Mining Garbage Bins For Treasures

When you dig through public garbage bins, you’re most likely breaking the law. But those who are bold and fearless can find some valuable, useful items that may convince you to throw caution to the foul-smelling wind.

On his blog Budgets Are Sexy, J. Money pens an ode to the art of searching through garbage receptacles for prized goods. He says he’s hauled in book shelves, paintings, furniture and an antique Bible.

A side note: In these times of rampant bedbug infestations, a bug exterminator tells me you should be aware that snagging discarded clothing or furniture puts you at risk of dragging the creepy-crawlies into your home. This is information I could have used in my early 20s, when just about all my furniture came from the side of the road.

What’s your most impressive garbage-hunting score?

Let’s Go Dumpster Diving! [Budgets Are Sexy]

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Used condoms – people throw them away after one use! How wasteful.

  2. Darkrose says:

    I’ve snagged slightly outdated computers out of the dumpster before. I refirbished them and sold them off to people on the cheap.

  3. Spaceman Bill Leah says:

    I love my alley. I don’t live in a particularly nice area but I am always amazed at the stuff we can find there. Moving days are always the best.

    • Azzizzi says:

      In my neighborhood, if you put a couch on the curb, it will take about 10 minutes before someone starts sitting in it and it will be gone within the hour.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        i used to live in a neighborhood known for good curbside manners. in that, i mean it was a college area and every semester people who were moving would put things out. anything still useable was neatly set away from the regular trash. i had a gorgeous dining room table i found that way when i moved in and when i left i put it right back out. i kept several of the things i had found though, including books.
        when i moved out, anything i didn’t take to a thrift store went out with a sign on it that said ‘free’
        by the time i went in to get another chair, the first one was being loaded into a car.
        everything was gone in under an hour.
        i furnished a whole lot of my place from the curbs of my neighbors while i lived there, right to the bookcases and entertainment center.

  4. sp00nix says:

    I made a killing off eBaying stuff. I found vintage bag phones, projector parts, tons of computer parts, when one of the staples closed i had a field day, many Volvo’s full of goodies :)

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    To be fair, “side of the road” isn’t anywhere the same as dumpster diving. It’s one thing to find a discarded chair on the curb, another to willingly wade through a pile of Hefty bags full of someone’s household waste.

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      The big stuff I put out to the curb rarely make it to garbage day. Somebody almost always comes out with a pickup truck and takes it home.

      • katarzyna says:

        Once found a rear bumper for my ex-husband’s recently smashed up van.

        • econobiker says:

          Score!

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          my dad’s friend once found a replacement door for my parents’ oven the same day as the glass broke. it was the day after christmas and my dad was actually on the phone with his friend when the oven door shattered. less than an hour later the friend called and said his neighbor just put out a broken oven of the same model and did my dad want the door?

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I put a broken mower out with a sign on it that said “I’m broken, but I’m free” and it was gone in THREE MINUTES. I went inside and when I came out, nada. I suspect one of my neighbors might have taken it. That’s okay, though.

        It’s the best way to get rid of stuff I’ve ever found.

  6. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I really don’t care if people go through trash or dumpster dive. I just hate it how many people leave giant messes in the process.

  7. Alvis says:

    I would dive behind the local Blockbuster when I was in middle school – more empty VHS cases than I knew what to do with, and a nice assortment of posters.

  8. dreamfish says:

    At least two Ming vases.

  9. Hoss says:

    I got a complete 8 place set of Lenox China with gold trim, and nothing missing. An old woman just dumped the box into the trash bin. Probably senile

    • Hoss says:

      Oh, and as a tip — if you want to avoid dumpster diving, sign up for http://www.freecycle.com . It’s amazing what people want to get rid of

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff through freecycle, but I find it ridiculously annoying to use. I actually prefer the free section of Craigslist because it’s just easier to use.

        • econobiker says:

          A+ on the free cycle stuff being a pain. Craiglist free is alot easier.

