End-of-the-semester dorm dumpster diving insanity. How I go dumpster diving for profit, spending a day digging through dumpsters for resellable books on college move-out day.
Dumpster diving for profit: Profiting from students losing their minds
Every year, usually in late-May, college students nationwide lose their minds. The semester ends, and they throw seemingly everything they own into dumpsters behind their dorms.
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.
Then I show up, pull out the good stuff, and sell it on Amazon for tons of money.
This is a short story about one day in the life of an Amazon-selling dumpster diver, and dumpster diving for profit on a college campus.
My long-running addiction to profitable trash
I’ve been indulging in the end-of-the-semester college trash feast my entire adult life.
One item dorm residents find especially suited for dumpsters are books.
This is my analysis as to why students throw away so many books:
- 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 back everything. Such as slightly outdated textbooks (that still have Amazon value), or exotic books that the bookstore doesn’t even carry.
- Books are heavy and cumbersome to move.
And so, a ton of profitable books get thrown out on any college campus this time of year. Making this among the easiest ways to dumpster dive for profit.
Moving to a college town and plotting my dumpster diving attack
Recently, I moved literally across the street from one of the top 50 biggest schools in the US. I anticipated this year being the biggest ever for dumpster diving profitable books.
Timing the dumpster heist is always tricky. Finals ends on different days for different students, and the slow rumbling exodus of students lasts an entire week.There is no narrow of time where all the trash gets thrown out.
One approach is to make multiple trips to the same dumpster. But dorm dumpsters are huge, and you run the risk of going through a lot of the same throwaways again.
So 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 go dumpster diving for profit.
This year, I opted for a Thursday.
Executing the dumpster mission
I started late-afternoon, hoping to run into as few students as possible. I also brought a 24-year-old friend this time, for two reasons. One, for the company. Two, having someone more “college aged” made me (in my 30s) look a little less weird.
I noticed major development upon pulling up to the first dorm: next to the dumpster, was a giant Goodwill donation bin. This was an entirely new phenomenon. Goodwill setting donation bins next to dorm dumpsters is a smart move… for them. Bad for dumpster divers.
Fortunately, walking the extra 20 feet to the Goodwill bin is too much for some students. Because right away we found a giant Chihuly art book selling for $30. This dumpster diving for profit mission was off to a good start.
In the neighboring dorm, we pulled several more textbooks from the massive dumpster. We also 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 well 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 profitable books.
We took our scavenging indoors, to an empty dorm that had tons of discards students had left in the lobby. 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…
My dumpster diving for profit comeback
The next day I did a walking tour of the remaining dorm dumpsters. I quickly found three that were under shelter and untouched by the storm. Between them, I found a dozen books to resell and a sealed box of Avery labels – all worth money on Amazon.
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
Final take: Success?
After dumpster diving for profit for many years, I can say this was probably the least profitable end-of-the-year college dorm dumpster mission I’ve ever had. $171 isn’t exactly an impressive number. But it was still absolutely worth my time, and a ton of fun.
PS: If you’re wondering, I got the speakers and the couch from the dorm lobby. In addition, I got a lamp, printer, whiteboard, boxes of Emergen-C, and enough laundry detergent to last a couple years.