How Much Can You Make Garbage-Picking in Suburbia?

by Darwin on November 20, 2012

Maybe you’re above trash-picking, but the guy who drives around my neighborhood on trash night isn’t.  Going back a few months, I remember a guy pulling up and picking up some old baby stuff we were tossing.  We usually donate or try to sell a few things on Craigslist, but this stuff was really bottom of the barrel – old toys that were passed on to us to begin with, old plastic games missing pieces, an old crib that I half ripped apart to get it out of the baby’s room, etc.  Well, as I was in my garage, a pickup truck pulled up started packing the stuff up into the back.  He noticed me in the garage and waved and smiled.  I didn’t mind, I was glad it was being recycled really, instead of ending up in a landfill.  I remember the distinct noise his junky old truck made, as it reminded me of the trucks my dad used to drive us around in growing up.

Well, fast forward to tonight and as I was walking the dog, same loud old junky truck pulled up and was sitting outside my neighbor’s house for a while.  I was halfway up the block and was wondering why a truck was sitting outside my house for that long and then realized what he was up to.  The guy was loading up some stuff my neighbor threw out.  As I got closer, I could see what he was actually picking up.  I guess my neighbor did some remodeling and the guy was snagging an old door.  And of course, that turned into one of those life events that was destined to be a blog post.  This got me thinking about a few things:

  • He’s a Regular – Since I now know this is the same guy and I know for sure he doesn’t live in our neighborhood, we’re definitely on his “route”.  And the stuff he’s picking up isn’t like someone tossing a beautiful kids’ playset or a lawn mower that could be revived.  It’s pretty much junk – perhaps with some “potential”.  But his pickups are random and unrelated, so I suspect he’d pick up just about anything.
  • He Must Be Turning a Profit – I’m relatively sure he’s not using this stuff for his own purposes.  If he’s out routinely going through multiple neighborhoods on a routine basis, he couldn’t possibly have room to use or store all this stuff.  There must be a profit motive.  Perhaps he can repurpose things and sell them on craigslist?  Perhaps he can scavenge copper and metals from junk and sell it?  Who knows, there are probably tons of ways to profit from trash.
  • He’s Probably Here Every Trash Night – The 2 times I saw him were probably sheer random probability.  I just happened to be in my garage one night and walking the dog another – both after dark.  I don’t spend a great deal of time in the front of my house after dark, so chances are, I just happened to catch him a couple nights while I was out there.
  • He’s Probably Prowling Tons of Neighborhoods, Not Just Ours – Our neighborhood doesn’t lend itself to abnormally lucrative trash picking (I don’t think).  We’re just one development in a see of dozens in ours and neighboring towns.  There should be no reason he’d target only ours, so I assume he spends hours on trash night driving around seeing who put out items to be hauled away.
  • There’s Probably a Whole Hidden Trash Economy Right Under Our Noses – So, maybe I’m on to something here.  Can you make a decent side income repurposing trash?

I did a little research to find out…

Can You Make Money Trash Picking?

I was a bit surprised by the trash picking community I found online.  Evidently, it’s a lot more popular than I would have thought:

  • Trash picking advice abounds.  Some of the key pieces of advice that I see repeated over and over are to focus on affluent communities because their trash tends to be more valuable, look for furniture near apartment complexes, or also keep an eye on areas where there are a lot of evictions since a lot of decent trash ends up at the curb.
  • There are blog posts dedicated to trashpicking written by people who actually do it, like here and an entire community forum here.
  • In general, picking trash that’s NOT in a can, but out in the open is legal; digging through trash cans themselves can be a problem depending on the jurisdiction.
And to top it off, I just mentioned to my wife what I was writing about and she said, “Oh, I see that guy all the time.  He took your old snowblower you threw out too”.  So, definitely a regular.  That piece of shit never worked for me, good luck to him!
Do You Have Any Trash-Picking Stories?


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