          • Promethean Sky says:

            I’ve never found freecycle to be that difficult. The real trick just lies in writing good email filters to sort the postings.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          oh yes, i had to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff a roommate left behind when she moved out. an ad on craigslist at ten pm and it was all gone by 1 am.
          i just put up photos, said ‘come get it, don’t ring the bell, i’ll delete the post when it’s gone’
          i think 5 or six different people came. even took the broken bedframe and the dead Mac

  10. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Laptops and computers and an exercise bike in the box.

  11. jackinthegreen11 says:

    I found a 19″ LCD monitor in a dumpster at price chopper. The VGA cable was all rusty. I bought a new one on amazon and it worked fine. I still use it at home.

  12. katarzyna says:

    First of all, ewww!

    Secondly: “When you dig through public garbage bins, you’re most likely breaking the law.”

    Really? Why? I thought it was ok to go through personal people’s garbage (not that I’d want to). Is it different for public bins?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Public bins are owned by the local government.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Yup. Technically, if there’s something valuable in there, it’s the government’s valuable thing.

    • bwcbwc says:

      New York City claims that anything placed for trash pickup becomes property of the city regardless of whether it’s in a public bin or not. So no matter how you get it out of the trash, it breaks the law in New York.

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      You aren’t breaking the law in Chicago if you go through the garbage during the day.
      I believe the hours are 8AM-6PM.

  13. Bob Lu says:

    Coke caps for the points

    • electrasteph says:

      Us too! Then we X out the used codes so the other folks doing the same thing don’t waste their time.

  14. Snaptastic says:

    Lots of wooden furniture. I found a set of dining table chairs that me and a friend divvied up–then I bought a dining table to match them. Bookshelves, dressers, rolling tables and so on.

    Back when I lived in an apartment I used to find all kinds of other goodies that I simply couldn’t use–china, bags of yarn, and so on. I just loaded those things into my storage room and ferried them to Goodwill when I had enough for a load.

  15. SonarTech52 says:

    I grew up on the poor side so I always tried to make money. When I was around 11-12 yrs old I would dumpster dive to get cans to recycle.

    One day making my rounds through the dumpsters in my apartments, and friend and I were looking in one dumpster when a lady came up. She seen what we were doing and said, there are no cans in her bag then she left. We checked her bag anyway and did find cans.. but also hit the jackpot!! We found some pr0n mags!! woohoo :)

  16. Laffy Daffy says:

    About five years ago, a friend of mine gave me a laptop he found in a dumpster used by federal employees in downtown Chicago. After some googling, I cracked the BIOS password, installed Windows 2000 on the HD (didn’t find any govt secrets, just a single document from the IRS to an Air Force guy) and got a Orinco Gold wireless card for $40 on Ebay. Still works great and we use it as a backup and a spare for friends.

  17. diasdiem says:

    I never pull anything out of the dumpsters themselves, but stuff left next to the dumpster is fair game. Got a nice tool box and a perfectly serviceable set of plastic drawers that way.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      yep, my friend lives across from a college campus and her apartment complex is a treasure trove on moving day. all the good furniture goes next to the dumpster. the fundraiser sale my charity just held sold a mahogany headboard found there and displayed stuff on a folding banquet table from her apartment complex dumpster.
      i’ve learned to hate people who break the good stuff intentionally to make it fit in the dumpster

  18. u1itn0w2day says:

    Trash trolling-some hate it and others love it.

    I passed by a trash can full of computer accessories including cables, mouses,keyboards and game accessories on a exercise walk. Since I was well away from home I went for a bag and bike. By the time I got back less than a half hour later the owner of the trash had buried all those accessories at the bottom of the can covered by ripped up newspaper. Yet the trash was out on the curb ready for next day pick-up.

    Some people are real funny about dumpster diving no matter the items retrieved.

  19. Forrest says:

    I’ve pulled a couple of really nice office chairs off the side of the road, after thorough disinfection and a good scrubbing, they have lasted me years. I also had a desk with hutch that I got, in decent shape.

