Frugal living gets creative: Trash becomes a treasure

Donovan Preddy has scored yet again on trash day. The Tyler graduate found his latest discovery, a cupboard, on the pavement set aside as trash. “I was coming out of the supermarket, and I spotted

Donovan Preddy has scored yet again on trash day. The Tyler graduate found his latest discovery, a cupboard, on the pavement set aside as trash. “I was coming out of the supermarket, and I spotted this cupboard just sitting on the curb,” he said. “So I sent my girlfriend home in a cab, and I called my friend because he has a car. We strapped it to the roof, and that was the end of it.”

Not only does Preddy find furniture, but he also finds valuable items, such as stereo equipment. “I found speakers, a speaker box and a brand new amp next to someone’s trash bags,” he said. “I stayed there for 15 to 20 minutes, and nobody was around… so I took it.”

Students are digging around in trash, and for a good reason. With empty wallets and hungry stomachs, college students are reverting to hunting and gathering tactics. While some choose trash containers from dormitories and others from supermarkets, students are crawling into steel containers to find treasure in what others might consider trash. The Sanitation Division of Philadelphia collects and disposes nearly 790,000 tons of rubbish every year, and students are jumping at the chance to sift through it.

“I am an adamant Dumpster-diver,” junior Gregory Stoloski said. “I would go out on trash night to find stuff…I’d come across stemware, photo frames, grills, couches.”

Dumpster-diving is the calculated effort to randomly or purposely find valuable objects in trash bins. The title of this art should not be taken literally; diving into a trash bin may cause injury. Dumpster-diving is becoming an increasingly popular method of finding valuable waste. Students can hunt for items in good condition to be recycled, used, given away, donated or sold.

Stoloski explained the method to hunting for good “trash” in a dirty place. “I like lean in (the trash container) first to see if anything is worthwhile, and then I put my hand inside and dig around, move stuff around that’s on top,” Stoloski said. “I jump in there if I see some good stuff.” Some Dumpster-divers use a step stool in order to peer into the trash container or use a large pole to move around rubbish inside the container.

The best time to Dumpster-dive, according to Stoloski, is “at night when people first put their trash out for the next day” or “during the spring, when people are cleaning out their houses.” The best time of day to go diving is just after sunrise, when the sun provides natural lighting in those areas a flashlight would not reach at night.

“You’ve got to be quick on the draw, as other people are out there looking for stuff, too,” said Preddy, who said mornings are best to dive because less people are walking by.

The ideal place to Dumpster-dive is during the early hours of a neighboring university’s trash day. “Stereotypically, (students think) Penn kids have more money, so they are more likely to throw out stuff that’s good…I thought this was a lie, but I found a bunch of clothes, like boxes, in great condition,” said Stoloski, who called friends to ask their clothing sizes.

There are no codes in Philadelphia against scavenging through the trash; however, trash pickers should not dive into areas that are private. These areas are usually marked as private property with postings and fencing. Private containers are usually locked. Trash days are scheduled on different days throughout the city.

There are risks associated with the trash-picking process, as divers are likely to come across sharp objects such as knives, rusty nails or broken glass.

“One time I picked up this huge carpet…as I was taking it home, I got cut by all those little tacks sticking out of the carpet,” Stoloski said.

If a diver gets jabbed by a rusty nail or seriously cut by a sharp object, he should seek medical attention as soon as possible for a Tetanus shot to avoid infection. Trash bins may also be infested with mosquitoes and rats or may contain moldy food and dead animals. These Dumpsters are not good for diving.

But when divers find a large amount of valuables in a clean Dumpster and have no use for them, there is the option of donating the finds to friends or the Salvation Army. Some divers leave the objects behind, but place them outside the container for other divers to enjoy.

Sifting through the trash for aluminum cans or glass bottles not only helps the environment, but it can also put money back into the diver’s empty pockets. Dumpster World, an online community of trash-pickers, suggests cashing in on recyclables to make quick money. This Web site,, allows people of all ages to compare, sell, trade or just brag about objects they have found in the trash. Divers can network with other divers in the area by joining the site’s Philadelphia Dumpster-diving meetup group.

For more information about trash, visit the Sanitation Division of Philadelphia’s web site at

Alysha Brennan can be reached at

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