Dumpster Diving for Fun and Profit! (mostly Fun Though)





Introduction: Dumpster Diving for Fun and Profit! (mostly Fun Though)

About: Middle Aged Maker of various fun but useless objects, including but not limited to: Blank books, wooden swords, magic wands, water color paintings, paracord paraphernalia, sling shots, foam rubber helmets, c...

I was writing this instructable when my brother mentioned the budget contest, so i am entering it. Please vote for me!

So, my brother is a stay at home dad, and I am underpaid. It's kind of hard to make cool stuff, when you can't afford raw materials. My brother decided to try dumpster diving as a way to get materials for projects. He brought me along for company, and as a pack animal.

Step 1: Tools

1. A vehicle, preferably with a lot of cargo space.
2. A tarp to cover interior spaces of the car (not necessary for trucks)
3. Tasty beverages, because this is thirsty work. Bring enough for 4-5 hours.
4. "Play clothes", you know, torn jeans and hole filled shirts.

Optional Equipment
5. Brother and/or friend to help out
6. Magnet on a stick. Like a neodymium magnet superglued to a broomstick.
7. Milk crates, buckets or tupper bins (for stepping stool and/or storing small bits)

I tied to convince my sister in law to let us bring my 8 month old nephew, at first. She said no when I told her we were gonna put him in a dumpster and keep whatever he grabbed first. She is STILL not amused by this joke. Your results may vary. Let me know in the comments!

Step 2: Supplies

Breakfast sandwiches (fuel for you)
Gasoline (fuel for the car)
Gloves latex AND work gloves (some stuff is just dirty, some stuff is wet and dirty)

Step 3: Assembly

1. Add gas to car's gas tank.(Not pictured)
2. Apply tarp to cargo area if required
3. Apply breakfast sandwiches ( or chocolate croissants) to face holes.
4. Apply gloves to hands.

Step 4: Decide Where to Go Diving.

I grew up in a neighborhood where there were a lot of "industrial condo" buildings. As such, we only had to drive a few minutes to get to some prime picking locations. Depending on where you live, more or less driving may be required. You want a lot of warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and industrial supply companies.

Step 5: Procedure

1. Check to see if anyone is working. If they are, ask permission to poke around in the trash. If they say no, move on. There are a couple reasons to do this. One is that people won't call the cops on you if they know what's going on, as opposed to seeing a bunch of people in ratty clothes tearing through their trash. Another is that if you are polite and explain that you are looking for scrap wood or reusable trash, a lot of people will let you pick through their actual scrap bins, not just trash.

2. If you receive permission or no one is around to say no, it's time to approach the dumpster. This is the point where you need to check for lock bars or chains. If the dumpster is locked, just walk away. If there are bad smells or a lot of fluids leaking out of the dumpster, you need to decide if the risk is worth the reward. Luckily, this is a very rare occurrence for us.

3. Flip open the lid and examine the visible trash. if there is nothing in the dumpster, move on. If there is stuff in there, it is time to get dirty! When I first started to dive, we would look into a dumpster and if here wasn't great stuff right on top, we would just move on. After a few dumpsters with a bag of trash sitting on a pallet, or a TON of cabinet grade plywood scraps buried in sawdust, we learned to dig deeper.

One day, we found the remnants of an office where the previous occupant l left behind two brand new car detail kits and a load of office supplies. Another day we found a bunch of marble scraps outside a counter top manufacturer. A little work on the wet saw, and yours truly will be the owner of a marble cutting board.

4. Remove whatever you intend to keep room the dumpster. Wood, office supplies, pallets, etc., and place them in the cargo area.

5. Clean up the mess you just made. Pulling things out of a dumpster is dirty. Things are wrapped in plastic, covered in sawdust and other trash. Some of the trash gets dragged out of the dumpster along with the treasure you are claiming. Put it back in. Leave a mess and people will start locking the dumpster to prevent you from making a mess again. Obviously sawdust is a problem unless you bring a broom and dustpan, but take a little care while removing that piece of mahogany, and MOST of the sawdust stays in the can.

Step 6: Oh, the Places You'll Go!

As I've stated, I grew up next to a couple of big industrial condo complexes that I pick over, but if you aren't lucky enough to have one of those close by, look for the following:

Sign makers: good for vinyl scraps, large cardboard tubes, and big rolls of wax paper that has been peeled off of the vinyl.

Cabinet makers: wood scraps and if you can find a use for it, sawdust a-plenty.

Rental offices: not always a great target, check at the beginning and end of the month when old tenants are leaving a lease. aside from some office supplies, you may be able to score some desks or chairs.

Most metal fabrication places have actual scrap dealers come collect scrap for cash, so try to make nice with the owner and see if you can get a few things before the scrap guy shows up. Don't be greedy, though. Metal scrap dealing is a legit business, and you don't want to steal someone livelihood.

Also, nothing says you can't ask the scrap guy to buy stuff. He might part with a few pieces of bar stock for 5 bucks that would cost you 3 times as much new. I asked the scrap guy who I work with to keep an eye out for an anvil for me. I will need one for my new forge.

We actually found a place or two that encourage you to come get scraps, as it saves them money on trash removal.

Step 7: The Goods

Here is a gallery of some of the stuff we have gathered in about 6 or so trips. We even found a kitchen sink, so clearly the sky is the limit!

