Frugal Living 

Ever Go Dumpster Diving?

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)

 Frugal Living 

One Man’s Trash: Free Televisions and Computers!

JD recently wrote a post about how he picked up someone else’s discard pile (reuse!) on his way home from work one day and that got me thinking about what sort of goodies I’ve ever resurrected from the dead. Now, I don’t mean dumpster diving here, that’s not to say I’m “above” it, just that the thought of rummaging through a dumpster just sounds way too dangerous and nasty/dirty for me; what I mean is just picking from stuff put on the side of the road or outside a building, where no entry into a dumpster is required. Just the thought of stepping into or rummaging through some of the stuff I’ve thrown out makes my stomach churn.

Best Haul:
My best haul was definitely was an old television (and remote!) in the first apartment I lived at in Maryland. At the apartment complex, if your trash didn’t fit in the trash chute (or too heavy or dangerous to throw down it) most people just left it sitting there besides the chute door. That door was on one side of the elevator, my room was approximately 20 feet away from the door and so when I went out one day to toss my own trash, I saw an otherwise good looking television sitting there smiling at me. I brought it back to my room, plugged it in and turned it on – it worked! It’s amazing what college students will throw out rather than take with them…

A completely working computer, albeit a little on the old side, was left outside the trash at another apartment complex but this time I was driving out and dropping off some recycling when I saw it. When I powered the bad boy up at home last that night, I found that it was running Windows 98 (this was two years ago, but still way past the Best Used By date for Win98) but seemed to be in pretty good shape – definitely would make for a useful internet surfing computer if I ever needed one. Or could make its way to the donation pile but it’ll have a much better life this way than leaking toxic chemicals into some landfill.

Honorable Mention:
I remember going around school around the summer and picking up all sorts of crazy discards from college kids looking to lighten their load. The number of dorm-room refrigerators that people tossed was staggering. One of my friends scoured the dorms for them and just took them (they weren’t the rental ones left out for pickup, these were legitimate discards), selling them on Craigslist for $60 a pop. Me? I just snagged one for my own personal use.

What’s your best discard pickup?

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