Dumpster Diving For Profit & Pleasure

Posted on: December 23rd, 2015 by

LFF Dumpster Diver

Dumpster diving is for the rare individual that can overcome the societal and sometimes personal stigma to get something for nothing by digging in another’s refuse. My first experience with dumpster diving was as a little kid following my dad who was an avid dumpster diver. At that time it was still relatively common in Missouri to have public dumps and private dumps that you could pick through. That is long gone, and the large landfills that remain will not allow you access to their mountains of trash and treasure.

Dumpster diving was so deeply ingrained in my father that he eventually worked at a landfill. He would often bring home a trunk load full of treasure. I have spent a lot of time running the rounds inside the city going through trash. It is really amazing what people throw away. I hope to shed light on this subject, and maybe at my own peril get some competition for this treasure.

A Truck Load of Critter Chow

A Truck Load of Critter Chow

The View Inside a Dumpster

The View Inside a Dumpster

For the homesteader and any penny pincher there is a gold mine tossed behind many buildings in the city. If you are buying feed you might look at what your grocery store tosses. You will probably be amazed, and your critters will be grateful, because for them it is a gourmet meal. Dumpster diving for critter chow is well paid by healthier and cheaper fed critters. When I can I will feed my chickens from tossed produce and other food. With this free source of feed my chickens probably eat better than 98% of the US population and it beats bagged commercial chicken chow hands down.

One recent load of critter chow.

One recent load of critter chow.

I have not dumpster dived seriously for years. During the last couple years or so after leaving my city job I have found myself diving into it again. My wife who is from the big city decided to give it a try last year, and it wasn’t long before she was as addicted as I am. In the past year many items that we use daily have come from this hobby. We use a high dollar Kirby vacuum with an auto tranny, our bed is heated by a bed pad that has two independent sides so you and your spouse can adjust your side to your taste, a big crock pot sits on top of our wood stove boiling water, all these items and many more someone else tossed. The bed warmer was brand new, still in the package, it retails north of $80, our only expense to acquire it was the time spent dumpster diving and a little fuel for the truck.

Another View Inside a Dumpster

Another View Inside a Dumpster

While I can afford all the essentials of life without the need for dumpster diving, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and getting use out of something tossed. I also don’t understand why people are so wasteful, and for that matter why nobody sees the potential of the items they discard. I consider waste a sin and try to avoid it as much as possible. For me reclaiming something tossed is a good and almost noble thing to do.

I am working on another page for my website about making and saving money. Below is my article on that future page that I wrote last year. I am waiting on getting more pictures before making that page live.

Future Making Money and Frugal Living Page Clipping:

Dumpster Diving

Want something for nothing? Here is your chance to get it honestly. Can you make a living dumpster diving? Yes, you can make a good living digging in other peoples garbage. It might not sound great, but it is highly addictive and potentially profitable. The first time you find treasure for free you may find yourself addicted to dumpster diving.

Really, you can make a living dumpster diving? Yes, not only can you make a living you can actually make a good living. I am too busy and have too many irons in the fire to be a professional dumpster diver. I do go when I have nothing more pressing. I have no doubt someone could make a good living from this pursuit.

Chicken Chow Gleaned From Dumpster

Chicken Chow Gleaned From Dumpster

So how much money could someone make? Hundreds of dollars in profit a week easily. On my days dumpster diving I never came home with under $100 worth of stuff in my truck. One night it easily topped $500. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Why are people so wasteful? I don’t know and will never understand, but why not profit from it?

My average haul is over a hundred dollars in actual resell value for one evening. That is for an average of four hours of dumpster diving which will fill my truck. You will spend more time reselling the treasure than collecting it. I would become a professional dumpster diver any day versus working at a dead end job for someone else.

So what do I find that is worth so much money? I will be honest, I cheat. I know where to go through experience. This is something that you have to dive in and learn for yourself. I hit the right dumpsters at the right time. One of my most valuable single item finds was a theater style popcorn cart new in the box. A store return that was tossed. Everything was there and it was never used, it cost $250 new. It was an overpriced store so the value to me was $100, an easy sell price. I also had a literal truck load of books one night. You name it someone will throw it away.

Another View Inside a Dumpster

Another View Inside a Dumpster

Remember how I said everything has value. If you want to make a living as a professional dumpster diver you have to learn that everything has a value. As I dig through a dumpster I will bring home stuff that is broken, but may have some good parts. If I run into something that is too rough to have good parts but has a cord I cut the cord for copper which is currently going for a good price. How many times have you broken a small knob or switch on a widget only to find the manufacturer charges half the new price of the widget for that single part. What I am saying is pull those small parts off anything you find in the garbage, even if you don’t take the whole item. Those small parts are easy to ship and often sell well.

Small parts I often sell are motors off electronics, microwave turn tables, wheels off vacuum cleaners and other easy to remove very sell-able parts. Vacuum cleaners are an item that is often tossed and have many parts that sell well. The average vacuum cleaner I have parted nets $30 worth of parts.

If it has pieces that come off there is a good chance that someone out there has lost or broken that piece so do them a favor and sell it to them. If I have a bad night and have room in my truck I will bring home low value items like scrap metal, it is rare to have a night that bad though. Many dumpster divers focus on scrap metal but I think they are missing the real treasure. I do however collect a lot of scrap metal, it is lower on my priority list though.

The very worst thing about dumpster diving is the embarrassment factor. There are not many things more embarrassing than getting caught red handed digging through someones refuse. I am highly embarrassed when caught and try to avoid such situations. There really isn’t anything wrong with dumpster diving, but society looks down at it when it is actually a good thing. Instead of the item taking up space in a toxic landfill it is getting another lease at life. You would think everyone would be happy.