Step 8: Soooo...What Do You Do With a Pile of Scraps?

Here is a little project I made, just a standard old fashioned toolbox, made out of scrap we found. Sorry, no instructable, I just wanted something to carry my stuff in, so I smashed this together.

well, let me know what you think. Are there some other things we should be looking for? Did I miss something you think is crucial? Please Let me know in the comments. Also, what's your favorite dumpster find?

Thanks !

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    19 Discussions

    Love your guy's thought of mind! Definitely not one for the squemishn but it pays off!

    Got some good stuff in dumpsters in my time.

    I was scrolling the pics (show all) when I came across the burgers in step 2, I was like "What? are they going to eat that just cos it was in a foil bag" cos I saw Supplies on the title and thought you found them, took a mo to figure you actually bought them. lol

    But yeah, nice pickings, consumer electronics like printers etc are the best, harvesting components and hardware.

    2 replies

    Lol! Sorry about that. We don't take any food out of the trash, but we have found a few things like screws and bolts. I actually work on printers at my day job. There are a few instructables coming up that will feature a few printer parts, if I ever finish them. Thanks for checking out the instructable!

    I'm glad you put on plastic gloves, because I was about to suggest some hand sanitizer in the supply pack! Would it be smart to bring along something thicker, like gardening gloves? That's what I've used in the past to save furniture from the dumpster when neighbors move out and just ditch nice stuff. I was afraid of encountering splinters or broken glass.

    We found a chandelier, a whole collection of spray paints and primers, and a box of Magic cards that were actually worth money!

    1 reply

    We mostly pick from industrial sites, and there typically isn't a whole lot of what we call "garbage garbage:" We see a lot of sawdust and car parts, so, for the most part, there is nothing too rough or dangerous to handle bare handed. We wear the rubber gloves mostly when things are wet, and to minimize touching dumpsters. Oh man, I wish I found Magic cards! I still play with my brothers and friends! Thanks for taking the time to check my instructable!

    I have found one of the biggest problems with salvaging is that over a period of time you run out of room to put stuff and you start to forget about some things that you picked up a few years ago.

    On going construction and remodeling projects can be really good places to get stuff but as you said you need to make sure that they don't think that you are stealing.

    Probably my all time best haul was from a grocery store remodeling. I had been doing the regular store cleaning (it was contracted out) and when they started this massive store refit I was asked if I could dispose of the construction waste. So they PAID ME to get rid of it. One of the things they replaced was all the checkout stands. I discovered when I was dismantling them that they were all full of lost change. I had to wash it all in a bucket because of all the spilled goo but in the end I got over $500 in change. There was lots of stainless steel and Formica and cabinets, it was fantastic. But the best of all was when they finished the project and told me to get rid of all the left over finished oak wood. To do this remodel the store chain had actually bought its own small mill and cabinet shop. Each store had a package set up for the remodel based on the store size. It was shipped to each one in a semi. Nothing was to be returned. So all the leftovers were discarded. It included loads of finished oak boards that were to go around the walls and crown moldings and just bunches of stuff. It was fantastic. My desk that I still use was made with the cabinets from the checkout stands, 3/4 inch plywood with hardwood veneer on both sides. So, look for store remodelings because they throw everything out no matter what condition its in. And if you can get in on the beginning of the job see if they will pay you to do the disposal work.

    1 reply

    I definitely understand that! I have already had to help rearrange my brothers garage once because we have so much stuff in there right now. We are definitely going to have to watch for remodels and store closings in the area (especially with radio shack going under)Thanks for checking out my instructable.

    I found $800 in scrap value of 600 volt copper wire that was in a dumpster under broken ceiling tiles from work one day. The guys walking back from lunch wiht me thought I was nuts for sticking my head in there - but I had the final laugh.

    1 reply

    Hey, Thanks for checking out my instructable, I'm glad you liked it! That's an awesome find! My brother and I just went out a few weeks ago and scored a pretty awesome collection of office equipment, including a couple APC battery backups and a new in the box office chair. That's our best find to date I think. I am going to have to keep my eye out for remodels in the area!


    3 years ago

    The large multi building super apartment complex I used to live in often had furniture ( quality from junk to mint) and nice stuff would often be placed next to the dumpster for people looking for free stuff.

    I don't know if they do this in large cities (probably not) but in the small Midwest town I live in as well as many neighboring communities have city clean ups where people can toss most any junk they have. There will be huge piles of everything. It would be totally worth it to see if anything like this happens in yoir area cuz its great picking. I will have to post some pics next spring of some big piles or make a similar ible lol.

    1 reply

    My home town actually has a town wide garage sale that lasts 4 Days. Its always crazy busy with people everywhere on the streets. Your version sounds way cooler :)

    in England, we call this 'skip ratting', and I'm lucky enough to work at a college where they throw loads of excellent items. I find that if you make friends with caretakers and estate workers, they will let you know when the good stuff is going in. Great (and funny) instructable.

    2 replies

    That's a great suggestion. There are several colleges around here, We will have to add them to our route. Thanks for checking out my instructable :)

    Nice! If I found a set of those i might keep them for myself!

    My best find were old school maps, the kind that roll up like a blind, I sold them on ebay for $400.