Don’t Judge Me If You See Me Dumpster Diving

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Dumpster Diving

Twenty years ago, I vaguely understood what recycling was about. I thought it was putting plastic bottles in special trash cans. I may have recycled if there was a blue recycling bin in sight, but I never made a special effort to recycle.

I blame part of my attitude back then on availability. I lived in apartments and condos for much of my late teens and most of my 20s, and none of the buildings had designated recycling areas. And, of course, I was just too lazy to collect all my recyclables and take them to a recycling station.

Now? I’ve done a complete 180. I’ve been known to reach into trash cans and reclaim recyclables to dispose into recycling bins. Thankfully, no one has caught me at the office. I can’t help myself. I hate to see the discarded boxes for frozen foods or aluminum cans in the trash rather than the recycle bin.

And I’m no different at home. I’m constantly taking things out of the trash – and then talking to the offending family member about what goes in the trash vs. the recycling bin – and putting them in the recycling bin. I’m not surprised my husband starts to turn away when he sees me walking toward him with a plastic produce container. I tell him, “You know this container can be recycled right?”

But I take pride in knowing that I’m saving something that can be recycled from going to the landfill. I even make it fun for my kids to research whether our household items can be recycled. Batteries? You bet – even rechargeable and lithium ion batteries. Just take them to a hazardous recycling location or check out a mail-in program. Call2Recycle has great information.

Or #5 plastics like takeout containers or yogurt containers? Surprisingly, yes. Check out Gimme 5. You can drop off your #5 plastics or mail them to Preserve – where they’ll upcycle the plastics to toothbrush handles, reusable food storage containers and disposable dinnerware. Plus, all of Preserve’s products can be recycled again into new products.

You can even recycle compact florescent bulbs (CFLs) – even broken ones (check out how to dispose of a broken CFL), ink cartridges, and even latex paint.

I often ask my kids to think about whether they can recycle an item before they throw it away. And my next project will be working on composting some of our food scraps to make nutrient-dense soil in our garden.

So if you see my diving for recyclables in the trash or dumpster, don’t judge me. Have you ever recycled something that you didn’t know could be recycled?

Image credit: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo

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About Tracey Black

Hi, I’m Tracey. Welcome to Don’t Mess with Mama. Join me to stand up against junk food, processed food, and anything artificial. I’ll show you how to cook wholesome, gluten free (and grain free) meals with real food ingredients to nourish your family. Plus, learn how to get the toxins and chemicals out of your home for good with my favorite DIY and homemade recipes for beauty, personal care and cleaning products.


  1. I don’t think I’ve ever reached into a trash can to get a recyclable item out. But if I see someone heading toward it, about to throw it in, I might point out a nearby recycling container and encourage them to use it.

    Thanks for the great post!

    — Laura @ Frugal Follies

  2. It’s so easy to recycle, I don’t understand why people don’t do it. It’s as simple as a 2nd garbage can to collect recyclable items. Our recycle bin is often more full than our garbage can. Even my tiny little town has weekly recycling and special drop-offs for batteries and such.

  3. Your title made me laugh! Cute! I had no idea you can recycle batteries. Very cool!

  4. No judgment here! I recycle everything.

  5. Oh, this is awesome! And so true! And I did NOT know about Gimme 5. This would be an awesome project for school classes to do as a community activity!

  6. I am a compulsive recycler and am constantly dumpster diving for recyclables. My little ones (4 and 1) don’t throw much away, my husband is a bit of a lazy recycler. I look at how much we recycle and could not bare to have it all go into the regular garbage. Even though it is so easy to recycle, to really enforce recycle, you need to charge a fee for each pound of garbage people put out. This will encourage people reduce the weight of garbage by pulling out their recycling. It’s a crazy thought! I don’t know if I could dumpster dive recyclables at work but I do bring home my banana peels to compost them.


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