David, 35, and Erin, 38, Sheffield met dumpster diving 14 years ago.
David and Erin Sheffield
David and Erin Sheffield met 14 years ago in a dumpster.
They now make up to $3,000 per month from dumpster diving, and post their dives on TikTok.
They hope to combat retailers’ and grocers’ merchandise and food waste through their dumpster dives.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation about dumpster diving with David Sheffield, 35, and Erin Sheffield, 38, a couple from Buffalo, New York, who post about their dives on their TikTok @loveinthedumpster and sell their finds on their website lostgoods.com. Their quotes have been combined and edited for length and clarity.
We’re seasoned dumpster divers with 14 years of experience under our belts. Even after so many years, we’re still addicted to the thrill of the hunt — you never know what you’re going to find.
While expired food that is still sealed and packaged is what we find most often, we also regularly find golf clubs and hockey sticks. We’ve even stumbled upon luxury items, including a camel hair coat we sold for over $100, horse riding helmets from France that retailed for $600 each, and a Prada handbag and wallet we sold for around $500.
We’re trying to do our part to combat retail and food waste. But dumpster diving has also been a good way to save money and make some. We began dumpster diving just as a hobby back in college. It’s actually how we met. Individually, we would dumpster dive at the end of every spring semester when students would pile up dumpsters outside their dorms with discarded items. We would find textbooks we could sell, and home essentials like dish soap or packaged food. Then we met each other in a dumpster at the University at Buffalo. For our first few dates, we actually went dumpster diving at retailers.
We make between $2,000 and $3,000 a month selling our dumpster dive trash treasures.
When we started dumpster diving together we only made $200 on a good dive.
Now we dumpster dive multiple times a week, making stops at dumpsters on the way home from work, and we make $2,000 to $3,000 a month from selling our trash treasures. Some of the money we’ve earned from dumpster diving has gone toward trips we have planned for Norway and Mexico later this year.
For us, dumpster diving isn’t just about asking: “Can we sell this?” It’s also about asking: “Can we keep things out of a landfill, and find somebody who can get some use out of the items we find?”
Food waste is something we regularly encounter when we dumpster dive. The food waste we encounter is always shocking, and it doesn’t really get old. We’ve found that Walmart and Trader Joe’s are really good at composting food, compared to other grocers. But when we go to Whole Foods and Aldi we often find completely compostable food materials.
Some people who watch our TikToks are in such disbelief about how much food waste we find on our dumpster hunts, they’ll comment that our videos are fake or that we staged the videos.
At some retailers, entire boxes of unopened products will be thrown away. We call those “mystery boxes.” But other retailers destroy the stuff they’re throwing out. Bath & Body Works dumps out all their lotions before tossing them into the dumpster. At Dick’s Sporting Goods, we’ve found brand new pairs of shoes that were ripped up.
Erin Sheffield donned a hat and gloves before diving into this dumpster.
Garage sales and even piles of stuff abandoned on the side of the road are fair game for dumpster divers
We don’t exclusively sleuth through retailers’ and grocers’ dumpsters, though. Garage sales and even piles of stuff we find abandoned on the side of the road are fair game. You never know what you’re going to find, so we leave no free pile overlooked. Once, we found an exercise bike on the side of the road that retailed new for $3,600. We made $1,200 from reselling it on eBay.
Every dumpster diver has a niche. Many people dumpster dive for tossed merchandise — perfectly good clothing, beauty products, or packaged food grocers have to throw out because of expiration dates. We look for all those things, too. But we’ve found that our big-ticket selling items are piles of scrap metal, which we sell to scrap yards.
We’ve found a community of fellow dumpster divers through TikTok, some of whom we’re now friends with and exchange tips with. But it’s still rare that we see somebody else dumpster diving at the spots we go to in Buffalo. We really had no idea there were so many other people across the country who were as into dumpster diving as us — we really want to do a dumpster convention to meet up with everyone.
Dumpster diving has been getting a lot of media attention in recent years. Still, we hear a lot of misconceptions about dumpster diving. When some people hear the term “dumpster diving,” they sometimes picture a rat-infested dumpster covered in food, or that we’re digging through household trash. But we don’t rifle through apartment dumpsters or residential dumpsters, we mainly stick to businesses, where the “trash” is often unopened cardboard boxes packed with brand new products.
The number-one misconception, though, is people assume we’re hoarders. In actuality, our home has a clean, minimalist aesthetic. Our goal is to keep what we can, sell it, or get rid of it. We also donate a lot of leftover food to our neighbors — we’re known in our neighborhood as the dumpster diver people.
David and Erin keep pursuing dumpster diving “for the thrill of the hunt” and to combat retail and food waste.
Eave and Erin Sheffield
At the end of the day, we’re just trying to do our part to better the environment and reduce food waste. We view our dumpster diving efforts, particularly selling scrap metal to scrap yards, as “carbon credits” that offset the carbon emissions from our next plane flights.
We know that what we do is a drop in the bucket. But with our TikTok platform, even if we can inspire a few hundred other people to dumpster dive, then that could lead to a much larger environmental impact.
Insider verified the Sheffields’ monthly earnings from dumpster dive sales by looking at screenshots of their sales from the entire year of 2022 on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and from scrapyard sales.
When reached for comment regarding food waste at Whole Foods, a spokesperson directed Insider to a section of the grocer’s 2022 Impact Report, which says, in part: “449 Whole Foods Market stores (about 85% of our stores) had active organic diversion programs (such as composting) as of the end of 2022. Nearly 108,000 tons of food waste was diverted from landfills through organic diversion programs (such as composting) in 2022.”
Spokespeople for Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bath & Body Works, and Aldi did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.