Dumpster diving doesn't bring to mind many positive thoughts. But it can actually be quite lucrative if you know the best places to dumpster dive.
Every day, residences and businesses throw away items that are still usable and have value.
And as the phrase goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
So whether you call it scavenging, trash digging, trash picking, totting, curb shopping, or salvaging, while dumpster diving has negative connotations, it serves a purpose.
Additionally, dumpster diving can help reduce the impacts trash has on the environment.
If you want to learn more about dumpster diving, check the frequently asked questions below, but first, let's look at the best places to dumpster dive.
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9 Best Places to Dumpster Dive
While it is legal in most places, regardless of where you go dumpster diving, you need to be aware of local laws and obey no trespassing or private property postings.
If you need to open a fence or go on private property, you may want to think twice about it. Those aren't the best places to dumpster dive, especially without permission.
1. Neighborhood Trash Bins
Every week, streets are lined with trash bins. And if you work checking trash bins into your routine, you can do it just about every day since different neighborhoods have different trash days.
People may frown upon you going through their trash. However, as long as it isn't on their property and there isn't a local ordinance against it, it is typically legal to do.
You may want to consider the neighborhoods you target for dumpster diving.
More upscale neighborhoods can yield better results. Rich people are more likely to throw away perfectly good items that they replace with even nicer ones.
One other way to be more efficient is to drive through neighborhoods on trash day and look for overflowing containers. While these households may just generate a lot of trash, it may also signal that they did some recent cleaning and threw out a lot of old stuff.
Spring cleaning time is an excellent opportunity for this.
2. Neighborhood Yard Sales and Garage Sales
While yard sales are great for finding excellent deals in general, they can be an optimal opportunity for a modified version of dumpster diving.
Many people put in a good amount of work to clean out their houses and prepare for a garage sale. The last thing they want to do is haul it back into their home.
While they may choose to donate some of what is left, often, especially for larger items, they'll put it out by the street with a sign stating it is free to take.
And after a neighborhood yard sale, you can often maximize your chances just by driving through after the sale is complete.
These sales are often advertised by signs at neighborhood entrances, in local papers, and on Facebook or Nextdoor.
Additionally, it is common for a number of them to occur in the same time ranges in late spring. So keep your eyes open during this time.
3. Apartment Complexes
Apartment complexes can be one of the best places to dumpster dive.
Instead of going through multiple trash bins in a neighborhood, all of the trash is consolidated into one or several places, depending on the complex's size.
Additionally, checking apartment complexes towards the end and beginning of the month could pay off well.
People are typically moving into and out of their apartments during this time. And when people move, they tend to get rid of a lot of things. And usually, what they throw out is still usable.
4. Grocery Stores
While some foods may spoil quickly after being thrown out, grocery stores throw out many foods that don't.
Typically these foods have passed their expiration date so the store can't sell them. However, they are still perfectly good to eat.
According to a study by NRDC, up to 40% of food goes uneaten in the United States. And that has more significant impacts:
If you are committed to this way of living, you'll want to learn the best stores for dumpster diving near you, and the best times.
Especially during the hot summer months, you want to get food as soon after it is tossed out as possible.
Bakeries provide a unique opportunity for dumpster diving.
Fresh bread and pastries are the backbone of bakeries. Leftovers are thrown out to make room for fresh goods.
Again, timing is going to be critical here. Knowing the closing hours of bakeries should help to know when the best opportunities are.
6. Retail Stores
Stores like Target and Walmart have pretty open return policies.
Because of this, they get a lot of returns. Some of these returns can be put back on the shelf and resold.
However, if the packaging is damaged, there are broken parts, or the product is slightly used; the items typically get thrown out. This practice makes retail stores some of the best places to dumpster dive.
You could potentially find items you can use personally or sell to others.
7. Electronics Stores
The other best stores to dumpster dive are electronics stores or office supply stores. Think Best Buy and Staples.
Slightly damaged products, either returned or used as demo products, damaged packaging, and more, can result in electronics being tossed.
Additionally, even if it no longer works, used electronics may have scrap value due to the metals and parts they are made of.
And keeping electronics out of the trash is good for the environment because they often contain heavy metals and other harmful materials.
8. Construction Sites
Building sites, demolition sites, and homes under construction or being remodeled can be gold mines for dumpster divers.
Old parts (cabinets, plumbing fixtures, copper piping), excess materials (paint, wood and metal scraps, etc.), and much more can be found at these sites.
Similarly, you may want to check home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot for discarded items.
