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Making Money With Dumpster Diving

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Dumpster Diving? Seriously.

Dumpster diving is exactly what it sounds like, although many families have more personal names for it. We call it "shopping the perimeter" in my family, others that I know define it as going to the green mall, visiting skip, or treasure hunting.

And then there are those that find it highly degrading that anyone would check out the trash for cool stuff. If you are one of on.

Fruit that is on the ripe side makes excellent jelly and jam
Fruit that is on the ripe side makes excellent jelly and jam

Why We Do It

Throw Away Society

We are truly a throw-away society. I can't speak for other countries but I know that in the United States the amount of perfectly good stuff that gets thrown away is criminal.

Clothing Stores

Clothing stores may say that they donate what they do not ultimately sell but the truth is that quite often I have picked up a brand new outfit, tags still on, in the dumpster behind the store. I would blame it on a salesperson stealing items except just as often there will be many outfits in many different sizes.

Book Stores

Book stores have to tear the cover off of books they don't sell to get a refund from the publisher but the books are still good. They could be donated to the local VA hospital, homeless shelter, hospital, or nursing home. The books can't be sold with the cover torn off but they can be given away.


Bath and body stuff. There is a particular store in the United States that is known for it's bath products. Whenever the season changes you can bet that the old products will be tossed out. Could they not be better used by women in a shelter for abused women?


And, now the part that truly is a sin. Food. Not only do grocery stores throw out food that is at the expiration date, they often throw out food that is fresh because they got a new shipment in. Food that could be donated to the hungry.

Making an Income

You can make an income from other people's trash. First, the disclaimer. Check all your local laws and ordinances. Dumpster diving is not illegal in most parts of the United States but some communities have written ordinances against it.

Fabric and Craft Stores

Everywhere you look there are stores with dumpsters. Fabric and craft stores throw away fabrics and craft items they can't sell. I have personally dove several hundred patterns and sold them in packs of three for $1.00. It took me a few minutes to grab the bag of patterns, cost nothing, and I made a hundred bucks or so. Clearance items get thrown out as well. Don't think in terms of how much the item is worth but in terms of what you can sell it for quickly. Silk embroidery ribbon goes very fast at fifty cents a box but might not go as fast at two dollars a box. Price low to sell fast. There is always more. That is the nice thing about trash.


Not only do clothing stores throw out clothing but people often toss it in dumpsters rather than taking it to the thrift shop where it can help people. Apartment dumpsters toward the end of the month can be a great place for clothing. Often the clothes will be clean and still on hangers. Go through and pick out the things you like for yourself and take the rest to the resale shop. You time investment is small and your cash outlay is nothing.

Bath Products

If bath products are still in the packages you can sell them on eBay. If something has been spilled on the package clean it off carefully. A;ways take accurate pictures of the items you plan to sell and describe them honestly.


Look for old books and magazines. I once found five 1950s vintage magazines that sold for over $100.00 on eBay. Just because it doesn't look valuable does not mean that it isn't. People collect lots of things and you can't know everything. Grab it and then research the item on eBay. If it is there chances are someone would pay something for it.

Remember, you got it for free so price it low.

Save Money

You can also increase your income by spending less. I got so good at dumpster diving in my area that I went three years spending less than $50.00 a month at the grocery store, and we have a big family. We once grabbed 75 gallons of ice cream, still frozen, and filled our freezers. I suppose it was out of date but it tasted fine. Thanksgiving turkeys, still frozen... dozens upon dozens of eggs that are nowhere near the sell by date...yogurt...milk...cream. I used to regularly make butter out of the tossed out cream I found.

If you go into a store at 6 p.m. and milk is marked down to $1.00 a gallon would you buy it? Most of us would say yes. What if you saw the stock boy loading it on a cart to take to the dumpster but he was still in the store? Would you buy it then? What if he was headed out to the dumpster with the still cold milk at 6:15 p.m.? What is the difference between that milk at 6:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.?

By being aware of the schedules the store uses you can usually know which days to check the dumpster for the items you need, and you will learn what times they throw things out. You can tell by feel if they have been sitting out a long time or not and most people can easily tell if something is spoiled. Anyone who has ever opened a brand new carton of milk and had it taste spoiled knows that just because something is in the grocery case does not make it o.k!

Keep informed about the various recalls that happen so that you don't get something that has been recalled.

Some of My Best Finds

Dumpster diving gets to be addictive. You develop an eye for knowing what to look for, for knowing the shape of the bag with the gourmet cheeses in it or what is trash and what isn't. It is fun to come home with something you like and didn't have to pay for.