The second worse thing is that sometimes people throw away trash. Believe it or not I have opened some dumpsters and had to make a hasty retreat. There is plenty of hunting ground to worry about working with gross dumpsters. Fast food joints and other eating establishments usually have the grossest dumpsters.

Treasure Somehwere

Treasure Somewhere

Where are the best spots? The very best refuse usually ends up in those compactors. I have seen what the likes of Walmart and other big retailers toss and it is amazing. Since you cannot access compactors you will have to go elsewhere. I have had the best luck in commercial areas. Nice alleys to drive right up to big dumpsters that are sometimes full of brand new items. Sadly some of the best dumpsters to hit are Salvation Army and Goodwill Dumpsters. When I saw what they threw away it actually made me mad. I have donated stuff to the Salvation Army for years and it seems the best items are thrown away. Why? They could do so much good by giving these items away for free. At least the cream of the crop is left for the brave few willing to dive in.

Single Stream Self Contained Compactor with Two Compartments - 34 Yd


There is a Salvation Army close to my home that throws away so much I could literally make a living from their trash alone. Remember the literal truck load of books? I have also found ten brand new basketballs, a case of brand new battery chargers and many more items from this one dumpster. It is really unbelievable. No kidding there is better merchandise in their dumpster than on their shelves.

Look At The Building Material

Look At The Building Material

My rules for dumpster diving are three fold. Leave it cleaner than you found it, Don’t make a scene, and don’t trespass too much. In my area there is nothing illegal about dumpster diving. A few cities are fools and make it a crime. Also some cops will tell you it is illegal when it is not, they don’t want to be bothered by you, and just want the perceived problem to go away. Follow the wishes of an officer and come back later.

Dumpster diving is an addiction I got from my dad. In all the years I have dumpster dived I have had one bad run in with cops. I have a clean record, and I have also worked with law enforcement in my former jobs for the State of Missouri, so I usually have no problems with cops. That didn’t save me that time, but that run in stands as the rare exception. I wasn’t arrested or ticketed but did get frisked and questioned extensively.

Look Inside a Dumpster

Look Inside a Dumpster

Because of the incident with the cops above I don’t recommend dumpster diving to anyone with a felony or a bad criminal record. No need to put yourself in a possibly bad situation. If you are above suspicion you should have nothing to worry about. Keep in mind I have had many encounters with law enforcement while dumpster diving and never had a problem before that night. Of course the best method is to avoid having to speak to any officers, but sooner or later it will probably happen anyway.

Many people will not even consider dumpster diving, but for the few intrepid souls who brave the bad for the good a new world awaits. What a lot of people toss is a sin in my book. By reclaiming these items you are doing society a favor. For the small farmer and homesteader there are many advantages that can be gleaned from a night or so a week spent reclaiming.

Construction Dumpster 2x4 Haul

Construction Dumpster 2×4 Haul

I have yet to even mention the valuable building materials tossed every-time a commercial building is remodeled. I have hauled home truck loads of lumber, bricks and other perfectly good building materials. I always look in the big construction dumpsters when given the opportunity. Sometimes a tenant will abandon stuff that is just tossed when the store is remodeled for the new tenant.

Give it a try, my bet is your opinion will change with the first treasure found. Just a FYI the single best month for dumpster diving is February, think about all those tossed store returns.

6 Responses to Dumpster Diving For Profit & Pleasure

  1. Steve Lagman had this to say about that:

    LOL! If my wife saw me reading this, she would hate you. I too am astounded at what people throw away. It doesn’t make sense, but OK I can work with their shortsightedness. Thank you for your courage and inspiration!

    • JL had this to say about that:

      It is amazing, I am surprised all the time. My wife thought I was crazy as well until she caught the bug.

  2. Diane had this to say about that:

    I doubt my father and grandfather were dumpster divers specifically, but I definitely know they were/are never one to throw anything away and would pick something out off the street/curb/trash if it looked like it had a good use. Well OBVIOUSLY that gene had to be passed down somewhere…. I get so mad at work when I see/hear of perfectly good stuff (like our coatrack- ummm where are we supposed to hang our coats????) thrown in the dumpster. I am always rescuing stuff! My family calls it junk collecting – I call it saving it for a rainy day!

    I am very upset to see that Salvation Army/Goodwill dump perfectly good stuff though! I have seen the bins (not compacting dumpsters) outside our local Goodwill and I figured it was torn clothes/ broken toys/ etc – I mean, I shop at the “upscale” goodwill and there is still some questionable stuff in there. But certainly someone can use the GOOD stuff. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

    • JL had this to say about that:

      I agree, it doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems they would at least try to give away the stuff before trashing it.

  3. Careyann Courtright had this to say about that:

    Thats awesome The photojournalist s at Mizzou and the Columbia Missourian just filmed a documentry of me dumptster diving,trying to make people aware of what they are throwing away.Ive got a FaceBook page called Dumptster Diving Divas.Ive found Lee Renyolds paintings Letters sighned by Harry S. Truman.Flatscreans diamonds,Antiques…I could go on and on.My dream is to display my trrasures in a store for sale.Preferably my own store.The artical made in the washington post,New York Times The Denver Post,Kansas City Star,Columbia and Jefferdo are City newspapers also it on Vemo and Yahoo Lifestyles.Do you all hVe a FB page to connect to?

    • JL had this to say about that:

      Interesting, sounds like we run in the same territory. I have made some pretty amazing hauls myself. It never fails to surprise me what some people consider garbage. I only have a personal Facebook page, but have liked your page on facebook.