Teachers Eat Free

April 30, 2009 at 7:47 am | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

fajita-burritoChipotle Mexican Grill restaurants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area will be offering free burritos for Teacher Appreciation Day on Thursday, May 7. Any teacher who brings in ID proving that he or she is a teacher will get a free burrito, burrito bowl, salad or order of tacos at any Bay Area Chipotle location from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

The Science Behind Beachcombing

April 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Posted in News | 3 Comments

rubber-duckieBeachcombing feels romantic and random. As we wrote in The Scavengers’ Manifesto, “Beaches are where wild nature and fun-seeking humanity often meet. The result is a glorious, ever-changing array of treasures both natural and human-made, delivered in the most dramatic setting possible. Finding nice things along a shore — whether it’s driftwood or seashells or coins — feels magical, like having been tossed a prize from an undersea kingdom.” But actual science applies to beachcombing, as it does to nearly everything. In his new book Flotsametrics: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science, oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and maritime writer Eric Scigliano detail Ebbesmeyer’s research on currents and “gyres,” the circular patterns that objects follow in water as they travel as many as several thousand miles. Ebbesmeyer hosts “Flotsam Hour,” a program on Puget Sound’s public-radio station, KUOW-FM.

“It all began with sneakers,” we read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “A cargo ship bound from South Korea to Los Angeles hit a storm in May 1990, losing 78,932 Nike shoes, which proved to be excellent ocean-going travelers. Using a program called the Ocean Surface Current Simulator, the author and colleague Jim Ingraham were able to predict where and when the sneakers would wash up with remarkable accuracy. They repeated the trick with 28,800 bathtub toys lost in a storm in the North Pacific in 1992.”

Ebbesmeyer has also tracked eight of the world’s notorious “garbage islands,” aka oceanic trash heaps, “which together cover an area more than twice the size of the United States. He reports on a spot in Hawaii dubbed ‘Junk Beach,’ where there is so much plastic that the ‘sand’ is now made of it.” Eeew! Talk about a crime against nature.

New Lives for Old Stuff

April 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Recycling | 1 Comment

button2We’ve all been there: stuck with stuff we’ve scavenged but don’t know what to do with, or stuff we’ve had around the house for a while but don’t use anymore and thus don’t know what to do with, or broken stuff that we … well, don’t know what to do with, but don’t want to throw out.

Find answers galore at RecycleThis, a delightful UK-based blog that is a virtual font of ideas. Repurpose nylon guitar strings into cat toys, buttons into coasters, binders into handbags…. The stream of ideas NEVER runs out, and spurs you to come up with some of your own.

Now, as for what to do with all these old cassette tapes….

Round and Round and Round They Go, and Where they Stop….

April 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Celebrities, News | 1 Comment

us-quarter-backWe had a booth at a local Earth Day festival last weekend. Several passersby jokingly scolded us for selling a book about not buying anything. We half-agreed, but replied that a shopper would soon recoup the retail price of The Scavengers’ Manifesto by following the advice found therein. So it might be the LAST book that he or she ever buys retail.

Nonetheless, most authors find it a bit painful to imagine their books for sale at thrift shops and yard sales. Minnesota author Leif Enger told the Austin Daily Herald how it was for him:

“An old friend of mine took enormous joy in calling me on his cell phone from a garage sale in Iowa where he’d just found a hardcover copy of Peace Like a River” — his 2002 debut novel — “for 25 cents. I felt like a proverb about the insignificance of man, or a song by Kansas about blowing dirt.”

But ultimately, Enger said, “It made my day.”

The 2009 No-Cost Garden

April 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 56 Comments

This year we are taking a vow: We will try to grow at least half of our food in a garden that costs us nothing to create and maintain.

In order to achieve this we are initiating a new concept: No-cost gardening.

There’s a lot of talk these days about reviving the “victory garden” as a way to help Americans get through the current economic hard times. But there’s a serious flaw in this proposal: As currently practiced in much of urban America, gardening is no longer a way to save money on your food budget. Instead, gardening has evolved into a rather expensive upscale hobby similar to golf or sailing. All the different necessary accoutrements of the backyard garden can be quite pricey. The reason many people don’t try to grow food in their gardens is that they assume that the overall expense of gardening will cost them more in the long run than it would to simply buy all the same produce in the grocery store.

