Frugal Living 

Guide to Safe Dumpster Diving

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DumpsterI heard about Freeganism about a year ago. I will admit, the idea of dumpster diving for food and home items when you aren’t starving grossed me out. I just don’t think I will ever be comfortable rooting around trash to find treasures. But when I wrote about that on my own site, I was surprised by how many people have been able to find some awesome stuff in other people’s trash. Apparently, you may be surprised about the great things that you can find by dumpster diving. Here are some tips that have been suggested for finding the best stuff.

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 dollars per bag of aluminum 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 the emails and comments I received, I do not see myself dumpster diving in the near future. Not only would I be icked out to crawl around thrown away food, but 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.

What are your thoughts about dumpster diving? Have you ever made a great find?

(Photo: edkohler)

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Guide to Safe Dumpster Diving”

  1. ebow says:

    The part about cans is a bit misleading. “Most” states do not have a deposit program. According to Wikipedia, only 11 states do, so in 39 states you’ll only be able to get scrap value (which, according to will be around $0.90 per pound–about 30 cans worth), not a nickel per can/bottle. Michigan is the only state with 10 cents for typical cans or bottles, though apparently some in California and Vermont have higher deposits.

    • Scott says:

      Most states with deposits now also have UPC scanners for those bottles and cans. So you can’t buy something in one state without a deposit and return it in another state for the deposit (a deposit you never paid). So digging for cans and bottles on the assumption you can get deposit money for them is generally not a good idea.

  2. Wilma says:

    On occasion if I see an item on trash day by the curb and I like it I’ll snag it. I’ve found some nice rocking chairs, shelving units, clothes, flower pots etc. The best time to go curbside is after a yard sale. Better yet a community yard sale. People just want the stuff gone. No dumpster diving involved. You could get hurt.

    • Shirley says:

      We bought a new set of recliners and had one old one to dispose of. I just wanted it gone and put it on the front lawn with a FREE sign on it. Within 15 minutes it was gone.

      My brother did the same with a bicycle, but the next day it was back again, minus the FREE sign. 🙂

  3. Shirley says:

    My grandson mows lawns for $15 each for several older neighbors and they save soda cans and plastic bottles for him to pick up at the same time. He nets $40-$50 per month at the recycle center. Their trash is definitely his treasure!

  4. ImpulseSave says:

    I am all for dumpster-diving. My husband and I furnished half our apartment with items we found on the side of the road including: a high-rise table with two sturdy barstools, a leather love seat, a vintage bookshelf AND a wicker chair for our porch all for free. But, it does hlpe that we have a little pickup and can load things on a whim. Many of my friends turn to Freecycle a community recycling/repurposing program ( which they prefer to rummaging through rubbish, and they’ve found wonderful things. One of my girlfriends got a month’s worth of (unopened) diapers a couple had forgotten the purchased and had no need for. In our consumerist society, I’m all for creatively repurposing and saving your hard earned cash!

  5. Kara says:

    Glad to see FreeCycle mentioned! I’ve given out a lot, and received a lot through that great program. I’m actually picking up a bookshelf tonight, which will go with my other FreeCycle furniture (a corner shelf and coffee table with wheels!) In NY, I’ve even received $15+ worth of glass/cans because the person didn’t have time to bring them to the deposit machines before – so I did! : )

  6. govenar says:

    What’s the “safe” part, mentioned in the title? (I was expecting tips like how to buy a hazmat suit and get tetanus shots).
    I did jump in a dumpster once when I accidentally threw my car keys in along with the trash…

  7. LD says:

    At a marina, we watched a guy throw away a perfectly good radar system. We pulled it out (no crawling around inside necessary), tested it (worked great!), and sold it on eBay for $800!

  8. Tat-2 says:

    I have found several things over the years.. an outdoor chair without a cushion.. Went to Walmart and bought a cushion, cleaned the chair..Viola a new chair..
    Found an old stereo table on wheels circa 1970/71..Wooden..Had to glue the end bar back on.. Viola new stereo table.. Not even scratched…
    And when younger (teens) found a bunch of “dirty” magazines someone had thrown out.. A TREASURE find for a teen boy…..

  9. Jane says:

    Check your local colleges at the end of the school year for awesome dumpster diving. College students and recent grads that waited ’til the last minute to pack will be simply carting their barely used appliances and furniture to the dumpster.

  10. JoeTaxpayer says:

    Many years ago, when living in a condo before we were married, we had an extra metal filing cabinet, 4 drawers. I told my soon to be Mrs that I’d put it out on trash night, and it would be gone by the morning. She thought I was crazy. I brought it out, and we went for a run. 60 minutes, we’re back, no file cabinet.
    There are many things charities won’t take, such as tube televisions. Curbside, most items go in a matter of minutes.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I found a dishwasher yesterday for free on the side of the road with a sign. I am getting a spa and a large 42 inch flatscreen that needs a little work for free. I love free. I also but clothes at goodwill when they have special sales for a dollar or so a pices for my family. Better quality than walmart in most cases.

  12. skylog says:

    while i do not generally take part in this, being i am in a town with a giant university right next door i see all types of really nice items. the waste at the end of each semester is actualky quite sickening.

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