If you are doing a home improvement project, finding items at one of these sites is an excellent way to save some money.
Be careful with this one especially. There may be a sign stating you can't take anything from the site. If you can, try and talk with the supervisor of the site to verify the materials are going to be trashed, and it is okay to take stuff from there.
If you like to collect metals to take to scrap yards, these sites are a great place to look.
9. College and University Dorms
At the end of the year, especially for seniors, you can find a ton of usable items tossed in the trash at schools.
The kids are all ready to head home or on vacation and could care less about most of the things in their dorm room that doesn't fit in their cars.
Whether you have a kid getting ready to head off to college in the fall, or are just looking for some items to sell, colleges at the end of the school year are among the best places to dumpster dive.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dumpster Diving
Is dumpster diving legal in my area?
Due to the wide variation in state-to-state laws and city-to-city laws, there is no clear answer to this.
Before dumpster diving, you need to understand the rules where you live. Also, consider where the dumpster is located. If it is on private property or behind a fenced-off area, you should consider moving on.
What happens when you get caught dumpster diving?
If you get caught dumpster diving, what happens will depend on the laws in your jurisdiction.
While dumpster diving, if someone asks you questions, it is best to have a straightforward conversation with them. If there is an issue with what you are doing, you should move on to a different location.
You could be cited for trespassing if you are on private property, loitering if you don't leave when asked or cause a commotion, or littering if you make a mess.
How much money can you make dumpster diving?
The amount of money you can make from dumpster diving varies widely.
You might get lucky and find electronics that are worth a few hundred dollars. But you can also come up empty-handed.
If you are going to create a side hustle out of it, you need to routinely find the best places to dumpster dive and know the best times to do it.
If you can identify spots that routinely toss high-value items, you could easily make a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars a month.
What precautions should you take when dumpster diving?
Dumpster diving does not come without risk – both legally and physically.
Obey the law
First of all, make sure you are following your local laws. While dumpster diving is legal in most places, local laws and ordinances vary widely.
Second, if someone stops you, tell them what you are doing.
If they don't want you there, kindly leave. However, they may be okay with what you are doing if you are upfront with them.
Additionally, if you establish a good relationship with people who work where you like to dumpster dive, you could avoid the whole diving part.
They could alert you when they have something valuable to trash, and you can be there to take it off their hands.
This could work for a bakery as well – remember the muffin stump episode from Seinfeld?
However, if you are going to try dumpster diving for food, be mindful that if you live in an area where homelessness is prevalent, you may be taking from people who need it more than you do.
Have appropriate safety equipment
Digging around in the trash can be dangerous. Read over the next question to learn how to protect yourself when dumpster diving.
Plan your dumpster diving trips
Don't go alone
Having someone with you can help you spot more opportunities and move heavier objects.
But more importantly, it is safer to have someone with you if you wander into the wrong neighborhood or are confronted by an angry person.
Plot your course
It is best to know where you intend to go to be the most efficient and find the best opportunities.
Additionally, let someone know your plan just in case something happens while you're out.
And if you can, try and ask for permission if you plan on dumpster diving at stores or construction sites.
Don't go at night
While nighttime may be the best for planning after store closings, it can raise suspicion.
It also can be more dangerous.
But if you need to go at night due to your schedule, make sure you're not alone.
What do you need to dumpster dive?
When sorting through trash, you never know what you might encounter.
From sharp metal to broken glass to hazardous waste, you need to be careful.
The three items I highly recommend for dumpster diving are:
- A headlamp – You'll want a bright flashlight, and a headlight like this one will keep your hands free. Additionally, it is rechargeable and water-resistant.
- Old clothes or coveralls – Dumpster diving can be pretty dirty, so you'll want to wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty. Additionally, you should wear long pants and sleeves.
- Cut-resistant gloves – When you're reaching down into a dumpster or trash bin, you never know what you might encounter. Wearing a good pair of gloves is vital to protecting yourself from sharp metal, glass, etc.
A pair of boots and something to carry your findings is helpful as well. And having a truck is useful for larger items as well as a way to make money hauling stuff in general.
Summary of Best Places to Dumpster Dive
Dumpster diving can be a lucrative side hustle.
While many may frown upon it, and it may seem like a miserable thing to do, there are beneficial aspects of it. You can help reduce the amount of food wasted and reduce negative environmental impacts a lot of our trash causes.
Just remember to be safe and do it legally.
I hope this list of the best places to dumpster dive was useful to you. And I hope you're able to find some hidden treasures in the trash!