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Ever Go Dumpster Diving?

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Dumpster Diving CatCory Doctorow published a story last year about his friend, 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 U.S. and U.K. cables with their products, so every data center 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 dumpster 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. Man those were the days…

Have you ever gone dumpster diving?

(Photo: nicasaurusrex)

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33 Responses to “Ever Go Dumpster Diving?”

  1. Dave says:

    I’ve never gone dumpster diving, but my stepfather is notorious for it. Every time he goes to Home Depot or Costco, he drives around back to see what’s there. I don’t know everything he finds, but I know that he’s found a $1000 trailer that had a broken hitch ($50 bucks to have a guy weld it back on) and two brand new $500 barbeque grills that had dents on the lower cabinent part (he just took the cabinent part off). Even though its not something I do, he has definitely found some great stuff…

  2. Jeremy says:

    Back in college we did this. Like you said, we weren’t quite literally in dumpsters, but around the college campus and dorm trash rooms you could find all sorts of electronics, computers, TVs, and much more. Especially around the end of the semester when people were moving back home and didn’t want to load up everything in the car, so a lot of otherwise good stuff got trashed.

    I still have a computer monitor from about 10 years ago I found this way. Still works fine!

  3. I haven’t been dumpster diving in a long time, we used to drive around neighborhoods on the night before garbage pick up, as well as the day after garage sales and pick up what other’s didn’t want. I haven’t done it years though.

  4. Not personally but Mr M was a homeless teen living on the streets. He ate out of dumpsters to survive.

    One of my oldest friends went to Carnegie Mellon. But she was an art major! In a way she blends art and technology working in animation.

  5. I once went dumpster diving as a kid. We found a box full of dissected frogs. We were pretty excited but our parents were not happy with our find.

    • Tammy says:

      I live withing 3 miles of several college campuses so this post has really given me something to think about! Several years ago I lived close to an elementary school. I took advantage of their walking track and passed the dumpster regularly going to the track. As the school year ended, I found staplers, staples, folders, packs of pencils and pens, lunch boxes, etc stacked at the dumpster. Thought I didn’t have to “dive” I did carry a canvas bag on my walking trip every day during the month after school was out for summer to gather office supplies! I just finished using those staples about a month ago!

  6. john says:

    I dumpster (recycle bin) dive for boxes every time I move. As long as their clean, I might as well reuse them and dump them again after the move.

  7. As a former film student, I am well acquainted with dumpster diving. Sometimes, a full 50% of the props we used came from discards. We would drive around neighborhoods, looking for cool things left out by the curb.

    Film students take note: this is how you find props for free!

  8. Jim says:

    My Dad has a few rentals and the renters throw away a lot of stuff that he fishes out of the trash. He also ends up with stuff that people leave in their apartments after they move out. Its amazing how much perfectly good stuff people just throw out. He gets clothes, electronics, pots and pans, older but working computers, etc. My Dad doesn’t make money off the stuff as far as I know but he usually just takes it to the local charity.

  9. My dad and I would take loads of garbage to our local dump and once we found a dirt bike that we restored. It was a fun project for us and gave me the opportunity to learn about engines. I also worked for a large investment firm and they threw out a ton of useful items. They would throw out items left over from conferences and they never had a chance to get dirty. Binders, pens, notebooks, even some really nice leather bags.

  10. Grant says:

    The only thing I’ve ever gone dumpster diving for are cardboard boxes. I’d always need extra boxes for something; moving in college, hauling stuff to school, etc.

    A great place for cardboard boxes is a liquor store.

  11. Donna Freedman says:

    Not dumpster “diving” so much as dumpster “skimming.” I manage a small apartment building and have seen departing tenants throw out stuff that was perfectly good — at times still in original packaging. If I can reach it, I’ll fish it back out. Some I clean up and use, some I donate; a handful of things got sold when my daughter rented a table at an indoor flea market.
    And I, too, have benefited from things left in apartments that I had to clean. I’m not proud. As my friend Meghann says, “If it’s free, it’s for me.” ;-)

  12. Luggage Set says:

    I never did. I wish I was lucky to see all those stuffs infront of people’s office.

    This is one of the reasons not to go to a non-popular school. You cannot do dumpster diving.

