In this excerpt from my book eBay with Empty Pockets dedicated to the subject of Dumpster Diving. Are you brave enough to go digging for hidden gold?
If so, grab my ebook at Amazon now.
Americans throw away millions of dollars worth of perfectly good items every week. Some people simply don’t see the value in that old coat or broken phone, but others simply don’t care. They’re done with an item, so they toss it to make room for the replacement and then some. And that’s nothing compared to what retail stores and businesses throw out every day. Customer returns, damaged goods, out of season items and bad buys – tons and tons of usable items headed for the landfill unless you get there first.
That’s called dumpster diving.
You just cringed a little, didn’t you? But another little part of you got a tingle at the thought of unearthing buried treasure. If you don’t even know what I’m talking about, check out a few dumpster diving videos on YouTube. You’ll see people coming away with thousands of dollars worth of barely used make-up, perfectly good housewares and tons of retail point-of-sale materials that are highly sought after on eBay.
You’ll also see them showing off boxes and boxes of foodstuffs. I draw the line at food but where you draw the line is up to you.
Now that you’re sufficiently scared and excited, I’ll tell you a personal story.
While trying to find my way out of a confusing, industrial complex on a Sunday, I drove by an open dumpster shed.
I could plainly see an excellent, small packing box and since I’m always on the lookout for free packing materials, I stopped the car and got out to retrieve it.
When I grabbed the box, I found that it was full of license plate frames. Next to that was a box filled with promo key chains and plastic hitch covers. One hitch cover was an ornate Teamsters logo. That had to be worth something. I grabbed that and every other box I could reach, tossed them in my car, and took off for home.
Before you start shouting thief, let me assure you that in most towns in the US, dumpster diving is legal. The person who threw them out relinquished their right of ownership when the item hit the pile. There were no private property or keep out signs, so I wasn’t trespassing. Legal. All legal.
I sold the hitch cover on eBay for $50. I made another $60 selling two more items from the box and I still have more items to list.
Dumpster diving pays.
Dumpster diving businesses takes a certain amount of guts and dedication. I don’t do it on a regular basis but if I see something in the course of my day, I take it. Some people will say that’s wrong. I think it’s wrong to throw perfectly good items into a hole in the ground to rot.
Why don’t companies donate these items to charity? Some don’t realize there’s value in the trash and others just can’t be bothered but there are also financial and legal reasons. When I worked for Gymboree, we were allowed to donate slightly damaged kids clothing to charity. When I worked for a major toy chain, I was told that I had to destroy any toys that couldn’t be resold by breaking them to bits or pouring cleaning products into the trash bags. Sad. Really sad.
Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, there are plenty of reasons why a company feels they have to destroy items.
The biggest is to prevent phony returns. Since most big chains have a generous “no receipt needed” policy, a savvy fraudster could grab a bunch of broken return items from the trash out back, then walk around to the front and return the items. Some items have to be destroyed in order to get credit from the distributor. This is what book stores do. Instead of returning a heavy box of books, they’re only required to return the covers as proof that a book didn’t sell. Magazines would have their covers cut in half.
When I was a teen, one of my favorite places in the world was a magazine stall at the flea market that sold nothing but back issues for cheap. The covers were all cut, so I know they were returns but I didn’t care. Ten cents for a magazine! I’d spend my entire allowance in there.
Aggressive vs Passive Diving
How aggressively you dumpster dive is up to you. I won’t hop into a dumpster but people do it. I don’t recommend it as it’s not safe and you can find plenty of goodies without going all in. If you do choose to wade around amongst the bags, please be careful; broken glass and pointy objects are waiting to attack.
If you’re going to make dumpster diving part of your regular routine, invest in a pair of thick gloves, wet wipes, a flashlight and one of those long arm grabbers.
Plan on diving after hours because most stores empty the trash before closing up for the night and it will lower your risk of getting hassled.
DD RULE # 1: If someone asks you to move along, move along. It’s not worth getting into a fight with an employee or an officer of the law even if you’re within your rights. Taking things from the trash may be legal but it’s not hard to make a trespassing, disturbing the peace or loitering charge stick.
Sundays in the summer are the best times to dive because you still have plenty of daylight after closing time and the trash has piled up from the weekend.
DD RULE #2: Leave it as you found it. In other words, don’t make a mess. If you pull trash out of the dumpster to get to what’s below, make sure you put everything back in when you’re done. I once found more than 50 broken toys and pieces of toys strewn all over a grassy hill behind a Big Lots. Why? Disgruntled diver? Curious coyote? I don’t get it.
DD RULE #3: Pick now, sort later. When you hit a box or bag that has a few good items in it, take it all and sort it out when you get home. Some of the items will be a bust but there’s no sense trying to make decisions in the heat of the dive.
If you’d rather not throw your whole body into your work, there are less aggressive ways of dumpster diving.
Check out the apartment complexes the night before trash day. People who are moving out tend to leave valuable items next to the dumpsters – maybe hoping someone will come and take those items away. As a bonus, moving trash is usually clean trash. The trash bag from the game store might have good promo items but they’ll be in there along with half eaten pizza and sticky soda cans. Movers will rarely combine wet, food trash with household goods so you have a much better chance of getting away clean.
This same reasoning applies to the dumpsters at storage unit facilities. Just think of all the good stuff people toss out when their lease is up and they need to clean out their unit immediately.
By far, the easiest way to score is to simply drive around town the night before trash day. Where I live, all trash has to go in a can but that doesn’t stop people from leaving items on the curb with a free sign. If you live in an area where trash pickup isn’t quite so regimented, you’ll have an even better chance of finding discarded items on the curb.
Let’s stop here for a moment and talk about the difference between diving a business and diving a home. As I said, in most areas, it’s technically legal for you to dig through a person’s trash. But think about how it looks and how it would feel if it was your trash. The biggest concern is identity theft. That’s not why you’re digging in the trash but the homeowner doesn’t know that. There’s also something spooky about hearing someone rattling your trash cans after midnight. There’s no one at the Best Buy at midnight to hear you digging in the dumpster but a person home alone might get concerned enough to call the cops.
This is why I don’t recommend digging through personal trash. People do it and they find amazing things but I don’t think it’s worth the risk. If someone leaves a box of old clothes on the curb, take it. If you have to pull sealed garbage bags out of a can, forget it.
If you want to know more about dumpster diving visit http://freegan.info/
You’ll also find hundreds of dumpster diving videos on YouTube and a general Google search will bring up even more options. News sites love to write about successful divers, so simply seek and you will find.