Some of the things I have brought home are:

  • Antique yellow pine sewing rocker
  • Vintage magazines (sold for over 100.00)
  • Ice cream
  • 10 packing boxes of Valentines and Easter Chocolates.
  • 10 frozen turkeys
  • Carpet for my bedroom
  • Antique books
  • Bath stuff from a bath boutique...a ton of it
  • 50 lbs of gourmet coffee beans

And much more.

I met people that were diving, people who were "nice" people not drug addicts or serial killers. I met an elderly Pastor that kept the food pantry in his church filled for people who needed it...a woman on social security that always had a smile and a little something for me that she found at another store. Some of my best items I sold for cash but most of my best finds were people!


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I mades £1000's a year in uk in coop every type food can think off, I sold a lot of it too, veg, crisps, bread, i think i had everything at some point, the fruit very usful due high prices, alcohol once was $250 dollar beer and often beer in there hehe, damaged things, few days past date, all types household cleaners, ive had most thing, one was £100 pound worth chocolate. I rekon All i buy is meat, and i sell $100 dollar worth stuff a week usually, all for 2 hrs work one day a week after it built up. i live in a village no locks and is local as far as i'm aware knowone else does it. No cameras no locked bins. It very handy as I on low income.

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      5 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      You have to check on the laws an ordinances for your area.. as far as when to check a store? You just keep checking until you figure out the pattern.

    • Bishop55 profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Sorry, I didn't read all the comments. Is this illegal if you dive a store? I really want to try the bath product idea. But I'm not sure what I would say if a security cop or someone asked what I was doing. do you know when to check the dumpsters?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting Hub! I know most retail places would love to just donate or give away things, however one bad side effect of dumpster diving or donating, is people trying to take back products to the store for cash refunds.

      My last office was over a grocery store and overlooking the dumpster area I was amazed how many older people I saw taking the food that was thrown away, I think it was more about them not understanding the waste, I think than poverty.

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 

      5 years ago from Cardiff

      Im really interested in trying it, it is technically illegal in most of the UK, but obviously it can still be done! Im just worried about being caught. I hate waste so badly and try to recycle, sell or donate a lot of items. I wear second hand clothes from charity shops, and buy reduced food, so have no problem with the idea of dumpster diving at all!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very interesting! I've never done any dumpster diving myself, but with these kind of finds I can see why people would. I live in a small town with no real downtown or business area, so this would be a bit difficult for me to take up, but I may have to try someday! I know end of semester on college campuses is supposed to be a great time for diving....

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      6 years ago from California, United States of America

      I think this is a good idea. I live in a college town and the college kids are always throwing out good clothes, backpacks, shoes, furniture, etc. Usually they throw it out at the end of the semester, before they go home, because they're not going to pack it home and can't leave it in the apartment. There's also lots of yard sales, daily, in my neighborhood and I'm thinking they got the items from the dumpster or hit the thrift stores. At any rate, good idea to have some economic independence, find what you need, make money, etc. Great hub!

    • bellatodaro profile image


      6 years ago from Southern belle

      this sounds fun!

    • hubber088 profile image


      6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      One of the best ideas ever! It's ridiculous how much food is thrown away and wasted. Mind-boggling. You can eat so well and save so much money this way. I'm thinking about doing this! Thanks.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I used to work at a fabric store and we would throw away good patterns all of the time.... HUNDREDS!. It was disgusting. So one day I asked why can't we donate these to a church, a youth program, or school? Of course the supervisor said no so I when the time came to toss them I just double bagged them and got them myself. There was no reason people shouldn't be able to use them. I went to art school and we dumpster dived all of the time.... 200 dollar packs of paper, charcoal, pencils, paper, all kinds of supplies. It's a shame how much is wasted in the us. I haven't done it in a while but I think I am ready to start again!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Is there a website to check your local ordinances??

      I need to know soon because I might do some diving tonight

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Okay... since everyone else is admitting it! I totally love looking in dumpsters. It's fun and if you get lucky you really can find some great and VALUABLE stuff. In fact, sometimes I get a little ticked off at how people can throw away perfectly good things that could have otherwise been donated to people in need. I say bravo to dumpster diving.. in fact, reading this hub is making me want to go look in a few dumpsters :0)

    • savannahbree10 profile image


      7 years ago from Maniwaki, Quebec, Canada

      I haven't tried dumpster diving but im a regular at local thrift stores.. I've done the curbside thing, found a nice wooden change table which I still have..