And while that assumption is accurate if you take into account the way most home gardening hobbyists operate, things don’t need to be that way. Using the principles of scavenging, it is possible to create a neverending cornucopia of vegetables, fruits, herbs and legumes in a garden that costs you essentially nothing at all to create and maintain.

This post will show exactly how we do it. Want to join the fun and learn how to eat year-round for free? Read on!

This is the main gardening plot in our backyard. As you can see, it’s not particularly huge. Because of that, we also have various smaller side-plots here and there around the house. In fact, let’s consider that our first recommendation:

Maximize your growing area. Whether you rent or own your home, try to clear out and make use of any potential gardening beds. The sunnier, the better. Because the more space you have, the more you can grow. And the more you grow, the more you eat home-grown food and the more money you save.

(And if you don’t have a yard of any kind that you can use, try some guerrilla gardening on unused public land.)

It’s still spring, so most of our seeds are still germinating in the ground or have just recently sprouted, so the garden doesn’t look too impressive yet. But come back this summer for an update when the produce-heavy season is in full swing!

This is our gardening tool shelf. As is pretty obvious, we have accumulated a ramshackle assemblage of decidedly unglamorous tools for gardening. All of which were obtained for free, through scavenging. The bowls and buckets, used for holding pulled-out weeds, and also for holding harvested vegetables, were found in various FREE boxes and/or were being thrown away after garage and rummage sales. The short-handled triangular hoe in the front is just the end of a broken full-size hoe that someone had tossed out; we salvaged it and have found that this mini version is even more useful than the long-handled original. (Same applies to the short flat-edged hoe next to it.) The various snippers and trowels and sprinklers are all slightly substandard discards rescued from the all-too-common piles of gardening leftovers that people tend to leave out for the trash collectors at the end of each gardening season. (The only tool in the picture that cost us anything is the high-quality red-handled snippers, which we bought for 50¢ at a yard sale.)

So the next piece of advice is:

Don’t buy chi-chi gardening implements to impress your friends and neighbors. That’s totally unnecessary. The free or nearly-free ones you can scavenge generally work just as well. Gardening is not about showing off; it’s just about getting down and dirty. And a dinged-up slightly rusty trowel will do the job just as well as the shiny brand-new one.

Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty: Where do we get all our seeds from, and how do we get them for free? As you can see from this photo (and the one below) showing just a small percentage of the over 100 types of seeds we have accumulated, we have an amazingly wide variety of familiar and exotic garden vegetables from every imaginable source, including home-collected seeds (in the packets with the hand-lettered labels) as well as seeds from dozens of commercial seed companies, both well-known and obscure.

We get our seeds from many scavenging-type sources, including:

– Saving the seeds from store-bought produce. It’s amazing how often this works and yet how few people do it. Save out a few seeds from a cherry tomato in your salad, plant them, and — alakazam! — you’re likely to get a tomato plant. Same is true for bell peppers, melons, eggplants, and many other fruits and vegetables that might be in your refrigerator right now.

– Buying expired and old seed packets at garage sales for very little money. Old seed packets don’t crop up too often at sales, but when they do, you can often get them for ten cents or twenty-five cents a packet. If the seller is trying to overcharge you, turn the packet over and point out that the seeds expired years ago and are thus essentially worthless; that usually works in helping to drive the price down to pocket change level. (Yes, this violates our “no-cost” rule for gardening, but every now and then we have to bend the rules a little. Ten cents for a hundred seeds isn’t much of a bend.)

– The Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL), which is a local nonprofit group which runs a no-cost seed “library” where users can “borrow” seeds for free and plant them, with the tacit agreement that the following year, if some of your plants have bolted and gone to seed, you return them eventually. In practice, however, the BASIL library — a corner in the local ecology center — is basically used as a permanent “seed swap,” at which anyone can bring in and donate seeds, and then take away some different seeds in trade. Which is generally what we do: Whatever seeds we find that we have an excess of, or which we can’t grow particularly well in our exact micro-climate, we bring and donate, and then see if there are any new seeds in the (engagingly messy) library for us to take away in trade. Luckily, some commercial seed companies have taken to occasionally donating to the library substantial quantities of their expired seed packets that are past the sell-by date (which are thereby normally discarded), so sometimes very interesting and unusual seeds can be found at BASIL. For example, the last time we visited, we donated some arugula seeds and melon seeds, and discovered hundreds of packets of expired “Ecoseeds” for exotic peppers, cucumbers and herbs, a few of which we “borrowed” for planting back home. (If you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area and can’t visit BASIL, there are similar organizations in other places around the country; do a Web search for your area.)