    I have observed a man and what appears to be his son raiding the dumpsters at the end of my street. He would lift his son up and drop him in the dumpster (huge ones), and have the kid root through the garbage. Pretty shitty dad.

    • freelunch says:

      You could be reading the father/son situation wrong…. when I still lived with my parents, I would often nag my father to help me dumpster dive for old electronics (I loved to dismantle them to learn how things worked), and for old bike parts…

      My best dumpster trophies to date have been:
      40+” TV (which was huge in the 90′s)
      several nice stereos, occasional with a small but fixable problem
      1970′s superlight road bike, restored and later appraised for $1600
      original xbox, with a tempermental disc drive (fixed)…. and many other assorted items back in college.

  20. u1itn0w2day says:

    As long as I can clean I consider it. Most plastics I give a ajex and bleach bath/rinse. Even certain wood pieces get a rinse. For some reason I’m leary of old electronics except for the occoassional tv-many are fine but with the digital conversion in many areas many tvs that simply need a digital box/tuner are tossed.

    I do notice for some reason many who are having contract work done on their house aren’t too thrilled about going through the contractors dumpster on the street. Lot’s of good scrap wood in those perfect for framing and misc projects.

    The only thing that I don’t do is open garbage bags even though on the street or even in a dumpster. Also had an apartment in a small complex. When a tenant was evicted I felt too bad to pilfer their stuff the landlord just tossed in the dumpster.

    • econobiker says:

      We never cared when the maintenance men tossed people’s apartments into the dumpsters- whether they were evicted or had skipped out it was 80% trash and 20% treasure on a good day usually 95% trash and 5% treasure.

  21. Arcaeris says:

    I don’t take anything, but once I got rid of all the liquor in my house (something like 40 750mL-1.5L bottles) by placing it next to the dumpster with “Free/Gratis” on it.

    I dropped it off, went back up to my condo to bring some more trash, and it was already gone when I returned.

  22. jiarby says:

    I found two japanese laquered panel screens (like you hide behind when changing clothes) that someone had by the curb. Sold on CL for $250 the next day!

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      Can also find alot of brass door hardware thrown out in the old neighborhoods especially. Some people have to get rid of things for space others don’t like clutter or old nor do they try to recycle or salvage.

  23. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    I used to dumpster dive when I was a kid, whenever anyone moved or kicked out their boyfriend, we’d find awesome stuff. My sister found a really nice gold ring, but her “best friend” stole it and gave it to her dad so that when my sister found out and went to reclaim it, he intimidated her into accepting $5 as payment. :/

  24. dragonvpm says:

    I’ve lived in old houses for a while now and I have often found “spare parts” for them sitting out on the curb close to trash day. People throw out all sorts of great old light fixtures, bath fixtures windows, door hardware, etc… In my last house I redid the bathrooms using salvaged cast iron tubs and sinks and just yesterday I found a great solid old door that matches the rest of the doors in my current house and which would have cost me $200 if I were to buy it brand new.

    In college I used to make money cleaning out dorm rooms after people moved out and I found some really neat stuff among all the crap that people left behind.

    If you don’t mind the occasional funny looks from folks passing by, you can score some really great stuff in other people’s trash.

  25. friendlynerd says:

    An entire Electrolux vacuum complete with accessories and 26! extra bags that I then sold on eBay for almost $100.

  26. Jerem43 says:

    Full set of computer peripherals, including a flat screen monitor, keyboard, laser mouse and Harmon-Kardon speakers. Also got three gigs of DDR-2 memory.

  27. Jerem43 says:

    I also got a full set of surround speakers w/sub woofer…

  28. jchemtob says:

    Found a 50+ inch Toshiba DLP TV waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck – hauled it home with my dad, got a new lamp for it, didn’t work. Looked up the error message in the manual online, opened the back of the tv to find a censor cable unplugged – works perfect for over a year now.

  29. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    I found a perfectly usable microwave and office chair in the garbage room of my apartment complex. No bedbugs as of two years later. Hooray!

    And the microwave? AWESOME.

