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Dumpster diving is an unfortunate term used for those who understand the real meaning behind “one man’s trash is another’s treasure”. After all, you are not always headed into a dumpster or trash receptacle when are aiming to make money dumpster diving. And, to answer the question in the title above – “Yes, you can really, honestly and legally make money dumpster diving.”
Let’s take a look at the ways that people are doing this and find out how you can create a super lucrative “side gig” in your off hours, pay down (or pay off) debts, and start to accumulate wealth by dumpster diving for profit.
Before we begin, though, let’s look at a few terms we’ve used several times already:
=> Make money
These are really relative terms. To you, making money can mean earning $100 for an hour or so of effort once or twice a week, or even month. For others, like the now famous Matt Malone who earns tens of thousands of dollars per year, making money means enormous sums gleaned from items tossed away as trash. The same goes for the idea of profits, and what this tells us is simple:
Your take on dumpster diving is specific to you, your goals and your limits. Don’t let anyone discourage you from turning trash into cash or savings if it helps you get debt under control or takes you closer to financial freedom.
With that in mind, we can now turn our attention to the different ways you can start to make money dumpster diving. Let’s start with a sort of summary list of the most common ways people are dumpster diving for profit:
=> They pull items from dumpsters, curbsides, and other legal areas and then sell them on websites like Amazon, eBay and more. In fact, they may even dumpster dive to sell materials to recycling groups.
=> They conduct targeted, after hours searches outside of major retailers in order to find items that can be easily resold at a good profit but which the stores themselves are unable or unwilling to sell, such as opened and returned items.
=> They eliminate a huge portion of their food and household expenses by taking entirely safe and useable items from dumpsters and other legal areas.
=> They take materials for re-purposing and using with other recovered items in order to generate profits. They typically sell through familiar channels like eBay or Amazon, noting that their goods are used or refurbished.
Let’s look at that last one first as it is one of the most difficult and complex ways to make money dumpster diving. I’ll use the example of Matt Malone again, as he is famed for his remarkable ability to recognize opportunity when it presents itself to him. In one article in Wired, he explained that he found out about one man who was selling non-functional electric scooters to a local mechanic’s shop for $50 each. This guy was a garbage man who realized that people tossed the scooters when their electrical systems failed.
Malone, a savvy hands-on guy, had already recovered more than 100 emergency exit lights at a construction site and had them set aside in order to re-sell them at some point in the future. He knew that the 12 volt batteries they contained could be repurposed for a scooter. He tried it and it worked. Since then, he’s re-sold more than 100 such scooters, earning $150 for each sale – a profit of $100 per unit. He has since found that he can do the same with Roomba automatic vacuums and make even more on each sale.
As you can see, that way of dumpster diving for profit is a bit prolonged and complex, but it shows that you can make money dumpster diving if you keep your eyes and mind open to the many ways that discarded items might overlap and interconnect.
That leaves us with the other three ways and/or reasons that people look to do dumpster diving for profit. Two approaches have you looking specifically for items that you can resell. The first has you taking a somewhat random and scattered approach, grabbing things if the opportunity presents itself. The other way is far more targeted, and finds you going to a very specific series of destinations in order to look for specific items or items of a certain nature or quality.
These are both incredibly lucrative opportunities for those who are persistent and dedicated to dumpster diving for profit.
Consider the example of one couple from the Ft. Lauderdale area of Florida. They would make a point of rising before dawn on “trash” day in one of the area’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Doing so rarely failed to yield a few treasures to re-sell. For instance, one story they shared found them facing a stack of 50 pricey golf clubs (some brand new and a few – as they would discover later – incredibly valuable proto-types).
They took the 15 best of the bunch and were able to research them and resell them for anywhere between $60 and $200 each! Using this approach for a year or two ahead of time would easily enable them to make serious money. They did offer one bit of very important advice about their methodology, though, and that was to do research before reselling. They had initially thought of selling the entire set for $500, but using the one-by-one approach, they would make well over $1000.
Now, this couple had no debts to pay off, but they were planning a wedding and wanted to pay cash for the event, as well as their luxury honeymoon.
Can you do the same? You can, if you implement some effective strategies. This will work for both the targeted and less targeted approaches. So, let’s first look at that list of winning strategies.
If you were able to consult with experts like Matt Malone, the couple just described, and thousands of others who do dumpster diving for profit, greener living or to save money, you would soon see they all have a certain method. Though each is tweaked to meet the individual’s goals, they all share common points. These include:
=> Determine your sales channels – While you might drive through a neighborhood and shake your head at all of the items left at the curb, you may be unable to do anything with these goods yourself. After all, if you don’t have the space to accumulate goods, you cannot tap into some of the simplest sales channels.