(…Free seed tips continued below the next photo…)


– Seed swaps. Various clubs and cliques of gardening enthusiasts hold “seed exchanges” or “seed swaps” in which a group of like-minded individuals get together to trade seeds, in an effort to increase everyone’s biodiversity. We’ve only done this a few times, but each time has been an interesting experience.

– Seed sales at discount stores. If you’re lucky, you can catch the right moment when some discount supermarkets drastically lower the prices of already-cheap seed packets as they approach their expiration dates. Last year a local discount store was selling packets at 10 for a dollar. Again, not quite free, but almost free.

And of course:

– Saving the seeds from the plants we planted last year. We always try to let at least one plant of each type “bolt” and go to seed, so we can save its seeds and start the cycle all over again the following year.

A key principle to remember about many of these techniques:

Expired seeds are not like expired food. Once a packet of seeds is “past its expiration date,” it doesn’t mean that it has spoiled and needs to be thrown out. All it means is that the seeds have started to get a little old and as a result begun to lose some of their potency. A new packet of seeds will have somewhere between a 70% and 90% germination rate. A packet that is one year past its sell-by date will have a 60% germination rate; after two years it falls to 40%-50%, and so on. Generally, after about four or five years past expiration, seeds are pretty much kaput, though it depends on the type of vegetable. We still have some seeds from 2000 that still germinate pretty reliably, but that’s a rare case. So our tip for this aspect of no-cost gardening is:

Get old packets of seeds for free or cheap, then plant more than you need, taking into account the fact that only half of the seeds at most will ever sprout.


We’re still at the beginning of our gardening season, but we already have this lettuce growing quite healthily. It sprouted from seeds that appeared on a few heads of last year‘s lettuce which we had allowed to bolt.

Back in the garden: We plant beans along the wall, and then when they reach a certain height we contruct haphazard trellises from scavenged scraps of wood. Notice how each bean sprout is of a different type: We purposely planted a very wide variety of beans (purple runner beans, lima beans, Asian “long beans,” yellow beans, etc.) to see which would grow the best. Turns out this year they’re all growing pretty well, so we’re going to have a wild assortment of beans to eat later.

This picture shows some of our many cucumber sprouts. They might look all the same, but each sprout is of a different kind of cucumber: some are normal “Straight Eight” standard garden cucumbers, some are Armenian cucumbers; others are lemon cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, Persian cucumbers, and more.

That’s always our goal with our garden: Variety. Which leads us to our next tip:

Plant as wide a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and legumes as possible. It makes the harvest so much more interesting, and makes your home-grown meals less repetitive.

A good example of this principle: Ajwain. What the heck is ajwain? you might ask. We had never heard of it either until we found several expired packets of ajwain seeds at BASIL, and took some home just on general principles. Turned out they flourished, as you can see. So within a couple months we had more ajwain than we knew what to do with. A bit of online research revealed that ajwain is the secret ingredient in Indian food that makes it taste uniquely Indian, which is why when you try to make curry at home it almost never tastes quite as good as in a restaurant. You can eat the frilly green ajwain leaves or cook with the seeds later in the season. One way or another, we add it to all our Indian dishes now, and are amazed at how it enhances their flavor.


There’s more to growing a successful garden than just seeds, trowels and dirt. Often you’ll need some kind of fertilizer and other soil treatments; various stakes for the growing plants; larger buckets for hauling things around; and of course a hose for the water. All of which you see in this picture — and all of which we scavenged. (The hose was given to us by a relative who was replacing it and getting a new one.)