  13. Sarah says:

    I used to dumpster dive in college too! We managed to find a lot of cool items (books, music, electronics, even furniture!). We even had the trash pickup days scoped out in some areas. Those late night outings were always exciting because you never knew what you might find!!! BTW, getting out of dumpsters can be difficult unless you have a friend or two around!!!

  14. J. Money says:

    haha…OH yeah! esp. in college or when i lived in NYC. Those New Yorkers throw out a LOT of good stuff, boy.

  15. plin says:

    When I was a little kid, I would collect people’s recycle cans on trash days and take them to the recycle center for cash the next morning.
    Although this is something I definitely won’t do now, thinking back, it still bring a smile back on my face.

  16. Snapshot says:

    As Grand Duke of Hobo’s, I am a semi-retired professional dumpster diver. I have fed myself and many other bo’s out of dumpsters. I can hear a gasp from many of your readers, as well as comments of “I’d NEVER do that!” Never say never. Hard Times are here again. Prepare.

  17. google says:

    My husband is almost 70 and I’m almost 67 and we dumpster dive, although due to tough times the quality is down a bit

  18. johnharry says:

    Dumpster diving can be very profitable.
    industrial parks, Throwing out all the old computer scrap. The old disk packs were about 20 pounds in scrap aluminum. discarded computers, relays if the contacts are round they are silver, square they are generally platinum. We found an old telephone switchboard in a dumpster.

  19. DRE says:

    In college there was a bagel shop that would toss out their perfectly good, already bagged day-olds in one larger bag in the dumpster at the end of the night. Free bagels for a whole houseful of guys for at least a week!

    In the same lot there was a newspaper/magazine store. At the end of the month, rather than send all the magazines back to the publisher, they simply tear off the covers to send back to the publisher as proof of non-sale and toss the actual content, sans covers, into the same dumpster. Free magazines!

  20. Sandy says:

    I’m cheap. I’ll be the first one to admit it. But I’m not so cheap that I’ve hit up a dumpster yet. I did however have a boss who did all the time. This was a woman making at least $500K per year. She would throw out half-eaten food and go right back into her trash can at her desk when she got hungry later. That right there just made me invest in plastic wrap. Ewww.

  21. I’ve never gone dumpster diving, but I have taken part in it’s sibling, garbage picking. I’ve taken TVs, couches, posters, etc. from curbside. The best time to go is right after Christmas or early spring when people do spring cleaning.

  22. Wren says:

    I don’t dumpster dive in the winter, but here in Boston it can be seriously lucrative to dive (especially around May and September when the students are moving!). I’ve gotten furniture, lamps, books, a backpack, bike parts, fabric and sewing accessories–loads of perfectly good stuff that people throw out for one reason or another.
    Like DRE, when I was in college, there was a coffee/bagel shop that threw out day-old bagels and crossaints–what a waste! So some friends and I liberated them and ate really well. I don’t think I ever bought bread in college!
    I also what I call pre-dumpster diving at the local farmers’ markets. When it’s time to close up shop, whatever hasn’t sold gets thrown out. In the summers, I take my bike down to the market just before closing and fill up my basket. You learn a few tricks when you’ve been broke for most of your life.

  23. dePriest says:

    I love dumpster-diving, starting with a dumpster full of magazines when I was eight years old. My cousin lives in an apartment complex where when a resident leaves, the handyman just throws anything left in the apartment into the dumpsters. My cousin’s income is very limited, and the money my she makes selling the stuff she gets from the dumpsters provides 1/3 or more of her income. Of course, she keeps what she needs or things I may want. She has given and/or sold me so many things from the dumpsters. She has things she would never be able to afford just because she’s willing to hit the dumpsters in her complex. When I go to visit, we sometimes dive together.

  24. Been there, done that!

    Actually, a fun activity if you do it alone or with a like-minded person.

    I’ve gotten all sorts of misc. computer parts, cables. Books.

    Never went for the food however.

    Checkout/beware of security cameras nearby however.

    Side-of-the-road discards too. In the glove compartment of my car I keep: scissors (to cut cables if I need to) and screwdrivers (to take something apart if needed).

    Being near a college campus (where tuition is expensive) is a great thing: Lots of discards two or three times a year.

  25. ECEgirl says:

    Damn, it’s a small world… I think I bought a balun from you back in the day. We met on the steps of Hammerschlag :)

    I still wander the halls of wean when I need moving boxes (blush)


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