Stephanie Cox

Body found in North Carolina landfill identified as missing ‘dumpster diver’


Remains found at a landfill in North Carolina have been confirmed as those of a missing woman last seen dumpster-diving in late January, police said.

Investigators in Burlington confirmed Wednesday that the body found Monday at Uwharrie Environmental in Montgomery County has been formally identified as Stephanie Cox, 30, who was last attempting to collect items from a dumpster behind a clothing store on Jan. 30, the Times-News reports.

Relatives told police that it was not uncommon for Cox to search for reusable items from dumpsters. Video showed that the woman was alone when she was collecting items behind a Five Below store at the Alamance Crossing strip mall, police said.

“This case brings to light the dangers associated with collections from dumpsters,” police said in a statement. “The commonly known practice of ‘dumpster diving’ is not safe.”

Police suspect that Cox failed to get out of the dumpster before a garbage truck came to empty it in the early morning hours of Jan. 30. Police believe the contents of the dumpster were taken to Uwharrie Environmental, where her remains were discovered.

Cox, of Burlington, was reported missing to police just before 8 p.m. that day after relatives last saw her in Greenboro, the Times-News reports.
Stephanie Cox

It is unclear how Cox died — and whether she died before or after the dumpster was serviced — but police don’t expect foul play.

In addition to the inherent safety risks, the practice of scouring dumpsters for food or other reusable items can lead to illnesses because they may be contaminated with bacteria. The oversize trash bins are also typically sprayed with pesticides — chemicals so strong that they can’t easily be removed with soap and water, according to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal cited by FOX Business.

“From a safety perspective, I don’t recommend it,” Burlington police Assistant Chief Brian Long told the outlet.

Dumpster-diving is also prevalent among “freegans” — people who reject consumerism and instead try to adopt a minimalist lifestyle to reduce waste.

Groups of freegans even organize meet-ups throughout the country, including one scheduled for Saturday in New York.

“At this free and freegan arts and crafts workshop, we will celebrate New York’s upcoming single-use plastic bag ban by creating our own reusable bags out of recycled materials!” one listing reads. “Possible crafts include recycled t-shirt bags, other cloth bags, fused plastic bags, umbrella bags, juice pouch bags, and whatever you can come up with.”