How to Make Money

This Guy Earns $2,500 a Night as a Dumpster Diver

Updated February 17, 2015
by Kristen Pope

It’s not abnormal to do a little moonlighting or have a side gig once the traditional work day is done. But Matt Malone, a 37-year-old security specialist, has an unconventional night job: He’s a dumpster diver.

Malone earns a healthy six-figure salary at his day job, but he told Wired his hourly wage dumpster diving exceeds that of his professional gig. If he took his side gig full time, he’d make $600,000 per year, he explained to Yahoo.

How Malone Started Dumpster Diving

Ironically, it was Malone’s day job as a security specialist that provided the inspiration for his dumpster-diving side hustle.

Nine years ago, he was investigating information security at a client’s company, and he was required to do a little on-the-ground investigative work — searching through the client’s dumpster for confidential information. He found what he was looking for: There was plenty of confidential customer information just laying around in the dumpster. But he also discovered other treasures lurked in the dumpster, too.

Malone began exploring other nearby dumpsters and found the motherlode behind OfficeMax — printers still in their boxes. He continued investigating other dumpsters in the neighborhood. At first, he kept his finds, but after a while, he decided to have a yard sale. After his first weekend yard sale, he pocketed $3,000.

While he found flatscreen TVs, stereos, GPS devices, dress form mannequins and other items, he noticed that small items, such as photo paper and toner cartridges, were huge sellers. Once he found a wireless video surveillance system (which retails for $419) in a dumpster behind Office Depot; it was in good condition and worked just fine. He also began selling his wares on Amazon and Craigslist.

How Much Can a Dumpster Diver Earn?

Malone hauls in an average of $2,500 worth of goods from each dumpster-diving excursion. When he heads out at night, he drives his trusty pickup, which is handy as he can stand on the open tailgate to access hard-to-reach dumpsters. He also brings a magnetized flashlight, which he affixes to dumpsters to keep his hands free while digging.

He likes his day job too much to quit, but he told Yahoo his goal is to make $250,000 this year from dumpster diving.

Is Dumpster Diving Legal? Or Safe?

While a 1988 Supreme Court ruling (California v. Greenwood) ruled that trash is basically up for grabs (given that it’s not on private property), going onto private property without permission is not legal. It’s called trespassing.

Malone hasn’t had much trouble with law enforcement, though. He said whenever police come by to see what he’s up to, he typically shares some of his finds, and they generally go on their way. If anyone asks him to leave, he complies.

However,  dumpster diving does have its hazards, including injuries from sharp objects like nails, knives and glass.

Experts warn curious dumpster divers about the bacteria that dumpster food can harbor, especially when left out in the heat. Some dumpsters are also sprayed with pesticides. Bacteria and fecal matter from dumpsters and their contents can infect open wounds. Even washing dumpster finds doesn’t remove all of these hazards, Jim Chan, manager of food safety at Toronto Public Health in Ontario, told the Canadian Medical Association.

Dumpster Diving for Charity

Not every dumpster diver sells their wares. Sociology professor and professional dumpster diver Jeff Farrell gives most of his finds to charity. Every day, he takes a two-hour bike ride, where he checks up to 100 dumpsters for treasures.

He even found a Neiman Marcus necklace in one of the trash receptacles — he gave that one to his wife. He also noted that the day after Christmas is a great time to find discarded presents that weren’t quite what people were hoping to receive.

Environmentalist Dumpster Diver Offers to Pay Your Tickets

Worry you’ll get caught or ticketed for dumpster diving? Rob Greenfield will come to your rescue. A passionate dumpster-diving advocate, Greenfield will pay the fines of anyone who is arrested or ticketed while dumpster diving for food.

He made the offer to his 50,000 social media followers, with the provision that he would get media coverage for those arrested or fined for dumpster diving — but it has to be for food. Greenfield even said he will make sure the dumpster-diving arrestee is safe, and he is willing to travel to his or her town if necessary.

Greenfield is an avid environmental advocate who has bicycled across the U.S. on a bamboo bike — not once, but twice — and even went a year without taking a shower. Over the years, he estimates he has rummaged through more than 1,000 dumpsters. He believes most people don’t dumpster dive because they are worried about getting caught.

Whatever the motivations for digging through the dumpster, you’ll no doubt find treasures that simply shouldn’t be thrown away.

Your Turn: Would you check your local dumpsters for treasures? Or is this idea just too gross?

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

by Kristen Pope
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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