Scavenging: It’s Not Just When the SHTF. It’s Already a Way of Life for Many.

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Author of The ULTIMATE Survival Gear Handbook and  Street Survivalism

Here’s a fun fact. Approximately one percent of the urban population in developing countries makes their living from scavenging. And more than 15 million people get their income from waste picking worldwide. Scavenging is a multi-billion dollar industry and a way of living for many, even in wealthy nations.

It’s also one of the oldest economic activities known because living is consuming. Therefore we produce waste simply by existing. The type and amount of waste generated are constantly changing. The more wealthy and urbanized a society becomes, the more waste it will produce. A lot of folks think of scavenging as an activity that only happens after the SHTF, but it’s a way of life for many on the planet.

Waste management is crucial. Most people are just content to have their trash magically disappearing from the front of their houses every day and give this no second thought. I suspect society, in general, would be a lot more discerning and restrained (and respectful) about consumption habits if a more significant number of people became more aware of this process and its implications, but I digress.

What’s happening out there

Judging from what I have seen, the numbers above have grown rapidly since 2020. The social agents I speak with corroborate. The news is bad but still doesn’t show an accurate picture.

Tents are everywhere.

I’ve been meeting a lot more families that lost jobs, income, and homes. They are now in the streets and are scavenging their way to survive. Most people I spoke with admit they never thought they’d come to this, but insist that thinking like that is a mistake. It can and does happen anywhere, to anyone. Also relevant, it affects everyone, not only those who get evicted. This situation has developments that will impact the entire society.

I confess that despite forecasting a more severe slump since 2008, I always hoped we’d never come to this point and for so many. But now it seems that it won’t stop there and get worse before it turns again, unfortunately.

Why and how scavenging connects to prepping and survival?

When resources become scarce, people look everywhere for stuff. We naturally go from the easiest to the hardest when it comes to getting what we want or need. In other words, we start shopping at the nearest grocery store and end up scavenging as the situation worsens.

People scavenge for food to eat, for clothing to wear, and for appliances to use. Many make their living from collecting and selling scrap and recyclables. Scavenging takes place everywhere and at all times but grows exponentially during a crisis or some other SHTF. So, yes, it’s genuinely a survival activity.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

A lot of still-in-good-condition and usable stuff gets discarded all the time. Some of the stuff thrown away would be viewed as pure gold by the have-nots. Scavenging is a productive way for urban preppers to acquire items that can be used, recycled, repurposed, or sold.

Most people don’t even want to think about it

Understandably so: scavenging deals around trash and waste, and no one likes that. We instinctively know it’s unhealthy. But mostly, it’s seen as unpleasant and somehow detached and far from their reality. And yet, it’s so close at the same time.

So, there are serious mental and social barriers right there. I advocate thinking in different terms. Scavenging is a last resort, yet a legitimate and dignified activity, in my opinion – especially when compared to the option taken by many (crime, in case it isn’t clear). It’s hard and brings some risks, but it can come useful during difficult times.

“I’ve done so much with so little that now I can do anything with nothing.”

We hear that quite a lot when we’re in the streets, especially among the have-nots. Those who are (or have) hit rock bottom and reside on the fringes of society know all too well. For years, I followed and interacted with scavengers (or “catadores,” as we call them here). Still do on occasion. I’ve rummaged trash for food, “stuff,” and even tried a hand at collecting and selling recyclables. I faked trash-picking a couple of times to get out of trouble (I will go into this below).

Most scavengers are thick-skinned fellows hardened by years of street struggle

Some scavengers steal mostly metal parts from public lighting fixtures, manhole covers, handrails, electrical wires, even parts of statues and plaques from civic patrimony to sell as scrap or to vendors in second-hand or black markets. Cast iron, steel, or brass parts, especially copper, weigh quite a bit and are of high value.

But that’s a crime in most places and can be punished by law or by “popular justice.” It’s not uncommon for someone to get shot or badly beaten when caught stealing from private property or public appliances and utilities. It’s also risky: thugs do get hurt and even electrocuted when trying to steal electrical wiring, for instance.

For the most part, scavengers have no time nor inclination to follow safety rules and roam town searching for stuff to make a living. It’s very physically demanding to say the least. Coming back empty-handed means no food on the plate.

