Zanis has been "looking for gold" since 1955.
Of course, "gold" is a very loose term. The
treasure may appear in the form of a television set,
mannequin or moped, but Zanis doesnít discriminate. If
the find has value, he is satisfied. After all, not
everyone has such luck looking inside a dumpster.
carpenter by day and scavenger by night, Zanis, 64,
spends a lot of his free time searching area dumpsters
and garbage routes for neglected items he can pluck and
sell to junkyards or individuals. He learned the skills
of scrapping from his father and passed down the family
trade to his children. The unofficial business is not
only exciting, but also profitable ó Zanis said he
earns $20,000 to $40,000 a year selling other peopleís
GRILL, WILL SCAVENGE
canít believe the treasures you get," said Zanis,
an Aurora, Ill., resident. He posts videos of his
excursions to his YouTube channel, TheDreamCar. "Itís
not just about garbage. ... (People are) making a living
diving world is a sort of underground, dark-of-night
kind of culture. Itís secretive, potentially dangerous
and not for germophobes or the easily frightened.
Outsiders rarely know the world exists, but those who
join it ó usually alone or with a partner ó know to
follow the fragmented communityís list of unwritten
rules, publicized by Jeremy Seifertís film
The first one to the dumpster that day gets first dibs.
Never encroach on another diverís territory.
Leave the dumpster cleaner than you found it. The worst
thing you can do is make a mess.
Never take more than you need. Itís just common
lives by these rules, especially the first: If he sees
another scavenger en route, heíll ask where the seeker
plans to dive and avoid those spots. He doesnít want
to step on anyoneís toes.
many donít realize is that diving is legal everywhere
in the United States except where explicitly prohibited.
As long as a person does not trespass on private
property to reach a dumpster, diving is a welcome sport.
There are, however, certain communities that are less
accepting than others. Ordinances in Chicago and
Naperville, Ill., for example, state that commercial
scavengers must obtain a license before rummaging
ON THE LOOKOUT
finds everything from bicycles to dinette sets. He even
found a full set of patio furniture once. Typically he
will scout the Aurora area three or four times a week
with his two sons. When the pick is good, they may even
fill their truck a fifth time. On weekdays, they stick
to garbage routes and look for the goodies people leave
out on the curb. On weekends, however, they go for a
dive and dig around store dumpsters in search of hidden
treasure. This is when Zanis usually hits the jackpot.
life might seem overwhelmed by this, but I keep a
spotless shop," said Zanis, who piles his metallic
finds into his garage and waits to sell them in bulk. He
often rips apart products and recycles their scraps ó
gold from VCRs and computers, copper from TVs ó to
bring the metal to different junkyards. Zanis said he
watches the market closely and only sells his scraps at
the most profitable of times.
are like squirrels," he said. "We hang on to
our stuff until the price is right."
diving is a hobby for some, a lifestyle for others. For
Zanis, itís a mixture of both. Not only does the
pastime provide him with extra income, it also gives him
an adrenaline rush ó the element of surprise and
suspense, the challenge of rushing to claim his turf.
And itís all close to home.
Zanis, Chana Zakroff, 21, never saw herself as anything
more than a self-described "casual picker-upper or
receiver." The West Ridge resident went on her
first Chicago dumpster-diving excursion with a friend
about two years ago. She was fascinated by the amount of
food her friend obtained from the dumpster and decided
to join the game after tasting a salad made with freshly
picked produce from a local grocery storeís trash
her first trip, Zakroff said she was stunned to see the
amount of food in the dumpster. Boxes of lettuce just
past their expiration dates, bags of freshly baked bread
that wonít sell the next morning, cans of tomato sauce
too dented to be marketable. She said some stores donate
food to shelters. But even so, the surplus of leftover
food is overwhelming, and some things are bound to be
thrown away. (Divers are obviously willing to risk
eating spoiled food if it means they might save
something edible in the process.)
are several reasons someone may dive for food, Zakroff
said. Some enjoy the hunt, others want to save money and
some, of course, canít afford to eat any other way. A
select few ó freegans, who minimally participate in
the conventional economy and consumption of resources
ó feel a moral obligation to reduce and recover the
amount of food wasted in this profit-driven economy.
40 percent, or the equivalent of $165 billion worth, of
edible and available food goes uneaten in the United
States each year, according to a 2012 report from the
Natural Resources Defense Council.
doesnít consider herself a freegan, but dumpster
diving for food has helped her understand their beliefs,
to minimize the impact of wastefulness. She said her
main motivation comes from the convenience and price
tag. "I thought it was fun," she said.
"It felt like we were shopping, but instead of
going to the front, we went to the back, and everything
Zakroff and Zanis have had to defend their diving.
Zakroff said she uses discretion before telling people
she occasionally dumpster dives.
everyone is cool about it," she said.
said he received similar reactions when he has mentioned
is a connotation that people look down at us," he
said. However, instead of getting offended, Zanis said
he just smiles and tells people how much money he makes
a year from his hobby. After that, judgment subsides,
and everyone laughs.
can do it; you just have to swallow your pride,"
Zanis said. "A lot of people donít have the nerve
to do what Iím doing. ... Dumpster diving is a
free-for-all. Ninety percent of the people think its
illegal or are scared to do it."
course, there are opportunities to collect peopleís
junk without sticking a hand in a dumpster. Zanis
frequently goes on house cleanups and scans Craigslist
for free offers. And although Zakroffís hobby is
scoring food, she occasionally searches for giveaways
(the nonedible kind) on the Freecycle website (a
nonprofit movement to encourage reuse and recycling).
said she enjoys using the site because it allows her to
get free goodies without the worry of stumbling across,
say, furry animals. In addition, she appreciates the
fact that she can ask about the quality of an item
before she goes to pick it up. With dumpster diving,
everything is a gamble.
also likes the digital diving world, but he still
prefers tangible dumpsters and garbage routes. Not only
is it more exciting and suspenseful, but it is also more
convenient. With Craigslist, Zanis must follow another
scavenging enables him to hunt whenever he wants. All he
has to do, he said, is "dress in some smelly
clothes, go out and get accustomed to (the)