Fertilizer is actually fairly easy to find at estate sales and garage sales. Because, unlike seeds, it never “expires” or goes bad. Often people will move or retire or simply lose interest in gardening, and when they do all their old supplies generally end up for sale or for free. Most of the fertilizer we’ve accumulated is positively antique. The “49’er Rose Food” bag looks like it’s from the 1970s at the latest , but it was still sealed when we bought it for 50¢ at a garage sale. The fertilizer spikes are at least 25 years old and were being tossed out when a foreclosed house was being emptied, as was the “Vitaman B” concoction which is quite handy when transplanting sprouts (something we have to do often due to the irregularity of old seed germination). The two clear plastic tubs are simply re-purposed containers holding some generic fertilizer that we found in a disintegrating bag someone had set out for the trash.

The only “new”-ish product in our arsenal is the box of Miracle-Gro, which we bought half-empty at an estate sale for $1, and is just about the most expensive thing in our entire yard. But we made up for it by creating a “sprinkler” for the Miracle-Gro by poking holes in the lid of an empty plastic juice bottle.

We also of course have a compost pile, to let nature’s scavengers (earthworms) turn our discarded vegetable matter into topsoil.

Our buckets were salvaged from the trash bin outside a Japanese restaurant: an empty five-gallon Kikkoman soy-sauce container and a bulk container for pickled ginger.

Our stick collection — used as stakes and “dividers” marking off the various planting areas in the garden — is a typical scavenger’s horde: warped dowels, broom handles, bamboo sticks, broken golf clubs, random metal poles, chopsticks and basically any long slender scrap of wood we happen upon.

The sticks in action.

Springtime is the season for “volunteers” — plants that grow accidentally in your garden, either sprouting from old roots, or from seeds that fell to the ground accidentally or which were brought up to the surface when the soil was turned. Here a small forest of volunteer Chinese broccoli (which is sort of a cross between bok choy and regular broccoli) competes for space with some volunteer Buttercrunch lettuce.

Meanwhile, in a sunnier spot, an intentionally planted zucchini seed has successfully sprouted and looks destined for a long, healthy and productive season. A single zucchini seed can grow into a plant that can make literally 50 pounds of zucchini in a year, if properly nurtured. With four zucchini plants you can feed the whole neighborhood.

Of course, we can’t grow all our food in the garden; that’s why we only propose to grow half of our food. We are vegetarians, but things like wheat, rice, tea, sugar, milk, bananas and any processed food will have to come from the store.


Whenever we find that some seeds have fallen out of their packets, and we no longer know what is what, instead of throwing them away we collect them all together and toss them into a “miscellaneous” zone to see what comes up. This year’s miscellaneous zone seems to be dominated by arugula and various mystery greens.


Some plants are so hardy they work as perennials: this cluster of collard greens and red chard was planted over a year ago, and no matter how many times we harvest the leaves, they keep growing back.

This brings up a good tip that’s important for any kind of garden, no-cost or otherwise:

Plant each type of vegetable in the appropriate part of your yard’s ecosystem. We planted these collard greens in a semi-protected shady area, and as a result they survived the summer heat; but the peppers and cucumbers we planted in the hottest part of the yard. Know your garden’s sun and shade zones, and plant accordingly.


We planted some old tomatillo seeds in the full sun, and marked the seed locations with scavenged popsicle sticks. None of the seeds we planted sprouted — but dozens of volunteer tomatillos popped up nearby anyway, the descendents of last year‘s tomatillo crop, some of which had fallen to the ground.

Every year we try to plant basil; every year they sprout, and then every year snails and slugs eat the baby basil plants almost immediately. We still haven’t figured out a scavenged solution for this problem. Snails and slugs seem to love basil above all other delicacies.


We’ve designated this end of our garden the “herb zone”: a huge flourishing bush of oregano, some parsley at the front, chives at the back, and some thyme and basil struggling to get a foothold.

Our microclimate is sometimes just a tad too cool for peppers, but a recent brief heatwave caused these exotic pepper varieties to germinate wonderfully. Let’s hope the summer stays warm enough for us to get some fruit off them eventually.

In the coolest, shadiest back corner of a side area we planted some bok choy. It does well in the winter in our garden, but summer heat often causes it to bolt prematurely. But since seeds are basically free for us, it doesn’t cost us anything to experiment and plan for every contingency. So our final tip is:

When using free scavenged seeds, plant both hot-weather and cool-weather crops in the same garden each spring; that way, whether the summer season turns out to be sunny or cloudy, you’ll at least have something that grows successfully.