For the most part, the most common sales channels used by those eager to make money dumpster diving are online sites like eBay, Amazon and even Craigslist. They also conduct tag or yard sales to earn income from gently used goods – some also rent spaces at flea markets to resell their goods. There are also plenty of people dumpster diving for profit who look for scrap items as diverse as used ink and toner cartridges, batteries, and materials that can earn them a tidy sum when bundled and sold to those who re purpose or recycle them.
In our article “Four Household Items You Can Easily Recycle for Cash” we looked at this very subject, and it might be useful to revisit it and see if you can use this as a focus of your dumpster diving. Take a look at websites like eCycleGroup.com, TonerBuyer.com, Empties4Cash and USRecycleInk as well.
=> Selecting a “territory” – This does not mean staking a claim to your area as no one is ever going to stand for that, and it would be illegal. No, your territory has to be defined by the kind of dumpster diving you are going to do. Is it going to be strictly commercial dumpsters behind the local mall or chain stores? Will it be residential dumpster diving (i.e. curbside “shopping” and so on)? Keep in mind that relocations of major chains or going out of business sales are great “territory” to scout, as well. Store remodels are also a good opportunity.
=> Choose the right times – While time of day matters (i.e. around 2AM at the mall, you’ll find it easier to rummage through dumpsters outside of major chains – if that is legal and the dumpsters are left unlocked), seasonality matters too. For instance, if you are going to focus on residential discards, find out when there are peaks in the real estate markets. For instance, what months do a majority of leases end? What months do the greatest number of house sales occur?
Why would that data matter? It is during these periods that people moving from one place to another will have a veritable glut of items they no longer want or need, and these often end up in dumpsters or at curbs. It is where you can find perfectly re-sellable electronics, furnishings, household goods, clothing, books and much more.
Also, find out when the largest number of yard and estate sales occur as this too is a peak time for obtaining some costly goods just left at the curb. The end of the college year is also when students toss perfectly good furniture, linens and other items you can then re-sell.
Keep in mind that a huge part of your strategy also has to involve knowing when to reject items…
=> Sniff testing – Think of this strategy as “selectivity”. Not everything that is attractive is actually worth the time and effort if you are eager to make money dumpster diving. For example, you rarely make money on upholstered furniture, but you can make money on seemingly valueless items. Again, Matt Malone mentioned that he netted a small fortune when a local sporting goods store stopped selling tennis gear. They tossed a huge number of racket covers and loose tennis balls that Malone listed individually online and earned almost retail price on each item sold!
Also remember that you need to keep a firm grasp on all that you have. It can be very tempting to just take everything that seems valuable, and set it aside for another time. This is, often, the road to ruin. Instead, have a strategy in mind. Will you emphasize electronics? If so, what sorts of items can you manage? Will you work with a recycler who pays you for items? If so, what kinds of goods?
=> Be clear about the laws and safety – Anything tossed in the garbage is typically viewed as being in the “public domain”, i.e. fair game for you if you are dumpster diving for profit. However, there are laws that can override this, and it is a good policy to know where items are considered out of bounds, on private property or illegal to take. For example, pad locked dumpsters are not to be tampered with even if others have said they’ve succeeded in doing this.
Also consider safety in addition to legality. If you injure yourself in a dumpster, the company that uses it is NOT liable. You are accessing public property at that point and any harm is your own fault. You will want to wear sturdy gloves, an easy to clean coverall, and keep a supply of flashlights and hand sanitizer available. You’ll also want to find ways to protect the interior of the vehicle you use to transport goods.
And what if you are someone eager to cut your household costs rather than just dumpster diving for profit? Well, there is an entire culture building around the idea of being a “freegan” (free vegan) or someone with similar goals. This movement began with people dumpster diving for discarded food that was perfectly good just a bit past its prime or marked by the manufacturer as past its date. As one expert said, though, “The truth is, a lot of people, restaurants and stores throw out food that’s perfectly safe to eat.”
They toss fresh, packaged and canned goods along with everything from household cleaners and toiletries to clothing and electronics. If you are not all that eager to do freegan dumpster diving, you can get similar results by looking for “salvage grocery” stores in your area, bakery thrift shops, and by ignoring most expiration dates as they are typically overly liberal in favor of the food maker.
Whether you want to make a profit, cut costs or both by dumpster diving, you can easily get started. Just make a plan and start looking for the items you know you can restore, resell or use to put money in your pocket.
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