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Dumpster-Diving for Fun and Profit


A beginner's guide to finding the treasure in trash

Right at this moment, someone at the Harvard School of Business is probably writing a case study on eBay's (EBAY) effect on the vast world of underground treasure-hunting.

When collectors and bargain-hunters gather in the real world, they talk endlessly about how the market for this or that collectible category has soared or crashed due to the success of online auctions.

The point is, they still gather in the real world.

And to the true treasure-hunter, eBay is close to the top of the bargain ladder, price-wise. The real deals and most of the fun lie below.

Here's a bottoms-up guide for the beginning prospector.

Mongo World

"Mongo" is defined as any thing that is discarded and then rescued.

If the idea of trawling through trash even during a mini-Depression strikes you as, well, trashy, consider that most of those who do this are not broke or homeless. They're doing it for fun and profit.

In his book Mongo: Adventures in Trash, author Ted Botha divides the competition into lifestyle categories: pack rat, archaeologist, survivalist, preservationist, treasure hunter and more.

Some people brag they've furnished, decorated and equipped their entire homes with other people's discards. Some drive around suburban streets on trash pickup day, or trawl through the town dump. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless gets her flowering annuals from a dumpster in back of her suburban supermarket.

Her garden is fabulous.

The housing foreclosure crisis is, for dumpster divers, an opportunity: When a bank steps in, they send a work crew to clear the house and often dump its contents on the front lawn.

One word of advice to the beginner: Always trawl in rich neighborhoods. Poor people have more sense.
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