It’s not all about vegetables. This is one of our flower areas, but we’ve been lackadaisical and haven’t finished de-weeding yet to plant our scavenged salpiglossis, marigold and petunia seeds. Notice the garden ornament at the back, which we found buried in a tangled thicket when we first cleared out the backyard.

Here’s a dose of reality. Not everything we try turns out well. This is the area where we planted dozens of Thai eggplant seeds. Problem is, there was no expiration date on the package, so we didn’t know how old they were. Not a single one sprouted. This is an inescapable part of any scavenged no-cost garden: Not everything you try will succeed.

And here’s why: this photo shows the back sides of various randomly selected seed packets from our collection. As you can see, the expiration dates range from 2002 up to 2007. Some of them are getting pretty old, and have lost almost all their potency. When that happens, we just dump the entire packet in the soil and hope maybe one or two seeds will germinate. If not — it’s time to start scavenging some new seeds!

One last note: water.

Yes, our water comes out of the hose just as at any other home, and as such it isn’t exactly scavenged, nor is it free. We do have to pay the water company. But a careful examination of our bimonthly bill reveals that only a small percentage of the charge is for the actual water itself. Most of the bill is for administrative and standard charges that would remain the same whether or not we used any water. Turns out we’re being charged only about $6 for every two months of water usage, which works out to $3/month, or 10¢/day. And only about a third of that at most is used for watering our garden (as opposed to household uses). So we’re paying only about 3¢/day for our garden water, which may not be free, but it’s pretty close to free.

We hope this tour of our scavenged garden has inspired you to try no-cost gardening yourself!

Toxic Chemicals and Thrift Shops Don’t Mix

April 23, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

mercuryglobA mercury spill wrought huge damage on an Ohio thrift store. Why do these things happen? Just … why?

Oh. They happen because well-meaning people donate malfunctioning blood-pressure machines, that’s why.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the victim was a Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, which will reopen Friday after more than three weeks spent cleaning up after the spill:

“It cost the charity about $300,000, including an estimated $80,000 in lost inventory, said spokeswoman Megan Ericson. Employees were able to work at other locations during the closure. Yesterday, those employees were thrilled to be back on Indianola Avenue. They were stocking and cleaning, hoping that donations will continue to fill the store, which had to be emptied of its inventory and most of its racks and shelving for fear that they could pose a health threat.

“A mercury leak from a blood-pressure machine donated to the store likely spilled about a tablespoon in all, but the majority of that was contained to the area where the device was displayed, said Joel Hogue of Elemental Services & Consulting Inc., the Powell company hired to lead the cleanup. Trouble ensued when employees dust-mopped, he said, unknowingly spreading mercury throughout the store and breaking it down into smaller and smaller beads. The smaller the beads, the more likely the mercury is to vaporize. ‘Mercury vapor is such that it actually impregnates everything,’ Hogue said. That means the clothes and other goods that didn’t even come in contact with the ground were contaminated, contributing to unsafe mercury levels.

“Decontamination of every item in the store would have been excessively costly and time-consuming, and Volunteers of America decided that starting from scratch was a better option, Hogue said…. The issue at the store was the sheer volume of contaminated items.

“Nobody has been sickened in connection with the spill….

“VOA stores aren’t supposed to accept donations of products that contain mercury, and store manager Mandy Blevins said she’s unsure how the error was made. In the past few weeks, signs have been posted reminding employees about sources of hazardous materials, and management has held several meetings, she said.

“The store was about 80 percent restocked yesterday but remained especially in need of men’s and children’s clothing.”

Hey, Ohioans with cluttered closets: Help ’em out and become a “scavengee,” aka a provider of scavengeables.

Free Fruit, Forever

April 22, 2009 at 6:15 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

3272-prunus-domestica-stanley-plum-tree1Now I want to move to Manchester! That English city is planning to provide free fruit, nuts and honey for all — pretty much forever. According to today’s Daily Mail: “Thousands of fruit trees and bushes are to be planted in a city centre to provide fresh — and free — produce for locals. The council implementing the £200,000 scheme said it was triggered by children not knowing where fruit comes from.”

What? That’s scary.