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      7 years ago from Northeastern United States

      There are many people who make a good income dumpster diving, flea marketing, etc. Gotta have the drive to do it. This is a great article. So glad I found it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am addicted to dumpster diving! I have found 14k scrap jewelry, brand new dvd players still in the box, cell phones, stereos, watches, and all kinds of other good stuff. I make a good living from dumpster diving plus I got a lot of nice stuff at home,

      Be sure to check the trash at your local jewelry store since the price of gold is up!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I loved doing this as a kid! My mom couldn't stand it until we brought home a really nice antique end table. She was a little more tolerant of it but I think she worried about our safety more than anything.

      I don't do much dumpster diving today but I do enjoy hitting the thrift stores and flea markets looking for that hidden gem. But that's not to say if I saw something that has been tossed and looks worth picking up I'll definitely stop.

      Might have to scope my local malls alleyways after reading this. =)

    • Smaridge01 profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      Great hub Marye! I have been dumpster diving for years, mostly for hard goods, and agree that our society throws out way too much stuff! I too have furnished early apartments and so on from my diving activities.

      One thing I would like to add though: if you are going to dive dumpsters, follow the rules of being a good guest! Leave the area cleaner than you found it, never take anything that isn't IN the dumpster, ALWAYS be polite and respectful of the property and it's owner.

      I have always thought I should write about this, and your hub has inspired me! Thanks!!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      actually the supreme court ruled that dumpster diving is completely legal. once something is placed in the trash that person can no longer claim it as their property the thing you have to watch out for is trespassing if someone tells you to leave then leave at some point you can go back when no one is there and collect your treasure

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      The idea that they outlaw dumpster diving is absurd and mean. My favorite coat was trash picked. One New Year's Eve party I threw was made fabulous when a young man showed up just after a dumpster dive. He started handing bouquets of flowers in the door to other people, who handed them on the the next, a chain of flowers and they just kept coming - all from a dumpster!

    • Stina Sense profile image

      Stina Sense 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub, loved it!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Just last week I took a Weber Grill out of the dumpster at Walmart with one broken Caster. $500.00 grill.

    • ryansmommie profile image


      8 years ago

      We would always go curb shopping growing up.

      We found a lot of good stuff, a TV, doll house, rocking chair, suit cases, And a bunch of cool stuff.

      I have never though obout going looking for food, I'm not sure if my fiancé would be up for that but thanks for the idea, I'll pass it on to others!

      But we do have an inside source at our local dump and you wouldn't believe what gets thrown away, from walmart and other stores, my son has enough diapers to last him 2 months from the dump! tons of clothes and toys toys toys.

      Great hub thanks for sharing!!!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      How do find the ordiances for your area for dumpsters?I have tried to look under the city but could not find it.

    • Chatterbox profile image


      9 years ago from New York City

      My husband collects and recycles bottles and cans for extra cash since he retired in 2003. He gets no pension from his job, and only receives social security. The same for me. In the course of one year, last year he made over $1,600.00. Helps with the bills and Christmas gifts. He says this is his last year of doing this, he is 74 yrs. old. Over the past 6 yrs. he has brought home many things which were still good, and I sold them at our garage sales. I'm not a dumpster diver, he does all the work. I do the selling, that's my hobby.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Is dumpster diving leagal in Los angels/Westwood?

    • DarleneMarie profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      I remember some years back watching a special on 20/20 where this group of peoplel would go and dig in dumpsters behind grocery stores and resturants in search of dinner that night.

      I could not believe the amount of good food that goes to waste! Very nice article!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Im a residential garbage man in alaska and i know what hes talking about. i have made a lot of money off other peoples garbage because EVERYTHING GETS THROWN AWAY!!!!! rember that

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Our grocery stores have all put big multiple locks on their dumpsters :(

      The college area dumpsters are overflowing quarterly with new books and clothes and sometimes unopend food, though.

    • Archbob profile image


      10 years ago

      Dumpster diving behind retail stores is quite profitable, you can pick up some pretty good clothes there. I may want to go there for some socks sooner or later.

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Way to go but dont know if game enough

    • ejcooksey profile image


      10 years ago from Mo, USA

      We used to be able to do dumpster diving here where I live, but the city decided to make it against the law...bummer.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Oh!My. I'm sure I wouldn't have the guts for it.

      fun hub

      regards Zsuzsy

    • Whitney05 profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      This sounds fun! Behind retail stores seems to be the key to finding good stuff. I don't think I have the guts to do it.. Ha.


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