Can You Make Money Doing Dumpster Diving?

Americans throw away over $60 million in coins per year – literally just throwing money away. Maybe that’s the drive behind some of the most successful dumpster divers. And maybe you’re thinking about giving dumpster diving a try!

But can you make real money this way? Yes, people have made millions of dollars dumpster diving, and some have even turned it into a full-time job. There are virtually no startup costs, and the possibilities are endless. However, the legalities surrounding this side job make it more complex than it seems on the surface.

So let’s look at each individual aspect to get a better understanding of how dumpster diving can make you money!

What Is Dumpster Diving?

Dumpster diving is when someone scavenges through dumpsters or other trash containers to try and find valuable items. You might be surprised at all the things find thrown away. As such, dumpster diving is something that many people do and make some decent money at.

How To Make Money Doing Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving isn’t the only way to make money picking up trash. However, it is just as straightforward as the rest. You just have to follow one (or both) of these two avenues:

  • Find valuable items and sell them
  • Find cash or things worth cash

Find Valuable Items and Sell Them

One easy way to make money dumpster diving is by finding items of value and selling them.  

People tend to throw away items worth a lot of money – sometimes thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars!

Generally this is because they don’t know the worth of what they had, either because they had an item they no longer valued, or they were given something that they didn’t know about.

If you want to make sifting through grime and muck worth it, you’ll want to consider where you’re looking and at what times throughout the year.

For example, professional dumpster diver Jeff Farrell says that a good time to look through dumpsters and trash containers is right after Christmas, when people who were less-than-thrilled with their presents simply discard the brand new items.

Another time to go is when a city or town is having what’s called a “spring cleanup.” Basically, it’s when a town sets a date to encourage people to go through and get rid of (what they call) their junk.

For example, the town of Winnetka, Illinois does this every year and it has become such a big thing that the town has garnered news attention for the amount of dumpster divers coming to town to find valuables. 

The other key is to look in the right dumpsters. For example, you might find unopened (and fully functional) printers or other gadgets in the dumpsters behind Office Depots or Best Buys.

Likewise, you might find high-end jewelry and apparel in dumpsters behind Nordstrom or Macy’s. 

Once you find items worth something, all you do is list them for sale on platforms like Craigslist or eBay. 

Find Cash Or Things Worth Cash

The other easy way to make money at dumpster diving is to find actual money in the trash.  Yes, there has actually been many cases of people finding cash or coins when dumpster diving.  There’s even been cases of people finding silver, gold, or (million dollar) winning lottery tickets!

Obviously this could easily (and should) be done in conjunction with the other option, as you would make more money while spending the same amount of time.

And of course, morality (should) come into play in either of these scenarios. If you find something worth a lot of money – or just money in general – you should try and locate it’s proper owner first. A lot of times, though, that just simply won’t be possible, in which case there’s not much you can do. But you should always make a genuine effort.

Is It Legit and Legal?

The biggest question isn’t how much you can make or if it’s worth actually looking through dumpsters. The real question is: is it legit and legal?

Before you start doing anything, you should be sure to look into your local and state regulations for the laws concerning dumpster diving. I am not a lawyer and therefore cannot give you any type of legal advice.

With that being said, based on my research and understanding, it is federally legal in the US, but some local governments have put laws into place to prevent dumpster diving.

This is because of the fact that some people would be worried about somebody getting a hold of any personal or confidential information in their garbage, which could then be used for malicious purposes.  

Another thing to consider would be where the dumpster or trash container is located. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruling in the case of the State of California vs. Greenwood ruled that once your trash is on the street, the 4th Amendment no longer applies and it is considered public property.

That means that anyone can go through trash cans on the street on garbage day, given that it is legal in your local area.  

That being said, depending on access to the dumpster, you may be breaking other laws, even if dumpster diving is legal.

If you have to jump over a fence or walk onto a property that is posted as a private property to access a trash receptacle, you’re technically trespassing and therefore would probably be breaking the law.

Some big stores have dumpsters in a back area that is still technically private property, so just remember to do your research before you head out to search for treasures.  

How Much Can You Make? 

How much you can make is dependent on what you find. But to give you some ideas (and hope), check out these extreme finds:

  • $1 million scratcher ticket
  • $1 million painting
  • Mayan artifacts
  • $22,000 in savings bonds
  • One of the 24 known copies of the Declaration of Independence
  • $100,000 cash
  • $45,000 drawing
  • Valuable diamond jewelry

Of course, you probably won’t walk away with millions and millions of dollars. However, you could definitely stumble across several hundred dollars worth of goods when you go out, if you know where to look!

Are There Startup Costs?

There would only be the startup costs of gas to get around to the dumpsters and trash containers. Other than that, going in a trash container or dumpster is free. So, with virtually no startup costs, coupled with what you can find, this is not a bad way to make some extra money!  

Things I Like

  • You can find some high-ticket items
  • You can bring in a steady stream of income
  • It doesn’t require any skill or knowledge

Things I Don’t Like

  • The legality is questionable in some areas
  • You have to dig through gross dumpsters and get dirty
  • Dumpsters aren’t the safest places to be, especially at night


Overall, you can definitely make good money dumpster diving, but the legalities are hard to get around.

Ultimately, you’ll have to know what is of value – what you can turn around and sell – to be able to make this work.

There isn’t any startup costs, so there’s no point in not giving it a try (if you find out that it’s legal). But at the same time, dumpster diving isn’t the side gig for everybody. Hopefully this article helped you decide whether it is right for you either way.

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