“All of Manchester’s 135 parks are to be planted with fruit and nuts, as well as herbs such as mint and parsley. The scheme will also see around 20,000 soft fruit bushes introduced across the city. The three-year plan aims to reintroduce rare fruits such as mulberries, damsons and greengages.”

Those last two are kinds of plum.

“The plants will have signs telling people their name and the right time of year to pick them. Vegetable patches will also be created, but because they need more work the produce will go to the volunteers who tend them. Beehives are also being set up at a number of sites across the city — each capable of producing up to 80lb of honey a year. Park staff and volunteers will be trained how to handle the hives. If successful, hives will be introduced in all parks. Officials say the council may eventually produce its own honey and wax.

“Chaz Farghaly, the council’s parks and leisure boss, said: ‘Historically there have been very few fruit trees in our parks and we were amazed by the number of young people who told us they didn’t know where fruit and veg came from. These are public areas and there is no reason why people shouldn’t be able to help themselves to the produce grown.’”

Yum! Urban foraging is one of our favorite forms of scavenging.

More Earth Day Freebies

April 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Deals | 3 Comments

multiIt’s Christmas in April, as HolidayLEDs.com is giving away free LED holiday lights in honor of Earth Day. It’s the e-commerce retailer’s second year of doling out the freebies.

Starting at 10 a.m. EST tomorrow (April 22), HolidayLEDs.com will give away one set of solar-powered LED Christmas lights to the first sixty visitors. According to a press release, “The free light sets are a 200 light LED Christmas light set that operates entirely from solar power. Because the super-efficient LEDs draw so little power they can operate using a very small solar panel. Only 60 sets are available and will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis. No purchase is required but participants must pay a shipping charge of $7.99. The solar LED Christmas lights retail for $49.99. In addition to the free solar lights, HolidayLEDs.com is offering 25% off all of its LED lighting products.” Company spokesman Nathan Munro says:

“Last year we celebrated Earth Day by giving away free LED icicle lights but we decided we could go one better and give away solar powered LEDs for this year’s celebration…. The free light giveaway is a lot of fun and last year it was a great success but this year we have also planned a company event to celebrate Earth Day.”

Jackson, Michigan-based HolidayLEDs.com purchased a hundred white pine seedlings from nearby Porcupine Hollow Farm and will plant them in celebration of Earth Day. Munro says: “We all talked about what we wanted to do as a company for Earth Day and planting trees seemed like a bit of a cliché but it really does make a difference for the environment.”

It’s Down There, But Don’t Dig for It

April 19, 2009 at 11:22 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Cops in Bend, Oregon, are striving to keep local treasure-seekers from seeking a criminal couple’s buried loot.

A couple from Hawaii who pleaded guilty to stealing $2 million in silver, gold, rare coins and jewelry from a Bend home made a plea deal which entailed their promise to help police recover the buried coins and jewelry. More than half has been recovered so far, according to KTVZ. Last year, Dakotahaand Connie Yarborough burglarized the home.

“About 1,200 pounds of silver were recovered last fall, when Dakotah Yarborough was arrested in the Bend area, while his wife was captured in Redwood City, Calif. On Tuesday, police recovered more than 400 1-ounce American Eagle gold bullion coins, worth about $962 per coin at current market value, and about $600,000 in jewelry, including a solid-gold bracelet….

“Police are understandably not saying the location where the items were buried, both to make sure they can find the rest and to keep people from digging up the countryside on a buried-treasure hunt.”

Scavenge Without Even Standing Up

April 18, 2009 at 6:37 am | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

imac1People often ask us whether it’s possible to be a scavenger without getting dirty and/or without being seen in public doing “typical” scavenger activities such as thrift-shopping or haunting the 99 Cent Store. Well, these folks should shed some of their unwarranted shame, but the answer to that question is: Of course! Free-sample blogs abound online, with constantly updated posts about companies that are offering deals, coupons and freebies. A super example is Hey, It’s Free, which on any given day typically has links to everything from free coffee coupons to free magazine subscriptions to free laundry-soap samples. Even shut-in scavengers who can’t easily leave home can score interesting surprises every day.

