dumpster diving

Dumpster diving has been around for years.  People have been diving in the dumpsters behind stores, near homes, in the neighbor’s trash can and anywhere else that might be one person’s trash, but another person’s way of making ends meet, or finding that perfect piece of art for the wall.  For many people, it’s a matter of survival and they depend on it for extra cash from the sales they make on the items they find.  For others, it’s a way to recycle and create a more eco-friendly world by turning used goods new again.

Whatever reason you choose for dumpster diving, it’s just fun!  It’s fun to see what you can find that will make you happy, will become a gift for someone else, or it can be the thrill of the find that might be worth a small fortune to you or someone else.  As long as you want to dumpster dive, you may as well learn what it really is and how it can help you and many others.

Good safety equipment is a must.  It does not have to be expensive, but you want to maintain a certain level of safe diving so you do not cut yourself on an old tin can, or stick a nail through the bottom of your foot.  You also want to be careful so you do not expose yourself to toxins that can end up in any dumpster site from an unknown source.

dumpster diving
Dumpster Diving find #1

I have stepped on a piece of discarded lumber with nails and ended up going to the doctor for a tetanus shot.  So, wear good, hard-soled, closed-toe shoes.  This is the first safety advice that will do you the most good.  If you have them, wear hiking boots or work boots for the best protection for your feet.  They are the kind of foot gear you can stomp around on old food, booze, dirty diapers (ugh!), mud and other grub you don’t want to find leaking through to your skin.  If you insist on wearing tennis shoes, make sure you wear heavy socks to help protect against exposure and watch where you step.

Take a pair of work gloves with you when digging deep into a dumpster.  You will find broken glass many times from dishes, bottles and other glassware that has been discarded.  Good work gloves will protect you from cuts on your hands.  If you get a small cut, treat it right away with disinfectant and try to find the item you touched.  Be very careful of discarded needles—not only from drug abusers but also from people like diabetics that must take daily shots.

Wear old jeans and an old, long-sleeved shirt.  You are going to get really dirty, but with the right clothes, your skin and body will be protected as well as they can be in this situation.  You can also add safety glasses and a paper mask to block fumes.   Always take special care with your health when dumpster diving in any area.

One more piece of great, dig-around equipment you can use is an old golf club.  They work great for poking around in a dumpster and moving trash to the side so you can look under it before climbing in.  A golf club can hook on to items and pull them close enough to just reach over the edge and lift it out to see what your treasure is.  This is how you may find the most interesting treasure in your hunt, but more on that later…

If you check around, you can find friends and strangers who love to hunt through the dumpsters, too.  In fact, if you go online and search for dumpster diving groups, you’ll find a whole list of groups that get together in different cities throughout the world to go dumpster diving together and compare finds.  Some even have competitions for everything from the most eco-friendly items to the most expensive items.  Should you decide to join, you’ll belong to a group that helps to keep items out of the landfill and recycles items that are still usable.

dumpster diving
Dumpster Diving find #2

There are lots of places to hunt, and there are a lot to avoid, too.  Some have to do with privacy and others have to do with toxin danger.  Always consider where you hunt, and even the time of year.  Some of the places you want to avoid as a waste of time are sites that deal in chemical waste.  Auto shops are also not a good area to search as they are dirty and dangerous because of the possible exposures you may have to deal with.  Raw gasoline and battery acid are extremely dangerous when in contact with skin or eyes.

On the other hand, some of the best places to look are dumpsters around college dorms at the end of every term, when the students are returning home for the summer and find it is easier to just throw stuff out than try to load it into an already over-stuffed car.  This can be a treasure trove of items for resale at the beginning of the next term to students returning.  It’s also a great way to recycle the same items over and over while making a little extra cash on the side.  The students need it for a short time, you collect it back for a while, then resale it again at the right time.  This is so good, it’s close to a sure thing.

Apartments are a great place for the recycle and up-cycle of items of all kinds.  When a move-out takes place, people will throw out a lot of great things when they are tired of packing, or when they just don’t have the room for it.  Sometimes it may be items from a roommate that left and never returned -everything from canned foods, electronics, dishes, gift items and decorations for homes to every type of seasonal holiday garb you can think of.  The list of items you find is endless and all of it is recyclable.