  30. pixiegirl says:

    I remember when I was younger my friends and I would go “dumpster diving” all summer long. We’d take my wagon and walk up and down the streets in our subdivision every Tuesday night. Our parents would laugh because we’d get so excited that it’s Tuesday night. The best homes were the ones who just had garage sales usually everything they didn’t sell at the garage sale they would usually toss. The best score was one of my neighbors who was moving and they were throwing away everything they couldn’t pack. We scored several pairs of skis, coin collections that fetched us $50-100 per collection, and an unbelievable amount of housewares. The homeowners actually caught us going thew their trashed and laughed and said they should have had a garage sale because it’s such a waste for them to throw all this stuff way. They didn’t care one bit that we were taking their garbage, we probably made their day they were so tickled that we were going thew it. We’d also pick up a ton of furniture we’d take home then go to the local sears and buy the $1 pre-mixed paints that people didn’t like and repaint it. So we could re-arrange our bedrooms with our new furniture.

  31. econobiker says:

    My best and quickest score:
    2006 A Saturday: Local unmanned recycling dump bins- someone had dropped off an aluminum rear car window louver that wouldn’t fit into the bin hole- way too big. I recognized it as mid ’80s Camaro/Firebird rear window part. Took home. Sunday: look up retail new value $350-$400 and take picture for craiglist. Monday afternoon- call from a guy. Meet Monday early evening with him and his 16 yo son who is working on same age Camaro. Them- louver for car, Me- $50 richer with no work to the part other than taking it home.

    2008 Apartment dumpster: my wife worked from home and could eye the dumpster. This complex had alot of younger idiot renters who got me-maws/aunties post death estate furniture and then would skip the rent and move out. Best times were maintenance cleanouts around the 10th of the month after people moved out. Wife would call when she saw good stuff going into the bin for me to hit when I got home.

    Got a California Furniture oak queen/full headboard with a bookshelf and mirror even still with the light bulbs intact. Polished it up to keep it and then decided to sell- $125.

    Multiple metal bed frames – average $15 sells

    Garbage bag of Buffy Vampire slayer books- $62 in trade credit at used book store.

    Among the keeps:
    A real vintage brass bed head board /foot board and frame.
    Plastic truck box to fit my sister in laws S-10 pickup.
    Extra car battery for jumping off cars etc- maintenance guys were such retards to throw out lead battery worth $10 for a core. Topped up the cells and recharged.
    Wood headboard and foot board we now use- had to score a frame.
    DVD player w/ remote
    Free small VCR-TV for the kids to watch their old videos on

    And so on…

  32. Gravitational Eddy says:

    Big big tip: If you live near a college town that’s got a lot of off campus housing, check the streets and curbs around there after they start moving out at the end of the school year.
    Frat house row, maybe not, but upscale apartment complex definately. Local paper here ran story this past spring about this very same thing.
    Appears college students throw out everything when they go back home to Omaha.
    And they do not want to take anything with them.
    Disposable income anyone?

    • econobiker says:

      Lazy rich students and international students heading back overseas move outs. A+

      • Powerlurker says:

        My mini-fridge in college had been left outside the dorm by its previous owner for anyone to take. A $1 spray bottle of bleach cleaner and it chilled my beer for the rest of my college career. When I graduated, I left it outside for someone else to pick up for free.

  33. LaurelHS says:

    I got a small bookshelf and a beige couch from the sidewalk in front of my former apartment. They were both in good condition, except the couch seat cushions were missing. I replaced them with a folded-up comforter that I already had and it was quite comfortable. I left both these things behind when I moved, though.

  34. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    looking around the room i am in right now … the tv i am watching, the coffee table i have my feet on, the carpet wrapped around the highway safety cone that acts as my cats’ scratching post, the wooden box i keep a stack of old but useable hard drives in, the wire grid shelving my electronics are on… and that’s just the living room.
    the best i ever got though was a nearly complete set of home improvement/how to books right when i had a slumlord landlord who wouldn’t fix anything and i had to do it myself

  35. Xeos says:

    so its okay because you dont agree with the law, lets post a guide on how to break it — anyone want some torrent links?