The Dumpster Wars

April 17, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Posted in News | 1 Comment


After the Reno, Nevada city council recently proposed an “ordinance to restrict scavenging of garbage,” opposition sprang up in the form of SaveRenoDumpsterDiving.com, whose creator Christopher Moore lambastes such attempts to outlaw “this basic freedom in our community. This site is being created to advocate the practice of Dumpster Diving in the Reno area and inform the public and city authorities about this benign activity,” writes fifth-generation-Nevadan Moore, who laments that the proposed ordinance “targets some of the most downtrodden and voiceless individuals of our city: the homeless, the unemployed, the laid-off. Not to mention, it attacks the activities of Food Not Bombs, hobby curb crawlers, Freegans, trash bin divers, found object artists, dumpster divers, gleaners, recyclers, urban hunter gatherers and anyone who has ever retrieved perfectly good items from the trash, dumpster, curb or dump.”

World’s Largest Yard Sale?

April 17, 2009 at 9:39 am | Posted in News | 1 Comment

route-50-0119-smallIt’s like the best dream ever: a nationwide yard sale! The tenth annual Great U.S. 50 Yard Sale is scheduled for May 15-17 along the 3,000-mile east-west highway.

According to the Chillicothe, Ohio Gazette: “The original purpose of the sale, which began in 2000 in North Vernon, Ind., was to promote local tourism and become the nation’s largest annual sale, stretching from coast to coast. Tom Taylor, the national organizer for the event, said several other purposes are now served, including recycling of unwanted items and offering those looking for bargains in a trying economy the chance to find some. This year’s sale, according to organizers, is expected to be the largest yet, with strong participation expected along U.S. 50 in Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana and West Virginia and growing interest in Kansas, Missouri and Maryland. Participation in the sale is open to anyone and is free, although there may be local restrictions participants may have to follow….

“U.S. 50, one of the old National Roads, starts in Ocean City, Md., and travels more than 3,000 miles to Sacramento, Calif. – passing through Chillicothe and Ross County along the way. The road passes the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the St. Louis Arch in Missouri and, in the far west, is known as ‘The Loneliest Road in America.'”

Free Scoops

April 16, 2009 at 9:55 am | Posted in Deals | Leave a comment

ben-jerry-s-ice-cream-456780_275_300Mark your calendars — next Tuesday, April 21, is Ben & Jerry’s annual free-cone day. Click the link to find the participating “scoop shop” nearest you. Lines tend to be long for these things; we’re just warnin’ ya….

Come See Us

April 15, 2009 at 7:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Check us out tonight in San Francisco at Borders bookstore (400 Post St., 415.399.1633). We’ll be there at 7 p.m. to talk, sign books, show off scavenged stuff, and experience whatever else happens.

Our Kind of Couple

April 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

old-chairThese folks would be our pals, if we knew them. “Scavenger couple decorate their entire home for free with finds from skips,” reads the headline in the Daily Mail. (“Skip” is British for “Dumpster.”)

“One thrifty couple have taken the old-fashioned maxim to its extreme by decorating their entire home with furniture plundered from skips. Paul and Pauline Allen claim they have spent no more than a few pounds completely re-fitting their Victorian home in Brighton, East Sussex. Mrs. Allen, 59, said: ‘When we moved here we had bits like a dining room table and a couple of chairs but that was it. Now it’s full to the brim with lovely pieces. It’s not stealing, or scrounging or even down to being tight. It’s just throwing things away seems almost perverse when we have a perfectly good home for it.’

“The Allens’ scavenging habit started when they moved to Brighton and started to restore their new 1890s home to its original Victorian glory. Mrs. Allen — like her husband, an illustrator — said: ‘While trying to find original fittings like doors and the bathroom suite we discovered reclaimed things were so expensive. That’s when we noticed that other people were chucking the same things out and it went from there. We haven’t bought a single new thing since.’

“Twenty years later and the couple’s house is full of period furniture gathered — with the original owners’ permission — from skips, or simply given to them….

“Mrs. Allen revealed her tips for finding good quality rubbish.

“She said: ‘The first thing to do is look out for a ‘Sold’ sign going up outside a house. You know then that pretty soon the skip’s going to arrive. Then you have to be ready and waiting to act fast as if you see something you like, if you don’t get it out it’ll soon be broken by the next layer of rubble that the builders chuck on there.'”

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