Dumpster Diving: The Bountiful Harvest

Ask a friend to go dumpster diving with you. Maybe they’ve already been but to most people climbing into a dumpster is an alien idea. There exist a subculture of people who scrounge all sorts of items-food, clothes, appliances, books, building materials, furniture, bicycles, recyclables like metal, plastic, paper, grease for fuel, on and on. And why not, never before has so much been thrown away. Imagine what people a hundred years ago would think if they could rummage through our dumps. They’d think they stepped into a land of alien treasures with exotic metals, plastics, electronics.

Most people enter the world of dumpster diving by looking for cardboard boxes for moving. different dumpster divers look for different things. Freegans go looking for food. Urban lumberjacks go looking for boards. Scrapers go looking for scrap metal. Personally I’m not into scrounging food from a dumpster because although it may be edible it could also have been thrown out for a good reason. Who am I to judge. I’ve helped people harvest food from a dumpster.

Once I got hooked on dumpster diving I’d peak in every dumpster around town to see what I could find. A note of caution don’t ever try to get in a compactor dumpster. DON’T EVEN LOOK IN A COMPACTOR, you may be tempted to go in after something and get crushed. Grocery stores of course have food in their dumpsters in abundance. Retail dumpsters are a personal favorite especially around the holidays or if the store is remodeling or going out of business. Somethings that can be found in retail dumpsters are toys, clothes, furniture, appliances, jewelry, displays, clothes racks, candy, cardboard, and scrap metal. If you see a dumpster outside a college dorm around the end of the school year here lies a gold mine of perfectly good mini refrigerators, dvd players, Cd’s, computers, books, can goods, clothes, toys, on and on. According to dumpster rental Lakeland, FL, the items and things that you can find in the dumpster depends on where that dumpster is located. If you want to see more food items, then go to the dumpsters of supermarket, restaurant and grocery stores. But if you want some devices or electronics, go to the dumpster of retail appliances, furniture etc.

Construction dumpsters have provided the bulk of materials I’ve scrounged. I regularly price comparable items at the local hardware stores to see what I’d be spending. Here’s a rough breakdown on the materials I’ve scrounged in the past year and a half – insulation-$10,000, Boards 2×4’s up to 2×14’s-$15,000, windows, single and double paned-$20,000, tile-$3,000, roof tin-$1,000, cement-$300, osb board-$2,000 plus other hard to price items like house rap, PVC, canvas wall paper, granite, marble, on and on. The scrap metal I cash in at the scrap yard comes to two to three thousand dollars a year.

As a rule of thumb the larger the construction project the more that gets thrown away and the larger the pieces that get thrown away. For example if you go scrounging around a house construction site you might find a small pile of board ends but if you go to where dozens of carpenters are building say dozens of assisted living homes you can expect to find long boards in their dumpster in abundance.

Large metal buildings are a great place to look for large amounts of insulation as well as tin and scrap metal. Keep an eye on factories, drug stores, church or school gyms being built or remodeled. Watch for when the insulation goes in because they’ll roll out sheets of insulation 6′ to 10′ wide and a hundred feet long. Usually 5′ to 20′ will be cut off the ends of these rolls and thrown out. You can haul off truck loads of insulation. I can get $300 worth in a truck load. I’ve insulated about 10 homes and mountain huts with free insulation, it’s one of the greatest and most abundant things to be scrounged.

Usually it’s best to ask permission before you climb into a construction Dumpster especially if the dumpster is inside a fence that says no trespassing. The person to ask is in the trailer, most construction sites have one, here’s the bosses office. All she can do is say no but she could send you to jail. Talking to the boss and other workers is a good idea because a lot of times they will set items aside for you like windows that would get broke if tossed into a dumpster. Don’t bother people while they are working that’s annoying, be nice if they approach you. Clean up around the dumpster this earns points with the construction crew. Keep an eye out for bulldozers dumping loads in the dumpster. You don’t want to be head down in a dumpster when a load of bricks and boards comes tumbling in. Stay out of the way if the boss want you to come after 5:00 PM respect his wishes.

Things you’ll need for dumpster diving

A truck is necessary if your into scrounging construction materials. Have clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or keep a pair of coveralls and old shoes in your truck. Keep a pair of gloves and mask to protect hands and lungs. Don’t be caught without some basic tools that could make the difference between scrounging a material or not. At least have a hammer, a crow bar, and some wire cutters for prying boards apart and cutting copper wire that’s partly trapped. Have a magnet or two because any metal that isn’t magnetic is automatically worth more.

Dumpsters aren’t the only place to score an abundance of materials, rummaging through the rubble pile of a demolished building can be very fruitful. They don’t make em like they use to is very true. The quality of old boards can be outstanding. A large amount of copper wire can be scrounged from a demolished house or building adding up to a good chunk of change when the market is right. Three dollars a pound is pretty right for copper. Grab any aluminum you can when in doubt test with magnet. It don’t take long to judge metal by sight.

With scrounged materials you can build a higher quality, better insulated structure than building to code because you don’t have to save on cost. The scrap metal you find while harvesting these free construction materials will more than pay for the gas you buy while scrounging in fact it’s a significant chunk of my income. All this means a more energy efficient home with no mortgage. Happy dumpster diving.