolds School of Journalism Dumpsters filled up with 54 pounds of trash, 34 pounds of compostable material, 12 pounds of recyclable paper, and 10 pounds of recyclable bottles and cans.

Numbers like these have motivated many to Dumpster dive. It’s not only making a statement about waste, but also taking action to reduce it.

There are, of course, people against Dumpster diving. In 2008, Reno citizens brought the issue to City Council in hopes of making Dumpster diving illegal. They brought up health and identity theft concerns.

Christopher Moore, son of Ted and brother of Heather, protested. Not only by speaking out and holding up “Save Reno Dumpster Diving” signs, but also by creating saverenoDumpsterdiving.com and a short documentary titled Dumpster Wars: Reno’s Trash Politics.

The film starts with text moving across the screen in Star Wars fashion, explaining the local situation. It features clips from television news and antique shows, as well as Christopher’s own protests. And there’s frightening music in the background.

“What I wanted to do was a parody of the city,” says Christopher.

What Christopher, Heather and Ted found funny was that there are already federal laws about Dumpster diving in America. Though considered theft in Germany and other countries, Dumpster diving is legal in the United States. However, local laws, such as trespassing laws, discourage it.

The complaints died down, but some locals still don’t like it.

“I think it’s disgusting,” says Kevin Jones, a local graphic and web designer. Jones says he “couldn’t care less what other people do,” but will never do it himself. In my unscientific opinion survey, this seems to be the most popular position.

Another man’s treasure

Ted and Heather don’t look like they spend a lot of time in Dumpsters.

Heather has a librarian look: light rimmed glasses, dark brown curly hair, a gray “Save Reno Dumpster Diving” jacket, as-white-as-it-gets teeth, and black shoes with no laces. And Ted doesn’t look like he’s over 50. He has barely noticeable wrinkles and was wearing a black jacket, glasses, a black Nike hat, black running pants with gray stripes along the side, red running shoes, and a gold watch.

Ted, a retired antique dealer, and Heather Moore show off an old fiber optics sign they got at a garage sale. They believe nothing should go to waste.

photo by amy beck

At the local cafe, we bought coffee and went to a back corner to sit down. Ted ran to his vehicle to grab the “Save Reno Dumpster Diving” signs they used in their 2008 protest. They tossed me my own “Save Reno Dumpster Diving” shirt. I felt legit.

Ted ran through some of the history of Reno Dumpster diving.

“Things have changed,” said Ted. “It used to be unknown. Now with the recession, everyone’s doing it.”

For Ted and Heather, there are many reasons to Dumpster dive.

“Things just shouldn’t be wasted,” said Heather. “There’s a use for everything. And it’s fun.”

After Ted appeared on the television news during the 2008 Dumpster-diving drama, his sister-in-law called to make sure everything was OK, and to ask if they needed help. Heather and Ted laughed while telling the story.

“It shocks the middle class,” Ted said. “Most people think they’re above that level.”

Over the years, the Moores have collected a number of things from Dumpsters. From furniture to books to food. They say they’re always safe about it, making sure to clean items and take only non-expired food. And they often give stuff away to homeless people and at garage sales.

As for the concern of identity theft, they think people should wise up.

“You should be shredding it if it’s that important to you,” said Heather.

During our conversation, a guy walked up to ask about the signs. He’s also a Dumpster diver. We later found out his name was Bob. He had a mustache, hat, beige jacket, pants, and a very serious look on his face.

“It’s a good cause,” said Bob about both Dumpster diving and their 2008 protests.

As we walked out, a lady overheard our conversation. Her name was Cindi. She too is a Dumpster diver. She’s been collecting all her life. She told us about a washer she wants to give away. It leaks, but is probably an easy fix, she said.

We drove to her one-story house in Ted’s black Jeep. She had a huge garden in her front yard. The Moores decided not to take the washer, though.

As we said our goodbyes, she told us we should go to UNR to see what the students threw out. We decided to stop at Ted’s house in Southwest Reno first.

During this experience, I became convinced of something: Whoever invented the cliché “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” knows the Moore family. He probably coined the phrase seconds after seeing their garage.

The garage was filled with an abundance of items: boxes of books, clothes hanging up, picnic baskets, tennis rackets, tools.

“This is clean,” said Heather, laughing. They had just had a garage sale and gotten rid of a lot of stuff.

Ted showed me items like he was an antique dealer. (He used to be one—he’s now retired.) A shad fishing trophy, a clock from the late 19th century, a crystal bowl from the ’40s, old signs, Nevada antiques—all from garage sales and Dumpsters.

We left the Moores’ home and went to UNR. We checked the Dumpsters near Nye Hall. I had planned to just watch them dive. But I gave in.

We looked in the small Dumpsters at the side of the building. That’s where we found the mirror. We climbed up two large blue Dumpsters. Inside were sofas, fridges, bags and books. I couldn’t believe it was all going to waste.

Ted jokingly said to me as we were leaving: “You’re one of us now.”