There aren’t many rules, but the few ones that exist must be respected, or there might be retaliation. Care must be taken with authorities and other street folks too. After all, it’s the dog-eat-dog life of the big city. Scavengers can and do get assaulted, robbed, scammed, just like everyone else.

Scavenging has four main practical aspects to it: what, how, where, and when

What is the type of stuff to scavenge. Mostly, food, recyclables (cardboard, plastic, glass, metals, old tires, etc.), construction materials, wearables, furniture and appliances, books, old records, discarded tools, toys, etc.

How is related to the safest and most productive ways to scavenge, using protection (gloves, perhaps a dust mask and goggles), the right tools (a crowbar, a poking pole, etc.), and the means of transport for the stuff collected.

Where is in respect to the most favorable places to look for each type of material. For instance, a person can find food around markets, food courts, and commercial spaces. You can usually find recyclables and materials around construction sites. Appliances, furniture, wearables, etc., are more commonly found in residential areas.

When relates to the best time, week, month, and year more appropriate to find the desired stuff. For example, when is the best time to discard/collect different materials in different moments and places? It takes time to get that right, but once you do, productivity increases considerably.

The social, physical, mental, and psychological barriers

Another important aspect of scavenging is the stigma. If you’re a “creature of the streets,” you’re almost nothing and invisible to a significant part of society. At the same time, you’re a potential target to another. I won’t go much into this. If you’re a prepper, you know your objectives and limits, so I’ll focus on the practical aspects of scavenging.

As expected, it’s both mentally and physically hard. At first, it may seem like a challenge or a break from the routine. But the toil is real. It’s psychologically taxing, too: even people born or living in landfills and abject misery don’t appreciate being around trash. It’s something we become accustomed to by necessity and contact only.

Physically it’s always demanding. Depending on some aspects, risky and even dangerous (there’s a fierce competition just like in every other activity). Even the smells are way different than what most people experience. It’s not rocket science, but it sure isn’t something for the sensitive.

That’s why I propose in my book that we try it now when things are “normal,” and we can find support if necessary (for example, in case of an accident). To have an idea, a feeling of what it takes, how to do it, and how we handle it.

Some tips for beginning scavengers

As with any trade, it takes years and a lot of hard work to learn and become proficient at something. This is not the idea here – unless you’re planning to start a recycling enterprise or become a full-time scavenger. But if you’re willing to try it for prepping purposes, here are some tips to help you get started and going:

  • Start slowly with your own trash (if you don’t already handle it yourself, of course). If you’re more sensitive, wear rubber gloves and a mask. Helping with the trash may even earn some points with your significant other and the landlord.
  • If the stigma worries you, start a collecting/recycling program in your building or area. This is usually seen favorably by other people and gets us dealing with trash and waste without others thinking we are crazy (or giving away that we’re preppers).
  • Picking aluminum cans in trash bins around town is another good, relatively easy start. It’s low risk, has almost zero opposition, and isn’t much demanding physically. But it puts us in the streets and contact with trash and waste.

Tools for scavenging

Get a decent, tough plastic bag to carry your stuff. This is fine for beer and soda cans and papers or cardboard in general but won’t be enough for pointy or too heavy items. You will have to carry heavy items in pull carts, but this is another level, so I’ll leave it out.

The crowbar is the “official” scavenger tool. It’s very useful and versatile. But in most places, it’s not seen too well by people and authorities: it’s too “professional” and, of course, can also be used as a weapon. Around here, if a scavenger gets caught using or even carrying a crowbar, it can raise suspicion because it gets used to dilapidate public and private property. Heed this warning; I’d assume it’s the same in most civilized places.

Still, we need something to poke and turn over the trash, both to search for stuff more safely (beware of glass, pointy and metal items, chemicals, etc.) and also to scare away animals and insects. A broomstick is an alternative – which one can easily find discarded in the trash, by the way. Some scavengers here use old crutches. I’ve used a folding blind’s cane. Whatever works.

Being in the streets can be unsafe in many ways, regardless of social status

The poor and the homeless can be victims of urban violence, as they’re more exposed to it. Even though belonging to the lower strips of society means no invisible cloak or safe pass against criminals and other dangers, it turns someone into a less interesting target to profiteers in general. There isn’t much to be made from someone who’s turning trash bins for a living (at least when things are normal).

