Diane and I were watching the Austin local news two weeks ago and one of the features was about a guy who made 60K a year by dumpster diving for his Ebay store. At some time I probably already knew this, and I knew it was true.
Eight days ago, I went dumpster diving myself.
I started out here in Taylor, Texas, a small town with a population somewhere in the vicinity of 15K. The economy hasn’t recovered here like some other towns. The official percentage of unemployed is around six percent, but I know for certain those figures are for the benefit of the Chamber of Commerce. If I spouted off the first twenty people I know in town, nine of them are chronically unemployed. Not unemployable, mind you, but unemployed. So Taylor’s dumpsters aren’t exactly virgin territory.
Fact is, Stanley, the guy who takes care of the stuff that Diane and I can no longer do, gave me a stern warning: Don’t let Marcus know you’re hitting his dumpsters.
“He will cut you so that you watch your guts hit your shoes before you die.”
I’m not an idiot, nor am I so desperate that I need to rummage around garbage bins in order to support myself. Apparently, Marcus is and does. I yield said dumpsters to Marcus out of professional courtesy…and mortal fear.
The cities of Hutto and Round Rock are only eight miles or so west of us. I bypassed Hutto due to strict laws against such activities as dumpster diving. Hutto is a small town like Taylor, but they have twice the police and I’m not about to run afoul of law enforcement just to gather first hand information to give to you, my public. I like you all but…there are lines not to be crossed and I would think that to be one of them.
Round Rock is a different story.
It was never much of a town. Almost a suburb of Austin, it was a comfy little burg…that is, until Michael Dell threw a dart at a Texas map and decided that the Dell Worldwide Headquarters would be built in Round Rock. Then the frickin’ place exploded.
New home construction, car sales, Krispy Kreme donuts, Walmart, Target, Starbucks and every known big box store you can think of put their concrete footing down in Round Rock. What had been a small, somewhat sleepy little town erupted into a fountain of publicly traded, blue chip activity.
Of course, much of Round Rock got hired by Dell. At first, the company couldn’t offer much in hourly wages, so they offered stock options to new employees, which resulted in many of the citizens of Round Rock becoming “Dellionaires.” Most of Round Rock has since settled into a routine, and Dell itself has laid off many hourly employees, so it’s now a pretty quiet town.
I’m not going to go dumpster to dumpster, or offer some kind of play-by-play, although I could report some fairly entertaining adrenaline rush moments. But I will give you the box scores: the results of my one-night tryst with some garbage dumpsters.
- 1 unopened lot of 8 GB Lexar 2.0 USB sticks, which I sold on Ebay for $75.00.
- 2 Dell 23 inch white monitors. Not damaged or scratched, works fine.
- 1 Dell 19″ inch gloss monitor with sound bar in perfect working condition.
- 1 box never opened USB enclosures. No damage.
- 15 Dell 8135 keyboards. Missing volume knob, but otherwise not a scratch.
- 1 apple USB keyboard. Has seen some wear but works nicely.
- 9 Anker USB 3 hard drive docks. Still boxed and unopened.
With these kinds of finds, some may think I’ve found a new sideline. Well, don’t bet on that horse Bubba, ’cause you’re gonna lose big. My diving into dumpster days are over. First, because it happens at 3 AM. Second, I don’t want to run into Marcus.
But what I’ve discovered is a heartbreaking waste of hard to come by resources, which prompted me to go into one big box store and ask to speak to the manager. This is what I learned: One does not simply walk into Targ… I mean, a generic big box store, and speak to the manager.
That’s fine. I told myself, I’ll find him on my own.
Two days later, I did just that.
He was out behind the store smoking with one of his management staff. three feet away from the dumpster where I found an entire lot of USB sticks and the USB 3 enclosures. Our conversation started out a bit clumsy, but once he understood my responses were written, he played along. I learned a bit from our conversation about retail merchandising. I learned that much of the stuff I found was leftover from the bargain aisle. While he didn’t say it, I got the impression that theft or breakage write-off is much easier than filling out the reams of paperwork it takes to get the licensed resale client to come get their unsold goods. How that all works, I don’t know.
So here’s the deal: My organization struggles year after year to get just a fraction of the stuff a single big box store throws away. Why? With a wink and a nod…the paperwork for loss by theft or breakage is the common way to alleviate a quarterly migraine headache.
We’re talking about thousands of dollars worth of stuff that the kids we serve can use. So why don’t they do the right thing and donate this merchandise to organizations such as ours instead of throwing it away? Because they don’t want to do the paperwork. It’s the way business is done. That’s fine and I understand. But that doesn’t make it suck any less.
However, this is a perfect example of how important you guys reading this are to us at Reglue. The Linux and FOSS communities have funded us since 2007, and you guys rock. I just want you to know just how important you are to us. Thanks for helping us do what we do.
And no, dumpster diving is not fun. Ever.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue