Recreational dumpster diving is a hobby that has been near and dear to my heart for most of my adult life. I challenge you to name an activity more rewarding than uncovering a pristine, untouched loaf of organic sourdough bread out of a dumpster laden with egg shells, used napkins, and coffee grounds.

The thrill puts the adrenaline rush of skiing and rock climbing to shame.

While dumpster diving has brought me good, not-so-clean fun for the past five years, I neither thought the trashy past time would become a staple in my post-University of Montana environmental studies-graduate career path, nor the skills transferable to affecting real change as a step along the path outlined in ZERO by FIFTY: Missoula’s Pathway to Zero Waste. 

Yes, you interpreted that correctly, sort of. I'm a “professional dumpster diver” with a Resource Center Waste Audit Certification to legitimize my transformation from resourceful student to community change maker. Let me explain.

Working alongside my colleague Casey Brandon, “dumpster diving,” or to use the industry term that is more accurate to my current daily activities, waste auditing, is the first step in our Zero Waste Pledge program, We Pledge. We Pledge started as our senior capstone project at the University of Montana and has become a full-time service position through the Americorps Energy Corps program, with the City of Missoula as our host site.  

The mission of We Pledge is to increase the awareness of the City and community’s ZERO by FIFTY plan and initiative, which comes with the adopted goal to reduce or divert 90% of what the Missoula community sends to the landfill by 2050. Our part of that bigger effort is accomplished by engaging the business community, and publicly recognizing them for their efforts.

This, in turn, raises the zero waste literacy of their customers, and our community. And, we hope this well-deserved recognition becomes a reason customers choose their business, and that it is a tool to boost their triple bottom line. Business owners who sign up for the We Pledge program receive in-depth consultation on how best to incorporate a zero waste program in their operations, including:

  • Dumpster diving! We work with the business to find a time to do an in-depth waste audit, which involves sorting all waste based on what could be recycled, what could be composed, and what is destined for the landfill. We also look for materials in each bin that do not belong there in order to better educate business owners and employees.
  • Post-audit consultation. We report to the business the percentage of waste currently being diverted from the landfill, the percentage of recycling that was contaminated, the percentage of waste that could be diverted through recycling and composting, accompanied by suggestions on different purchasing practices and actions to reduce upstream waste production.
  • Pledge. The folks representing the business or organization pledge to take 2-3 of our suggested actions from the report, or creative ones they come up with on their own. The actions represent the changes to their business they feel most confidently they can accomplish within one year’s time. Actions can be anything from signing up for a compost collection service to no longer offering plastic straws. 
  • Celebrate. Once their pledge is made, the business or organization receives recognition on our website, a sweet window decal to show-off for the public, a certificate acknowledging their commitments, and support from us to make sure those commitments become a reality.  
  • Ongoing support. The We Pledge team is there for support throughout the year to ensure the pledge points are realized. One year later the waste stream will be reevaluated to measure the improvements in waste reduction. 

That’s it. Pretty simple, but transformative and impactful. So far, everyone we have spoken with has welcomed our help with arms wide open. People care!  

Shoutout and major kudos to our inaugural We Pledge Cohort - the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream, Black Coffee Roasters, Logjam Presents, Green Source, Basal, and the Missoula Paddleheads. While the first cohort is full, we’re already planning for the next cohort, likely in the fall. In the meantime be sure to get inspired by visiting the We Pledge businesses listed above to see what they're doing to reduce their waste – and thank them for their efforts!

If you're interested in doing a deeper dive into We Pledge, the ZERO by FIFTY plan, or a whole host of other Zero Waste information and resources in general like the “What do I do with” tool, the ZERO by FIFTY website is an incredible “all things Zero Waste in Missoula” home that I urge you to explore and share wide and far.

Sierra Deimling is an Americorps Energy Corps member working with the City of Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events

Every Friday. Missoula Friday Climate Strike. Noon – 1pm. February strikes are at NorthWestern Energy’s Headquarters. Stand in solidarity with climate strikers around the world. Coordinated by Families for a Livable Climate and Sunrise Missoula. More here.

Now through mid-March. Dear Tomorrow Missoula letter writing project, sponsored by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate. Dear Tomorrow is a global storytelling project focused on sharing personal messages about climate change to inspire action. Details here.

March 6. History of Transportation & Planning during First Friday. 5-7 p.m. downtown at the Hammond Arcade. Details here.

March 7. FIXIT Clinic. Get help repairing stuff and help move our community towards Zero Waste. Family-friendly fun and helpful Fixit coaches. Free. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Home ReSource Community Room. Details here.