I’ll go straight to the record and say there was some risk involved in what happened, especially the second time. It really was the opposite of what we preppers and survivalists advocate (“Don’t be where danger is”). But it is what it is, and I’m here to tell, so this works to illustrate some street dynamics, maybe keep in mind if things reach a boiling point one day.

Faking scavenging saved me from trouble – twice

Once a group of thugs came my way on an avenue where people get mugged daily for their smartphones. I could tell they locked on me. So, without showing that I noticed them, I casually turned into a trash bin and started picking some cans while following them with my peripheral vision. I noticed they lost interest and changed their attitude, and moved in another direction. I kept at it until they went their way to the other side of the avenue.

Another situation happened during the protests just before the impeachment of former president Roussef when the squares and avenues near my home were the stages for protests and riots. Even with the turmoil, I was still doing my outings (a risky thing to do, I admit) and somehow got into the thick of it (even riskier, I know). The police clashed with the rioters, and I took protection behind a lamp post with a trash bin. I guess the mob couldn’t care less for someone picking beer cans in the middle of the mess (if they even noticed me). After they passed, I went in the opposite direction and away.

Recyclables market and industry

The recyclables industry is somewhat area-specific, But, to see how it works, I dabbed into it and ended up selling aluminum cans, cardboard, and even metal scraps from construction sites to cooperatives. Basically, you collect stuff and take it to the recycling centers. It gets weighed, and you get paid in cash based on the daily rates for each material.

That’s the simple part. But as always, there’s a lot more to it. I got inquired a few times by other “catadores” trying to intimidate me and shove me away from their turf. Some have regular routes and may have fixed suppliers that we must respect. But other than that, there’s no territory. If a dispute arises, you have to defend yourself (or move away, which can be a more sensible option).

Landfills are dangerous and unhealthy, usually located out of town. Still, a lot of people live and work in such places. Some are off-limits, so workers do their stuff at night, using a headlamp or flashlight. It’s a hard, hard life for entire families. I met some scavengers who only pick stuff that can be recovered, for instance, old discarded furniture. Others take broken computers or toys, ornaments, and art. These may work with repair shops (or even own theirs) to recover and sell this stuff.

What are your thoughts on scavenging? 

This article is an excerpt from my street survival training book, based on my experiences in the streets. I hope it helps others learn about, think about, and perhaps become more open to the idea if things go bust. We never know.

How do you feel about “dumpster diving”, recycling and scavenging? Do you have experiences with this you want to share with other readers? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who has practiced self-reliance and outdoor activities since his youth. Fabian also chooses to practice the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. 

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor

Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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  • when i was a kid in a california suburb our local dump had a store area, where guys pulled out the good stuff and offered it for sale. we got some really nice things there. we could also scavenge the piles if we wanted to. i doubt that it is still there. shows how times have changed.

    • If you don’t become a “scavanger”, you will not survive SHTF.
      You can’t stock pile everything. So in the early days you might ” scavange” gas or batteries from discarded autos. You might need materials to fix your roof after a storm or to partition a room.
      Or extra medical supplies from an abandoned drug store.
      Never say ” never” and never be to proud to do something. It might just save your life or the lives of your loved ones.

  • Yesterday I was driving down the road when I noticed 3 boxes of brand new laminate wood flooring with someone’s trash. I turned around and went back, asked the owner if I could take it and came home with enough new beautiful flooring to do my hall. 2 weeks ago I got a really nice small working fridge/freezer the same way.

  • Scavenging isn’t always a nuisance. We have a railroad track near our house with large trees that need to be pruned yearly. The limbs are brought down and then fed into a wood chipper and the chips are put into a dump truck. Normally the truck has to drive across town to be emptied which means the whole process has to stop. I just walk up and tell the workers that if they want to be rid of those chips they can dump them on my property. They get done faster and I get mulch for the garden.

    The wife and I also collect cardboard for ground cover on trash days and in the fall pick up bags of leaves (great mulch) people have left out on the curb to be picked up and hauled away.

    Needless to say, our garden is very healthy.