In many of the rural areas of the country, there are sites called transfer stations.  These are places to which the locals can haul basic household garbage in order to avoid paying for city pick-up service.  These dumpsters are receiving new items every day, but at many of them the managers will not let you look through the dumpster because of injury liability issues, so the site manager will take good items out of the dumpster and place in an area that is known as the recycle corner.  You can look through anything there and it is free to take.  You can also donate some of your own throwaway items for others to use their own search if you wish.

Dumpster Diving
Dumpster Diving find #3

One of my favorite areas at a transfer station in the north is the discarded wood.  We sign a waiver against injury claims, and are free to look at and take anything we want to use.  We find firewood from cleared brush, seasonal trimming of yards, and home sites to burn for warmth throughout the winter and save on the cost of heating.  We have also found pallets in great shape for sale or use, paneling for game rooms and craft projects, a rocking chair that needed repainting, a trunk, chest of drawers, tool chest, bead-board and many items taken from home remodeling that transfer well to my own home remodel job.

Check building sites for dumpsters and get permission from the builder to take what you find.  This is a good way to find board ends for crafts or heating, good condition sinks, toilets, faucets and any other home parts and pieces.  I have walked away with a stainless steel sink, pipe fittings, whole vanity sets that were replaced with something newer and bigger, new faucet sets that did not fit the décor, tools for building, nails, screws and so many other things it felt like I found a construction worker’s treasure chest!

Some of the items I have used myself, some I have traded to someone that needed them and others are used as gifts, but most dumpster divers can find resale items from which they can make a little extra cash.  You can place them on the local resale site, in newspaper ads, at yard sales or just pass the word on about what you have for sale.  It’s a fun way to meet others and haggle over price.  It’s all in fun when it comes to the sale.  You don’t have to make a lot of money since any amount is a profit.

However, It’s possible to make from a couple of hundred dollars a month to a full-time income for the year.  Tools and furniture are the best resale items, but books and shoes sell easily too.  The latter doesn’t bring in as much money, but they work for your purpose and then you can sell them after reading the books, or wearing the shoes for a few months or until the next find.

Dumpster Diving
Dumpster Diving find #4

Some of the best finds I have come across or friends have found are a new, good condition love-seat sofa-bed, shoes for myself and for kids in my neighborhood, and books of all kinds!  I love to read, so books are always a great find.  I have found dishes, faucets, clothing of all kinds, tools, car parts for later use or resale, lamps, computer desk, gifts items like little figurines, stationery, oil lamps in good shape, bedding, chairs, rocking chair, magazines during seasonal holidays, cookware, yard tools, plants and so much more.  This is just a small list of items through the years we have found and used or resold.

But the not-so-bright side of the finds is old food, blood-soaked clothing, old needles that might have been used for drugs or animals’ shots, old medications, grease, dirt, grime, feces, human body parts such as a finger or an ear, and old makeup, paint, battery acid, gasoline-soaked rags, and other dangerous or scary stuff.  This is the downside and you may need a strong stomach at times.  You also need to know when to stop what you are doing and call the police.  If you find something you feel should be called in, do not move another item.  You don’t want to disturb anything that might help solve a crime.

There are groups in my area and listed on the internet that get together and form teams of dumpster divers for profit.  They work together for safety reasons, for fun, and for friendship.  The items they find are used to recycle for those in need and to raise money for causes such as school programs and food for shelters and food banks.  The groups can be found online for just about any major city in the world.  So if you are a traveler that wants to make a dumpster-diver find as a souvenir, contact one of the many groups in a city or country in which you plan to travel and have your own personal guide.

This is a great way to spend some time outside and make a few finds that will profit you instead of costing you your hard-earned cash.  You are doing your part for the environment by recycling or upcycling items that may be trash to one person, but a treasure to so many others.  It is fun to find something you love or just know someone else will love.  So much is thrown out because it is too small or there just isn’t room to store it anymore.  You can furnish a home, provide for someone else in need or make yourself a tidy little profit all for the fun of a friendly afternoon with people of like mind.


  1. I have a buddy who regularly cruises the dumpsters behind big box stores like Walmart and Lowes. He finds incredible stuff. It turns out that much of what is returned to the store is never returned to the manufacturer. It’s just thrown out. He has a side business selling stuff he gets out of these dumpsters.

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