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Excess Made Accessible

YouTubers are diving face first into rubbish bins for a fix of beauty

When watching beauty channels on YouTube, one will, sooner or later, stumble upon ‘dumpster diving’ videos. Most of the 56,100 YouTube search results for ‘beauty dumpster diving’ lure in the watchers with promised hauls worth thousands of US dollars and excited titles spelled in all caps “$2,000+ DUMPSTER HAUL”, “$1,000+ DUMPSTER DIVE AT SALLY BEAUTY SUPPLY”, “OVER $6,700 WORTH OF MAKEUP!!”


There was a time when plundering through local store dumpsters wasn’t something that was proudly live streamed and spread across the Internet. In 2013 three British men were arrested for skipping. They had retrieved tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese from Iceland bins; foods that had expired and weren’t legally sellable anymore, but were technically still edible. Due to media coverage and public backlash concerning the amount of food waste corporations create while people in third world countries are starving, the CEO of Iceland decided to drop the charges. While there are ‘freegans’, people who skip as a morality protest against consumerism, many skippers can’t afford to buy fresh and quality foods, and resort to dumpster diving to feed themselves and their families. 


Supermarkets in the UK, as well as beauty supply stores in the US both like to make sure their trash stays, well, trash. Packages are ripped open, insides are smashed, lotions, juices and dyes are poured over the tossed products, ensuring the dumpster diving is at worst highly unpleasant, and at best impossible. But for seasoned beauty divers in the US, this is an acceptable challenge, easily conquered with the help of gloves, litter pickers, and some post-dive, sanitising rubbing alcohol.  


Dumpster diving twins Cayleigh and Lauren from their Youtube channel Dumpster Haulics proudly tell me about their most recent pickings, “We are really happy with our latest haul of $4,000 worth of Benefit makeup, including over 20 Hoola bronzers.” Benefit Hoola bronzer powders retails for $29 each, and according to the twins, everything they kept was in perfect or near-to condition. 


“We always worry about hygiene which is why we discard any open tubes. We also always disinfect palettes and other pans with rubbing alcohol! We make sure everything is super clean before we use it or give it away.”


Since dumpster diving for makeup is becoming more and more popular, I asked the twins if they’ve ever run into other divers. “We run into other divers quite a bit. One even jumped into the dumpster while we were in it! We’ve also been caught by employees and security guards. They just tell us to leave. When it comes to police we have been caught a few times. The first time they got super mad and tried to write us up, but they couldn’t because we weren’t doing anything illegal.”


In one of her How-To videos, Dee from the YouTube beauty channel Miss Skelliton talks about the reactions she receives about her unique hobby: “Most of the stuff I take from dumpsters is basically brand new. I really hate those comments people make about it being dirty and filthy, ‘All you’re gonna find is trash’ and ‘How desperate are you?’ Desperate enough! Stop judging, I’m not telling you how to live your life either. I’d rather go through some trash bags, and get products worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, for free. ” 


In the US dumpster diving isn’t legally seen as stealing, as rubbish is no longer private property once placed outside. Curious about how exactly divers locate their loot, I got in touch with Dee and asked her how she finds the most fruitful dumpsters. 


“In order to make your diving session as easy and effective as possible, you need to do some research. You have to figure out what days your local stores, like Ulta, are going to throw out the best trash. My parents and I try to go every night, obviously we can’t make it every single night, but we try our best to really get a better understanding of their trash schedule.” 


Do you record the quality of the trash in a little black book? 


“Yes kind of like that, but you start out documenting, for example, that the last three Thursdays the dumpsters were empty, so now you know Thursday is a day you can skip. And you build from that until you have a good idea of their trash schedule.” 


What has been your grossest diving experience?


“I would just advise people to wear rain boots, or at least ankle boots with a thick sole, because the dumpsters can and will collect liquids at the bottom, especially when it rains and it turns into a pretty gross dumpster water mixture. I once wore sneakers… never again.“


Even though the beauty supply store trash bags are usually filled with empty packets and used tissues, every seasoned beauty diver will sooner or later come across situations requiring a strong gag reflex. However, when considering that a $54 Urban Decay Naked palette may have been returned unused because one of the eyeshadows was cracked, or a gifted Lancôme eye cream worth $120 was returned because the giftee already owned one, the sum of money saved on the free products quickly adds up to a significant amount, which to many beauty enthusiasts justifies the dumpster scavenging. Broken powder products are restored in no time by pouring rubbing alcohol onto the crumbs, pressing the product down and letting it dry. Cotton buds soaked in rubbing alcohol are used to clean and sanitise lipsticks and various product applicators, such as lipgloss wands, brushes, or even mascaras. 


In light of the recent media coverage on Ulta Beauty, where former employees tweeted about being instructed to smooth over returned and opened products without sanitising them before repackaging and reselling them, this rubbing alcohol do-it-yourself approach is certainly of a higher hygienic standard. 


When I approached Ulta Beauty about the company’s thoughts on these allegations, as well as their attitude towards dumpster divers regularly targeting Ulta bins, the response was a copy-paste of their spokesperson Karen May’s statement:  


“We are aware that individuals sometimes assume the risks associated with this practice and retrieve discarded products. Ulta Beauty, like other retailers, disposes of products for a reason. All products that are damaged, used, expired or otherwise unusable are disposed of in accordance with applicable laws, rules and regulations. The practice of dumpster diving is unsafe and sometimes illegal. We strongly discourage the retrieval of discarded items no longer fit for use.” 


Another beauty YouTube trend is doing a "makeup tour", where beauty gurus film their makeup collections, often stored in large drawer chests, organised by brand and type of product. Most of these videos start with a quick, half-hearted disclaimer, stating that they do not want to come across as boasting, and most of the makeup was sent to them by PR to test and promote on their channels. They then proceed to open each cabinet and drawer, one by one, explaining the respective drawer’s contents while joking about the unnecessarily excessive amounts of products there are. YouTube beauty titans such as Zoella with over 12 million subscribers, or Jaclyn Hill with five million subscribers, have such a wide reach that they are considered to be ‘Influencers’, the modern job title of people who influence thoughts, attitudes, and capitalist desires across the globe. 


Makeup lover or not, watching some of these makeup tour videos will leave you in awe over the sheer amount of gratuitous abundance. Nobody needs this much makeup, in fact, these products will expire before each one can be used to its full potential; an inevitable waste.   


Impressionable youngsters who aspire to be just like their beauty vlogger role models and dream of making money through beauty content one day, may think of dumpster diving as an aiding stepping stone to start their beauty channels with a range of products they would not otherwise be able to afford. Let’s face it, makeup is not a cheap passion. It doesn’t seem fair that some people with bright, creative ideas may never get their hands on expensive, limited edition palettes to express themselves due to financial disadvantages. Their potential artistic genius may be lost (or to keep with the theme, wasted) forever, while the world is forced to continue tolerating mediocre smoky eye looks from the subscriber-millionaires of the beauty scene. In a time where generation Ys are constantly shamed and ridiculed, can you blame them for wanting to be part of the few groups of people that are put on a pedestal? These online presences promoting and normalising excess set a desirable goal. And when viewed like that, it no longer seems so outlandish when young people are proudly presenting to the world what they fished out of dumpsters last night. 

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