  • Great article Fabian. When I lived in South Korea for a year while serving in the Air Force I had the honor of working side-by-side with several South Korean Air Force Officers. I constantly pestered them with questions about things that we different between life in Korea and life in the US. One day after a long bike ride I asked them. “How come I never seen any dead roadkill snakes on the highways in Korea?” They told me that right after the Korean War the country was in such a state of poverty and that the people were so hungry they ate anything that moved, including most of the snakes in Korea. After the Korean war their country was so depleted that they had to become hunters, gatherers, and foragers just to survive the post-war years. There were very few animals, trees, and edible food even in the countryside. I know the Korean War is still not over, but they went into a long-term truce and most of the fighting stopped. It gave the people and the land a bit of time to recover. Life was sure different right after the war and still continues to be different today as they have turned into a manufacturing powerhouse, but the threat of North Korea still looms in the subconscious.

  • This is a good basic article on scavenging.
    In a non functioning society, there will be lots of other areas for scavenging.
    Like abandoned houses and other buildings or ones partly destroyed by fire or fighting.
    Abandoned lots will collect a lot of “Junk’, some of which might be useful.
    Many items may be dropped or left in pile by refugees that find them to heavy to carry any farther or not worth the effort to take up a big hill, across a river etc. This is common practice on the trails the Coyotes and Illegals use when entering the US.

    As for Preppers, some of these locations could provide you with additional building materials for making repairs to your structures or building fortifications for additional protection.
    Unless you stored up a lot of empty containers before SHTF, you might find that you need to find some to help organize stuff after SHTF. Especially if you start gardening after SHTF. You will have the seeds from this years crop that will be need stored for planting in the spring and possibly bulk herbs that you will store for later use.
    Many homes (once abandoned) will have plastic storage bins or Tubs left behind. These have a lot of uses and so you might have to scavenge a bunch of them.

    So not all of your scavenging will actually be in going through garbage or trash to find stuff.

  • We live on a one lane country road. Every Monday night, when the trash goes out, a truck or two drives through the area looking into cans and anything left roadside. From the looks of the people they seem like ” Down and Out” types.

    We were told by the local Police never to put anything with our correct names/address out as that is how people’s I.D.’s sometimes get stolen. Needless to write, we shred everything.

  • A kind grocery store employee used to tell my grandfather when the pastries were going to be thrown out so my grandfather could be at the backdoor of the store to get them before they actually went into the dumpster. When my mother figured out where the pastries were coming from, she wouldn’t let me eat them, which hurt my grandfather’s feelings. There was nothing wrong with the boxed pastries. They were just stale. My grandfather had a circuit of trash cans he would sort through. It was amazing what people threw out. Tools, toys, etc.
    My favorite toy was a pink metal sewing machine on a wood base that I picked out of a trash pile in front of a house I walked past everyday going to and coming home from school. An old woman lived in the house and she seemed always to have “great” trash. I wonder now if she left toys out on purpose for me to find. I still have the little sewing machine and I still love it. My mother was not happy about my trash picking, but she let me keep that pink sewing machine.
    I also have an aunt who put herself through the Sorbonne on the proceeds of cans and bottles she collected from trash cans and dumpsters.

    • My dad’s toy train, a pre war Lionel, with track, he pulled out of trash cans, making numerous trips.
      It still runs and is mine now.

    • My grandfather owned a mechanic shop when I was a kid. People would sometimes dump their trash behind the building, and one day I went through the drawers of an old desk that someone left. I found a case of Matchbox cars from the 60’s and 70’s. Became one of my favorite toys! My 9 year old plays with them now.

  • A close friend and i used to go out every Friday night in his pickup,dumpster diving at apartment complexes.Because renters didn’t pay their rent and abandoned the apartment,we used to find items that were thrown out,everything from clothing,furniture,electric fans,radios,tv’s and everything in between.My close friend repaired the electronic items.i washed,dried and hung clothing,and cleaned and repaired furniture and whatever else needed cleaning and repair that wasn’t electronic.When he was finished repairing the electronic items,he help me.Every other Saturday/Sunday,we would have a yard sale and make several hundred dollars between the two of us.By the way,both of us had full time jobs.When done right,scavenging can be very lucrative.

    • Another great place to scavenge used to be storage facility’s . I don’t know if they still are but folks can check. Either when people are emptying their units or when the are left not paid a lot of things are just tossed. I remember finding things new in the box on a regular basis

  • I scavenge furry scavengers.

