End-of-the-semester trash insantiy: I spend a day capitalizing off of what college kids throw away behind their dorms.
I’ve been indulging in the end-of-the-semester trash feast my entire adult life. For those unaware, at the end of every semester, at universities nationwide, students partake of a bizarre ritual where seemingly everything they own goes right into the trash. They’re going home for the summer, their parents are paying for everything anyway, and rather than transport their expensive printer or lava lamp (two things I found this year), they throw it right into the dorm dumpster.
One item dorm residents find especially suited for a dumpster are books. This is my amateur analysis as to why:
- They probably have a lot of bad memories of long nights studying attached to those books, and don’t ever want to see them again.
- The college bookstore isn’t going to buy everything, like slightly outdated textbooks (that still have
Amazonvalue), or exotic books that the bookstore doesn’t even carry.
- Books are heavy and cumbersome to move.
And so, a ton of books get thrown out on any college campus this time of year.
Recently, I moved literally across the street from one of the top 50 biggest schools in the US, so I anticipated this year being the best ever.
Plotting my attack
Timing is always tricky, because finals ends on different days for different students, and the slow rumbling exodus of students lasts an entire week. You could always make multiple trips to the same dumpster, but these dumpsters are huge, and you run the risk of going through a lot of the same throwaways again.
My preferred tactic is to determine the day most students are going to leaving town, and go out the day before. If finals ends on a Friday, most students are wrapping up Thursday; making Wednesday or Thursday the optimal time to make the rounds. This year, I opted for Thursday.
Executing the mission
I started late-afternoon, hoping to run into as few students as possible. I also brought a 24-year-old friend this time. One, for the company. Two, having someone more “college aged” made me (in my 30s) look a little less weird.
The first thing I noticed upon pulling up to the first dorm is that, next to the dumpster, was a giant Goodwill donation bin. Goodwill setting donation bins next to dorm dumpsters is a smart move. Good for Goodwill, bad for us.
But apparently walking the extra 20 feet to the bin is too much for some students, because right away we found a giant Chihuly art book selling for $30. Off to a good start.
In the neighboring dorm, we pulled several more textbooks from massive dumpster, and met several other dumpster divers doing the same thing (looking for housewares, not books.)
The next dumpster had no books, and we broke for dinner.
Nature conspires to sabotage everything
That’s when things took a turn. I had huge ambitions of spending the next 8 hours going through each of the 10 dorm dumpsters into the night, but…. It was not to be. It started to rain. Hard. Like, apocalyptic rain. As with my recent recycling center score-slash-tragedy, the elements were threatening to destroy hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in inventory.
We took our scavenging indoors, to an empty dorm that had some debris students had left behind in the halls. There was a lot of useful items I intended to take home (nice speakers, a great couch)… but no books.
At that point, we had to abort. But I wasn’t giving up. I knew there were hundreds of books in dumpsters all over campus at that moment. Even if most of them were destroyed in the rain, they couldn’t all be destroyed…
The next day I did a walking tour of the remaining dorm dumpsters, finding three that were under shelter and untouched by the storm. Between them, I found a dozen books and a sealed box of Avery labels all worth money on
The final total from my college dumpster mission
Total yield: 19 books
Total listing price: $286.51
Average Sales Rank: 676,540
Time spent: 3 hours.
Projected profit: $171.60
After doing this many years, I can say this was probably the least fruitful end-of-the-year dumpster mission I’ve ever had, but still absolutely worth my time, and a ton of fun.
Endnote: If you’re wondering, I got the speakers and the couch, in addition to a lamp, printer, whiteboard, boxes of Emergen-C, and enough laundry detergent to last a lifetime.