Take the Plunge and Save Cash by…Dumpster Diving

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I read a story about Darren Atkinson, an accomplished corporate dumpster diver who has funded his musical career through the waste of corporations. “When he travels overseas, he is always sure to carry over a suitcase with a thousand or so British power cables (server manufacturers include both US and UK cables with their products, so every data centre regularly throws away the foreign leads). He sells them in London for a pound each, financing his round-trip airfare and hotel with his e-waste arbitrage.”

Back in college, after reading about dumpster diving, I joined a few friends of mine in scouring some of the dumpsters at Carnegie Mellon. Carnegie Mellon is known for computer science and engineering, so there was always a lot of technology being tossed into the trash. We only went out a few times, to some dumpsters in a loading area of Wean Hall, and most of the time we came back empty handed (none of us were willing to go into a dumpsters). However, one time we brought back some huge spools of Cat-5 ethernet cable and baluns, turning that trip into a hugely (for college kids) profitable trip. Back then, all the buildings were wired for high speed internet and to interface with the system you needed a balun. You could buy it from the bookstore for $25, or you could buy it from us for $10 or $15 a pop on misc. market (the bboard used to buy and sell stuff on campus). One of my friends, over the summers, would do subcontracting work on new office buildings and he borrowed some tools so we could crimp and attach RJ-45 connectors. We would sell ethernet cable on the cheap and then the baluns that would help you connect them to the network. I still have one of those baluns in a box… though it’s probably worth nothing now. It wasn’t a bad racket for some weekend beer money.

This isn’t a true dumpster diving story in that no dumpsters were involved but we used to scour the dorms after finals week for discards. People would just leave perfectly good stuff outside their doors for people to take. My friend made a habit of finding all the dorm fridges and storing them in his room for the summer, he could sell them for $100 a pop come the fall semester. There were pots and pans, furniture, and all sorts of electronic equipment; all sitting in piles for you to take. The reason why there was so much quality stuff was because CMU had a lot of international students who, if they were moving back abroad, weren’t going to be taking their stuff with them.

Since then, I’ve still never gone into a dumpster but I routinely walk Tobey, our beagle, beside some dumpsters outside an apartment complex near our house.

When I walk by, I can usually see a litany of stuff people are disposing of as they move out. There’s usually some broken furniture, some computers and televisions that probably don’t work, and your usual assortment of cardboard boxes and general trash. While I’ve yet to take anything to keep myself, I have picked up several computers, the ones that are left on the ground beside the dumpster, that I simply drove to the local Best Buy to recycle. While I have no interest in any of the stuff I’ve seen so far, I figure I can do my part to recycle all those heavy metals and other crap that we don’t need leeching into our ground water.

Apparently, you may be surprised about the great things that you can find by dumpster diving. If you’re in debt, constantly using things like payday loans or credit cards and basically don’t have much money, dumpster diving could be the answer?

To get some tips on the matter I asked a friend of mine in the UK, Darren Close, who was previously a self-confessed dumpster diver but now manages the grown-up company SimplePayday, he ran through some tips for the newly initiated into the fine art of dumpster diving.

Look for Older Items

When dumpster diving, most of the new items that you will find will be worthless. The best finds are older items that may be unique or hard to find in stores. You would be surprised at the number of antique items that people discard with no thought as to their value. Old chairs, desks, nightstands, and book cases can be worth a lot of money. Remember that one man’s trash can truly be another man’s treasure.

Search for Collectibles

People often throw away valuable collectibles because they are simply unaware. Old baseball cards, comic books, stamp collections, and coin collections are often thrown out by parents once their children grow up. If you can find any of these in decent condition, then you might be able to sell them for a quick profit. You don’t have to find a number one edition to make money either. One reader emailed me to let me know that they sold a bunch of old comics for $10 apiece despite the fact they were mid-series editions.

Cash in on Cans

Recyclables always have value. You are almost guaranteed that most dumpsters will have a bunch of cans and bottles in them that you can turn in for some cash. Most states will pay you a nickel for every can or bottle that you collect and some states will go as high as a dime per can. Even if you simply take them to a scrap metal facility, you can make a few bucks per bag of aluminium cans.

Cruise the Office Dumpsters

Corporate offices and supply stores often throw away brand new items just because they have some simple defect. You could score a new desk, chair, or piece of office furniture that would go perfectly in your home office. You can also resell found items via a garage sale or flea market if you want to make some extra money off of it. Please keep in mind that most corporate dumpsters are on private property though.

My Take on Dumpster Diving

Despite my previous foray into dumpster diving, I do not see myself dumpster diving in the near future. I’m not sure if it’s to do with age, but these days I’d be freaked out to crawl around thrown away food, but also I don’t have the time. For anybody out there that is cashing in on dumpster diving, way to go. I seriously applaud anybody making money through hard work that isn’t hurting anybody.