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Dumpster Diving for Profit

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Is this guy serious about money?

I have been recycling and upcycling for 3 years, spend about 20 hours a week between diving and sorting and make an extra profit of 400 cash on slow months.

It's all about knowing when, where and how.

This article will be the first steps in figuring those out.

What am I looking for?

Anything recyclable or upcyclable.

Main recyclables: Aluminum, brass, copper, copper wiring, electric motors (most yards now take ac adapters as motors), steel and laser printer cartridges.

As for upcyclables, use your discretion. I have personally picked up furniture, restored it and sold it at my weekend sale. Sometimes no restoration is necessary.

Dig it or dive it

Modern day treasure hunting

Modern day treasure hunting

Treasure Map

We don't want to spend 8 hours going in circles, that's insanity. So before we head out let's find out where everything is and map a route.

In my experience some of the best places to hit are - Electronic stores (copper wire and returned electronics, some times people bring things back because they're ugly, the store throws them out... I find it, test it and it works!).

Thrift shops/ All in one stores : one man's trash is another man's scrap metal and copper wire. Not to mention free clothes and epic randomness ( Yard sale! ).

Gas stations : cans cans cans. What'd this guy do, chug 32 beers and drive home? Drinking and driving is uncool, but thanks for the cash.

Great! We know what we're looking for, let's X em, draw out a path and hit the road!


If you ride a bike, day or night, dress bright. Neon reflective clothing not only looks cool but helps traffic see you. Also adding blinking lights to the rear and a headlight to the front of your bike will lower the element of surprise of approaching vehicles.

Try to avoid dark alleys. Don't carry money. Unfortunately addicts favor alleys and addicts are sometimes dangerous when feening. I try to get to know the local areas and people so if someone thinks about robbing me, they know it's just practice.

Look before you leap. Check for anything that might look like it's going to hurt if you land on it. This includes but isn't limited to : glass, sharp metal, sleeping hobos and animals.


Gear up!

Dumpsters are dirty... No shoot right? They're intended for trash. So before we dive in, let's get a gear check.

Sanitizer : Rubbing alcohol wipes are my favorite but anything that'll get you clean is great.

Gloves : Rubber is good, leather is better. Let's not ruin mom's fancy fittings, what ever we choose is going to get nasty. I prefer leather because they don't tear easy.

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Basic tools : wire cutters, screwdrivers, pliers, and an adjustable wrench. I have a small light weight set that cost me 10$. I ride my bike so I'm not using up all my gas, so my advice... Don't weigh yourself down with big bulky tools. Most stuff we will take apart will have small screws and nuts.

A magnet: most our finds will be scrap. If it pulls a magnet it's heavy and sells cheap. Sometimes I find a lot of scrap, so much I have to come back with my van. But don't leave precious metals for later, another Goonie might come along and claim our gold before we return. Aluminum, copper and brass won't pull a magnet and sell for .50-3.00$ a Pound.

Flash light : I do most my diving at sundown, store employees get scared when they see a guy in the dumpster and scared people call the police. It's unlikely you'll get arrested, but if an officer is having a bad day he can get you for trespassing or littering. I've been caught in dumpsters dozens of times and have only been laughed at, but always be kind and courteous and always leave the area better than you found it.

A garbage bag or two : Aluminum is the most abundant scrap I find, and what form does it most commonly appear? Beer cans! The bag will keep the rat piss off your back...mostly.

Containers : not everything we find is going to be scrap. I've found DVD players, video game walkthroughs, coffee makers...I could go on. Point is, we don't want to dirty sellable goods by throwing them in with scrap.

I use a backpack for light weight small things and have a bike trailer with two separate square buckets and a front basket. Being organized will save time, time is money.

Hard at work

Dead tired

Dead tired

I'm dirty, smell kind of funny and have more than I can carry.... Now what?

That was fun, sometimes gross but always interesting... But what now?

Let's sort. All scrap should be tested with a magnet. If it doesn't stick ,put it in the precious box. I sort brass, copper and aluminum separate from each other and will sometimes wait until I have a good amount before hauling it. Anything that does stick goes into my crap scrap box and i won't haul that unless i have 500+ pounds. I'll get more into why in the next section.

What else did we find? USB cords? Coffee makers? Clothes? DVDs? Cell phones? Computers?This stuff will be tested and sold online or at our weekend yard sale, if it's in working order of course.

If it doesn't work take it apart. When I'm on my bike and I find, let's say a refrigerator, I tend to just cut out the copper and compressor and leave the rest for the next Goonie.

There are lots of places to sell electronic scrap online if there isn't somewhere local for you, so don't throw away those green boards! Those can be worth anywhere from .20-3.00$ a pound.

Computer scrap, RAM, expansion cards, processors and smart phones most often have GOLD in them. Take all computer equipment apart and send them to an electronic scrap recycler, such as, if your local recyclers don't accept e-scrap.

Don't overlook anything.

Oh Big Brother!

Why am I waiting before hauling?

Laws. Check your state laws before selling scrap.

I want to save gas so I try to haul small loads on my bike. Unfortunately in some states you can't recycle anything other than cans unless you have a registered vehicle.

It's just not gas efficient to haul less than a 20$ load. Call the scrap yard ahead of time, get prices on what you're going to sell and do the math.

5 Lbs from 2 stores

Crush cans for easy haul

Crush cans for easy haul

I found a bunch of food but I'm not hungry

Compost it! Feed your dogs! Have a food fight! (At home not on someone else's property)

I don't recommend selling it, although some bent and dents do.... And are usually shut down.

Or, if you're feeling friendly.

The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (enacted October 1, 1996) was created to encourage food donation to nonprofits by minimizing liability...etc Read the link if you want to donate food.

Always let the donee know where you found it. Don't donate open food.

I've been eating food from grocery store dumpsters for 5 years and I have never gotten sick from it. But be safe! Boil then bake. If it smells bad or tastes weird, get rid of it and cleanse your system.

I barely found anything.....

Don't get discouraged.

After a few weeks you'll figure out trash schedules and learn which days yield most profit.

What else can I do... less gross?

Clean up the local parks and streets. I find a good amount of cans and other scrap while just hanging out.

Please don't run into traffic for scrap. Look both ways.

If you see a neighbor that's thrown away an appliance or a bunch of metal or other neat stuff, ask for it. I tend to just take it if it's in the trash, but being polite makes friends and sometimes they'll have stuff in their garage they'll let you haul off too.

You can also advertise or ask local businesses to donate you recyclables they would otherwise dispose of. - They have great customer service and fair prices. Out of the four companies I sent test boxes to, this is the only one I'll keep sending to. If you find better, please leave a comment. - Ask local businesses to donate you their cartridges if you don't find enough in the trash. Absolutely worth the time. - Collect pretty much everything, send it here then donate to a nonprofit. Why every school in America hasn't signed up is beyond me. Make a difference!

I apologize for not including a link to scrap identification but I was unable to obtain permission before finishing this page. Search the internet for "identifying scrap" and good luck!

Don't forget to pay taxes

Recycling and upcycling for profit, whether it's your primary or secondary income, should be recorded when you file your taxes. Being a good citizen will help local schools and the elderly.

Charitable donations can also be claimed on your tax returns.

So if you're cashing in big, share a little, and don't try to cheat the IRS.

Thanks for reading!

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