Frugal Living 

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 (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)

{ 33 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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33 Responses to “Ever Go Dumpster Diving?”

  1. Zui says:

    Earlier this year I found out about real dumpster diving for food, and that there are actual tours teaching about it in New York city. You can find information on

    Unfortunately we waste so much in our society that it is quite normal to find perfectly good things in the garbage, and although it looks sick, the only thing wrong with much of it is the stigma we have placed on items found in a black bag. Many bakeries, donut shops, and stores have separate bags which contain just food, which they cant sell the next day as people want things very fresh.

    I havent done this too much for other items, but I know that there are people who find almost anything in the garbage. I wish I knew how to do that a bit better actually.

  2. daemondust says:

    Best I ever got was a RRoD’d XBox 360 that Microsoft covered under warranty for me. Perk of living in a college town, I guess. Mommy’s and Daddy’s money just doesn’t mean much to some people.

    There’re always tons of perfectly good Christmas trees waiting when school gets out a week or two before the big day too.

  3. yodie says:

    I have an aunt that lives in a very well known college town and she goes dumpster diving on the weekend…she has found some really nice things from computers to jewerly. She has found enough items to furnish a small one bed room apt. I think this is a great way to save money and also recycle. I live in nice community and people discard a lot of useful items…Thanks for the ideas I will start to utilize others people trash as a treasure.

  4. Soccer9040 says:

    I’m all for it. I’ve never actually gone into a dumpster, but if I can just grab something out then yea I’m going for it. Its amazing what some people can throw away. There is a fine line pertaining the to social norms of dumpster diving. I don’t exactly bring it up with everyone I talk to.

    Where I went to school the week before move out was HUGE. You could just walk around campus and basically go shopping for everything you needed for your place next year. Air conditioners, fridges, tables, typical college stuff. Some people just didnt want to move it home for the summer.

    On the other hand, the townies and it seemed like anyone with a pickup from 100 miles away also knew about this golden trash week. All of the sudden a 45 MPH road through town turns into a parade of overloaded pickup trucks.

    Grab a beverage and sit on the front porch. It was time for some quality people watching.

  5. Lawrence says:

    I have to say at least 80% of my apartment come from dumpster dives, garage sales and thrift shops, and I get compliments constantly. My favorite finds are a drop leaf table and 3 mismatched chairs from a bulk trash day, a free from Craigslist hutch I use to hold linens, as well as most of my dishes and pans . I found vintage 10 speed bike I ride daily after an oil and rear intertube were put on. Currently I am refinishing a 3 drawer dresser I plan on repainting cherry red and use in my bedroom. Love finding free things especially when it keeps them out of the land fill.

  6. Marilyn says:

    I’ve heard stories about U Penn students throwing out so much stuff that people gather it up and sell it. Zero cost to acquire = 100% profit, no matter the sales price.

    I needed some tomato cages and recently when out walking my dog, someone had set out some for pick up. Mine now.

    Recently when I was walking my dog, I saw that someone had been tossed out of a house, whether it was an eviction or foreclosure or angry spouse, I don’t know but among the videocassettes and left-handed golf clubs was a 4-foot tall jade plant, which now basks in the light of my hall window.

    I don’t got out intentionally to dumpster dive and trash pick but if I spy something I need or can resell, I’ll take it.

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