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?


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos November 20, 2012 at 8:58 am

Don’t know if snagging bagged leaves count as trash-picking. One of my neighbors was nice enough to bag six giant bags of leaves and leave them curbside. I noticed them early morning when walking the dog, and came back later with the truck to pick them up. They make outstanding mulch and compost. And totally free to boot.


Darwin November 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Oh, I’d consider that just recycling; it’s “trash” that was already on someone’s lawn to begin with. Definitely a good move.


krantcents November 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm

There is a guy near me who routinely picks things out of the dumpster. I found out he is a magistrate (judge)! I always thought they were paid better than that. Maybe he took frugality to a new limit.


Darwin November 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I do love when people in high places (socially or economically) engage in offbeat frugal behavior. Cracks me up. I’ve heard of all manner of frugal people, but never a judge!


creativeman November 21, 2012 at 12:44 am

I regularly do garage sales which are a poor cousin to dumpster diving:
$700 refrigerator=$34
$500 name brand recliner=$10
$69 bread maker=$10
$78 weed wacker=$15
Another, exact same model=$5
All good stuff, some like new. If one worked at it, I’m sure they could make it pay big time. I think it’s fun, not a necessity and that might explain the judge’s motivation. Also, it’s called “getting something for nothing.”


Paul N November 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm

In the neighbourhood i live in – this has become like a game. The GF always seems to worry what to do about that unwanted couch or broken bookshelf. So I say “Put it outside, I’ll bet it’s gone before the morning. Sometimes stuff thats put out is gone in an hour. It’s like invasion of the furniture snatchers…. Everything is gone. Old dead tv’s broken toys, broken up drywall, rolled up carpeting. It just vanishes. Then there is the old lady who rummages through the Blue bin for Aluminum cans and bottles who then gets picked up by someone in a late model Acura MDX. :/ ?


Slackerjo November 24, 2012 at 8:54 am

I am a chronic garbage picker/rescuer of things!! I have furnished 80% of my apt with garbage finds and not bought a new piece of furniture since 2007. Last Dec. I was sickened by the waste. In my building, if an object is not snatched up, sadly it goes to the landfill. This makes me crazy. So I decided to make a effort to rescue as much stuff as possible and donate the stuff to the various charities in my neighborhood.

Well here we are 1 year and 27 loads of stuff later. Thankfully I have a hatchback so I can cram a lot of stuff into it. I am always shocked by some of the things that get abandoned. desks, dressers, endless entertainment units, books, DVD players, bookcases, air conditioners and plastic bins. I never understand the plastic bins thing, they are very useful. I’ve also used broken pieces of tables, bed frames and dressers to build a few (okay, more than a few, 40+) shelves in my apt. Why go out and buy supplies to build a shelf when people give it away. If I see something that is beyond repair, I will harvest any interesting hardware like screws, hinges and handles. I save quite a bit of money that way. I know this is a drop in the bucket, but at least I am not filling up that bucket!

If you have an interest in garbage check out the show trashopolis. It’s fascinating how other countries address the very modern problem of garbage. If you live in Canada you can watch it online at Outside of Canada, you may have to hunt around.

Well love to sit and chat but there are 4 dressers downstairs that need by attention!


LindaQuist November 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I have picked up a few things that I wanted. Once I took a pool cover (small one). I use it as a painting drop cloth.

It isn’t a regular habit in our family but once my son found a Eames lounge chair among the trash. Rosewood veneer molded plywood and black leather with a date on it — 1956 the first year of production. A few days later while driving by the house he saw a woman in the yard. He stopped by and told her that he had picked up the chair and how much he liked it. She was kind enough to give him the ottoman that went with it. This is the best find that I know of.


Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin November 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Maybe you could turn this into an eBay business!


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