  36. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    My favorite finds – old fashioned sliding removable window screens, for my old fashioned windows, an 8′ oval braided rug, a mailbox (which I primed and painted with green tractor paint), a really cool old jar with a few air bubbles in the glass, with screw on top (cloroxed and now used to store popcorn), and a working Pong game.

  37. FrugalFreak says:

    I once asked a manager of a drugstore chain if I could have a damaged sunglass rack sitting behind the store, he said sure take it. down below was about $200 worth of new sunglasses and reading glasses.

  38. Jane_Gage says:

    I was painting a mural in Lake Worth when the phone guys came through. They took all the old wires and put them in giant garbage bags. I wasn’t sure if I had to strip them or not, turned out I didn’t have to and made $200 from what I could fit in my trunk. I casually mentioned this to someone I was working with and it was like a plague of locusts descended on the building. The maintenance guy had his entire extended family, fat mother in law, kids, all rooting through the dumpsters. I draw the line at going into the dumpsters.

  39. Jfielder says:

    My very best dumpster diving find was a complete set of Weld Drag Lite race wheels, in good condition. Spent time time dismounting the old tires, shined em up, sold em for 500 dollars!

    Dumpster Diving! WOOT!

  40. Burger19 says:

    Computer desk that was larger and nicer than mine! only thing was the drawer was missing. I can do without that! Used it for 5 years until my friend was getting a new desk and gave me his old one, which was nicer than my dumpster desk and weighed a shit ton less.

  41. webweazel says:

    I have 3 big prizes of trashpicking:
    1. Large armoire with plenty of drawers that we use for our son’s clothes. He’s small, so it all fits very well.
    2. An antique 8-legged table that was freshly refinished. It needs some small repairs where some trim is loose, but I should be able to get about $300 for it. (It’s too big for our house.)
    3. A few houses down from us, some people put out 3 LARGE sections of garage shelving. Homemade from 2X4s and plywood. We scooted them all home, and installed them right into our garage. They are such a perfect fit, we have one solid wall of shelves with 2 inches to spare next to the door to the house, and about 4 inches to spare next to the window on the other side.

    Smaller prize: Selling of an older ex-teachers house in the neighborhood resulted in me grabbing boxes and boxes of lower grade-school textbooks and reading story books of all varieties (Dr. Seuss, Disney, etc.) from the 1940-60s from the pile. Perfect for us with a beginning reader!

    I simply cannot pass a curb pile without looking for something juicy, much to the chagrin of the many people around me. I do keep the piles neat when I dig, and I don’t “dive” in dumpsters, although I will take larger things out. (I do furniture restoration, so you know what I’m looking for the most.)

  42. Karen says:

    This was several years ago – I went into a tobacco store to buy some cigars for a friend and got the last cigars in the box. The owner went to throw the box away and I asked if I could have it – he said “sure,” and then mentioned he’d just thrown away a “bagful” of cigar boxes. I drove around to the back of his store and found in his dumpster probably 100 or more cigar boxes, some of them stunningly beautiful.

    I sold them on eBay in lots of two or three for about $6-10 a whack. The store owner knew what I was doing but didn’t mind saving the boxes for me, and even made a point of telling me which ones were particularly valuable. Eventually his daughter realized there was a lot of money going “out the door,” and by that time I was pretty busy at work so I taught her how to use eBay and handed over my auction templates with my blessing.

    I still have a lot of cigar boxes scattered around the house – I saved some of the prettiest ones. They are useful for many things.

  43. ablestmage says:

    Check out the ordinances in your area. Here, it’s illegal to rummage-rustle items from bins that are in an alley or on a public street (which rules out residential at least) .. but if it’s in a parking lot, there’s free reign. I’ve gotten four wedding dresses, a 2ghz WinXP machine (completely working), two fertilizer spreaders, loads of kids toys, as much bubble wrap as I can stand, and more than two full-loaded garage sales worth of trinkets ..most of which sold.