Center City: ‘Dumpster Divers’ Clean Up

When Benson and the other Divers aren’t digging around thrift store dumpsters for new gems they can be found at their galley on South Street.]

Neil Benson is not typical. In his house, for example, old-fashioned knick-knacks line up under his cluttered window. A sticker on the front door reads ‘Dumpster Diver’, with a picture of a woman diving. What’s inside can only get more interesting.

Penny Whistles is just one of the many works of trash art Benson creates.

Benson is a ‘Dumpster Diver’ — with a twist. This is visible from just the first few seconds inside his home. It’s difficult to navigate through the center of his living room towards the kitchen because of the amount of stuff that is spilling over. It’s like walking into the Cave of Wonders from Aladdin with treasures pouring over each other, not knowing what to touch first.

“Trash is a treasure,” says Benson.

He has been collecting trash for over 30 years. About 20-years ago that collecting took a qualitative turn. He began to make trash into art. This is when he had the idea to create what is now known as ‘The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers.’ Benson says he had met with a friend who had an interest in creating art out of neon lights. They saw they had similar tastes and thought of starting a group that would recycle trash into forms of art.

The Dumpster Diver Gallery on 6th and South Street holds many of Benson's most famous work along with other divers' treasures.

Benson became one of the founders of the Dumpster Divers and has been devoted to the group since 1991.

Benson has created many works of art, including typewriter jewelry made from old typewriter keys and lamps made from children’s toys.

He says his motto is ‘Ejectamentum nummi nostrum- Your trash is our cash.’

This motto holds true for Benson. His original artwork is extremely popular at shows and inside the Dumpster Diver Gallery located on South Street.

But Benson isn’t creating this unique art just for the recognition. He says he wants educate people on a better way of life. ‘If you’re throwing something in the trash you’re just not thinking it through.’ Benson along with his fellow divers have a strong message about sustainability.

When Benson and the other Divers aren’t digging around thrift store dumpsters for new gems they can be found at their galley on South Street.

‘We think transformation not transportation.’ He adds, ‘We cannot throw trash ‘out’ there is no ‘out,’ the world is a sphere and the only place to throw out trash is in outer space.’

Benson encourages people to become divers. He teaches classes at schools and helps students create new, efficient items out of trash.

He quotes himself when he says,’Trash is simply a failure of imagination and we’re trying to explode peoples imaginations.’

Judging by the collections in his home and the art he has created it seems certain that Benson surly does not lack in imagination.

With a dive a day, this definitely doesn’t look like the end for this dedicated Dumpster Diver.


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