In the Fairbanks area, dumpster diving is a hobby because you have to haul your trash to the transfer station. Read about the funny hobby and what the dumpster divers focus on to recycle.


  1. No mandatory trash removal service
  2. Transfer stations
  3. Recycling in Fairbanks
  4. Dumpster diving is a hobby
    • Now what is a dumpster diver?
    • Dumpster diving is very popular
  5. Dumpster divING outfits
  6. Wildlife dumpster divers
  7. The Fairbanksans
  8. Landfill


No mandatory trash removal service

In Fairbanks, there is no municipally organized trash service. No, panic! We are not having trash and rats in the streets! There are businesses who offer a trash collecting service in some neighborhoods. However, it is voluntarily to sign up. When you sign up, of course, you have to pay a fee for the service. You get a big trash can that they empty once a week with a medium size truck.


Transfer stations

So what do the others do? No, they do not throw their trash in their neighbors’ trash cans! They drive their trash to the transfer site. At each “end” of the town, there is a large fenced-in area with a small container for special trash, a lot of big dumpsters, two huge containers of the sort used for shipping by railroad, container trucks, and cargo ships. Furthermore, there is a roofed place.

One of the two big containers is for yard and and the other for private construction trash, and they are of no further interest. The small one is for hazardous material. The roofed place is about 15 yards times 10 yards (13.7 m times 9.1 m). It is called the “house” by the locals, and serves for “recycling”. Not the recycling you know from the Lower 48 or Europe. There is hardly any real recycling in Alaska due to the

  • sparse population of 731449 (US census 2012) on 663268 square miles (1717854 km2), which means 0.9 persons per square mile (2.3 per square kilometer),
  • barely there highway system, and
  • lack of recycling facilities.


Recycling in Fairbanks

What is recycled in the house are items that one cannot sell in a garage sale, consignment or thrift store anymore, but that are still totally functional. For instance, 20 yards of mesh fence, an old kitchen chair, books written in any language, but English, indoor plants, a push mover, rusty children bike, …

Thus, when people come to the transfer station they many of them browse the “house” after they have thrown their household trash into the dumpsters. Alaskans look at the great things in waste. When they have an idea how they could use something, they take it home.

I have seen everything from paintings to washers, chairs, TVs, CD players, canapes, snow blowers, bikes, dog sleds, clothing, cacti, cross country skies, hiking boots, clothing, push mowers, and mattresses there. I wonder what kind of person that would be who would take an used old, dirty mattress.


Dumpster diving is a hobby

I love to go to the transfer station, but not for browsing the “house”. I like watching the scene. What is so interesting about a transfer station? The people, and the trash divers.

There are some people who come with their pickup truck full of trash. Then they back their pickup in front of the dumpster so they can stand in the back of the truck and unload their trash into the dumpster. They take every item, look at it, and throw it into the dumpster. Normal so far. However, you often see this: About one third of the time, they carefully put the item they had looked at back into the truck. Finally, they leave with having only thrown away two thirds of their load. I always wonder what they think in that very moment when they decide to put the item back into the truck and what it made them to keep the item. May be someone else loaded the truck for them and they were told to drive to the transfer site?


Now what is a dumpster diver?

This term refers to a man or woman mining dumpsters. They climb into dumpsters and use a stick to open trash bags. The trash gets searched for reusable items like old plates, cups, clothes, vases, dolls, etc. No, these are not poor and/or unemployed people. They are collectors and come with big trucks in which they load their collectibles. Interestingly, they are there no matter how cold it is. For some of them it seems to be like the colder the better as then the competition is less and the possibility to make a great find is enhanced.


Dumpster diving is very popular

When the Borough once wanted to make a law that would forbid dumpster diving, the newspaper and its blog were full of protests. There were even articles with photos of the interior of cabins which were entirely furnished and decorated with items that their owners had picked up from the dumpsters at the transfer site!

Dumpster divers are so serious about their hobby that even 40 below zero fails to hold them back.


Dumpster Diving outfits

The dumpster divers’ clothing is very interesting. They wear jeans, typically dirty, but well fitting and of good quality, i.e. not something that is of low or no value. In summer, they combine their jeans with a T-shirt and a flannel shirt on top and a baseball cap. They wear hiking boots or other shoes that protect them from cuts. Often the jeans is tucked into long socks or the top of the boots so nothing slips into the legs of their jeans. In winter, they wear some Carhartt well insulated jacket and a trapper hat. Year round they are wearing tough construction leather gloves, and carry that sharp stick.


Wildlife dumpster divers

Then there are the ravens and doves. The ravens sit on the steal walls of the dumpsters. They wait for the dumpster divers to open the bags to eat the leftovers of the pets’ dishes. The doves walk around the dumpsters and pick up crumbs that fall out of the trash bags or from the cookies kids are eating while their parents are browsing the “house.”


The Fairbanksans

Then there are the people that just drive in with their Subaru, Focus, Toyota, you name it. They jump out of the car, open the back, take out one trash bag, throw it in a nice parable into the dumpster, hop back into the car, make a U-turn, and off they are.

And then there is me. The fashion blogger in her street style wearing a Victoria Beckham dress, a Victoria Secret black leather motorcycle vest, a vintage Camel bag (yes that cigarette company made clothes), a vintage Moschino belt, and studded pointy toe flats watching the scene.


midlife woman in street style

Alaskan blogger in dress with motorcycle vest
Outfit details: Victoria Victoria Beckham dress with vintage Moschino belt, Victoria Secret leather vest, Esprit bag, studded pointy toe flats, and Ray Ban sunglasses



Now to lifting the secret on the last point: What happens to the trash when the dumpster is full?  There is a big truck that turns the dumpsters over into the container it carries. Once the container is filled, the truck vanishes, drives to the landfill, and comes back. All day during the operating hours. End of the “trash story.”

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Photos of me: G. Kramm

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