    Landfills are primo trapping grounds for coyote,Fox,raccoon,weasels, bunnies and bear (though I’m waiting for my window to open to start taking bear, I admit). Scrape, salt, stretch and brain tan the pelts/hide. Eventually people will start needing real mittens and fur ruffs again.

  • Great article Fabian!
    For those that may choose to experiment or endeavor into the culture on/in/of the streets in their area I would suggest that you consider situational awareness techniques. Not only being aware of threats around you, but maybe more importantly how you will be perceived by those that are there on a regular basis. If you go scrounging through a dumpster while wearing an iPhone watch and $200 boots, I would suggest that you may be more likely separated from your belongings than not. It may be wise to first endeavor to see how the indigenous people of the area dress, carry themselves, and act. Respect is a HUGE part of living on the street; both that which you give, and the respect that you earn/demand from others around you. How one walks, talks, and carries themselves is perceived at all times, and any anomaly will stand out like a sore thumb.

  • I would like to see a sharp distinction made between scavenging and looting. Scavenging is recovering some thing of value that has been discarded in some way by the former owner. Looting is like the metal thieves who strip copper wiring and plumbing from construction sites.
    After SHTF, especially if there is a big die-off in the population, it will be very important to distinguish if the former owner, whether it’s a dumpster or a whole house, is ever coming back or if it is unowned and available for recovery by those able to. Granted, when there is no longer any rule of law (WROL), there may be no consequence for looting, but that does not make it right.

  • I read a story on the internet years ago,A WOMAN dreamed there had been a PLAGUE,it killed almost everyone in america,it was turned loose on the people by the US MILITARY and killed them too,SHE dreamed she had a wagon with a horse that pulled it,and traveled around the country side picking up anything of value,especially clothing,which was very valueable to everyone,the population was low ,not many survived the plague,but the few who did,, worse rags from lack of good clothes,there had been a war over the releast of the plague,it killed most of the people of the world..I suspect this is coming,THE POLICE AND US MILITARY are SATANS army..NOT GODS,they are his enemy..I think everyone will learn this the hard way…

    • I had a dream the other night . . .

      I was walking through what remained of a mid-sized city. As I walked down what appeared to be a major street, there were vehicles in various states. Some just sat there as if parked. Others in accidents. Some burned out.
      A fire station, ironically, was burned down.
      Stores window fronts, smashed in, doors wide open.
      A woman with two small children, ran at the sight of me.
      A pack of dogs were eating at a carcass that I did not want to identify, but knew what it was.
      The burned out hulk of a police car, wrapped around a tree.
      There were no police, no military. When the mortality rate exceeded 30% and climbing, those who did not fall to the virus, the police and military broke down, and everyone left their posts to try to get home to be with their families.

      God stopped by, looked around,

      “I am not cleaning up your mess,” she said flatly.

      • “I am not cleaning up your mess,” she said flatly

        Much love and respect dude. But HE promises to clean up all the mess.

        For all of us. For all time.

        HE is the ultimate prepper. ????

        • ~Jim,
          Just making a go of AZ.

          I dont think you had started commenting when he/she wrote the post about Army bio-lab grown dogs, trained to hunt down and eat our children.

          AZ has had some other colorful posts, like Obama was coming back and would depopulated the US with his own army.

          • (Whew!) You had be going. I couldn’t tell how firmly your tongue was planted in your cheek.

            I’ll piece things together eventually. Just too much writing and reading of posts to fall in squarely.

  • We grew up next to a landfill. You can imagine homes next to landfills aren’t exactly high rent, so I am familiar with scavenging for lumber, hardware, tools etc. We live on a farm now, and scavenging is not a thing I think about now. The author mentioned a pull cart and we picked up a gorilla cart a year or so ago. A million times better than a wheelbarrow. Its like a kids wagon on steroids-atv style tires and 800 lb capacity and a dump bed. If you can get one, I’d highly recommend it.

  • I know of a few who’s entire plan is not to prep, but to scavenge post-SHTF.
    To a degree it does make sense, if there is a real, serious die off, then many homes, businesses, buildings would be abandoned. Ever want to live in some rich celebrities house? Might be abandoned. Wear their cloths, sleep in their beds. Might not be anything of real (post-SHTF) value, but jumping up and down on their bed could be fun.
    Same time, could be dangerous, thinking of some of Selco’s writings about going out from his shelter/home. Gangs, snipers, maybe that home is not really abandoned and the owner has issue with you messing up their bed by way of shotgun while you are in mid-air.

