‘Ottawa’ People are Surprised When You’re in a Suit and Find Out You Were Dumpster Diving
Darcy Whyte’s life took a turn when his friend brought home an air compressor.
It was pulled from a dumpster.
Compressors can go for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, and the only thing this one needed was a new plug and it was as good to go.
“We said, ‘Oh! That’s interesting!’ and by the next day we had stuck our noses in a couple dumpsters hoping to find one,” said Whyte, a retired software developer and now a full-time artist.
“We were never the same again,” said Whyte about his eclectic group of friends — a retired electrical engineer and two young, full-time IT and infrastructure professionals with children. They call themselves Make 613 – a group of up-cyclers in an upstairs compartment of a 19,000-square-foot warehouse above Ottawa’s popular Art-Is-In bakery. Inside are oddball gadgets, piles of containers of chipped CDs and miscellanea, and a 12-foot mound of Styrofoam.
They have gone dumpster diving individually, but they are now going on “field trips” together to find materials to create up-cycled projects.
“It’s like you’re a kid on a bicycle, exploring the woods somewhere,” said Whyte. His friends take random routes around Ottawa and stop at dumpsters along the drive.
If it’s accessible with no fences, and reasonable that the waste is out there to be disposed of, it’s a go, Whyte said. “We just use common sense.”
Dumpster diving is a loose term given to people who scavenge dumpsters for reusable, recyclable material. It’s a hobby for some here in Ottawa.
There are some who dive for organic substances like food. But for Whyte and his crew, “If you smell a restaurant, it means we’re not there.”
Under city bylaws, it is prohibited to scavenge garbage that has been put out for collection unless authorized by the city. This does not apply to “uncontained items such as bulky items, furniture and similar items” such as large electronics and scrap metal.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, the city had 456 complaint calls about scavenging. Roughly three-quarters of those calls were for scavenging from recycling and garbage bins, and one-quarter were for making a mess while scavenging through garbage, said Marilyn Journeaux, manager of Ottawa’s solid waste services, in an email.
In 2015, the city gave seven warnings and one fine for a repeat blue box scavenging offender.
“We never leave a mess or disturb the peace,” said Whyte, who’s never had trouble with city authorities.
There’s a stigma around dumpster diving. Whyte said he has fun being at fancy dinner parties when someone asks what he did that day.
“People are surprised when you’re in a suit and find out you were dumpster diving,” Whyte said, before laughing.
Whyte explained he doesn’t dumpster dive solely for the widgets and trinkets. “It’s about exploring.”
On his most recent field trip with his buddies, Whyte salvaged a dolly and some oak wood.
“One of the things that I learned about Ottawa is that we really waste a lot,” said Whyte, who also tries to salvage materials from companies before they hit the dumpster.
“Everyone says they know, but it’s a whole different thing when you see it.”