  • Before we retired we scavenged a lot of stuff near our business. A drapery manufacturer threw out dumpsters full of beautiful expensive material.
    An oak furniture manufacturer would give you all the small end pieces. Got them by the truck load. Perfect for the tiny outdoor stoves.
    Local health food store gives whoever shows up out of date food. Not supposed to but now days a lot of people do their part in defying the jerks in charge.

  • Oh, just recalled, convicted criminal and serving time, Atlanta Olympic Park summer games bomber and so-called survivalist, Eric Rudolph, was apprehended dumpster diving behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store.
    By his own admission, he stole from people’s vegetable gardens, grain silos, and dumpster diving.
    He did gather acorns and salamanders, but as we can see, that was likely short lived. Despite evading authorities in Western NC for 5 years, where wild game should of been plentiful, he resorted to theft and dumpster diving as means of survival.

    • Your comment reminded me of the hermit that lived outdoors in Maine for years before being caught. Great survival story.

      • “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit,” by Michael Finkel. Amazing story!

  • It is actually a hobby of mine. I have a relative that is in residential construction. Whenever he finishes framing a house, I contact him and ask permission to raid his dumpster. It actually saves him money because it costs for each time a full dumpster must be picked up. Yesterday, I got enough material to build two tables and a large bank of shelves for my shipping container deer camp cabin. Before I retired, I would raid the office buildings dumpster at the end of each month. That was when businesses would move out. I kept my office in supplies, furnishings and decorations for about 10 years. Fun stuff.

  • I have a 13-page article on salvaging, scavenging, recovery, and mining in the aftermath of apocalyptic disasters and in a post-apocalyptic world that I have posted on various forums and handed out to members of some prep groups. I am well versed in scavaging concepts, scavaging techniques, scavaging tools, and savaging dangers.

    That is not what this article is about, though. It is about scavaging now, during these ‘new normal’ times. And it was not until I read the article that I realized just how much of it I have been doing the last few years, without really connecting the concept to what I was doing.

    You see, I seldom went looking to salvage things. I live in a three-story apartment building, near downtown Reno. It is not too bad of a neighborhood, but there are three (legal here where I am) medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries within three blocks of me, and it is close enough to downtown and the downtown rough areas, the Truckee River, the railroad tracks, and several federal, state, county, and city facilities. The places that draw many homeless, many people with mental health issues, druggies, drug suppliers, prostitutes, unemployed, protesters, human predators, and the general unpleasant people that are found everywhere.

    So, with the above reasons, the influx of people from California, many of which leave because they cannot afford to live there anymore, and the less than stellar management company (my opinion) we get quite a few people that move in and within a month or two, to a couple of years, wind up leaving. Either evicted for lack of rent payments or voluntarily. And since the place does accept Section 8 housing eligible tenants, and several other types of tenet assistance, there are significant numbers of ill and elderly people. That means people die here on a fairly regular basis.

    I do not know the actual legal standing and laws about items left behind by tenants when they move or die, but ‘the cage’ in the street level parking garage stays full of items removed from apartments. And people put items out by the cage that they simply do not want, often along with the boxes from the new items they just purchased or received.

    It is these items that I have had great success in scavenging. I have asked in the office about things left by the cage and was told that if they are there, they are considered abandoned and will be disposed of when maintenance can get to them to put them in the cage or in the large dumpsters that are delivered every few weeks for the purpose, at which time the things stored in the cage are deposited in the dumpster until it is full and picked up and taken to the disposal site.

    People often also leave items at a couple of places in the residential hallways as well, though that is banned. Things never stay around in the halls, either being taken by people or maintenance or the cleaners.

    No matter where I find items I never take anything with cloth as part of it. Like many places in the US, Reno has a significant bedbug infestation problem. That includes this apartment building. So, with the possibility of introducing bedbugs into my apartment, nothing in which they might be residing is even considered for scavenging.

    Hard goods only. I have found books of many kinds, both paperback and hardback. School books, DIY books, Self-help books, religious books, and fiction. I do not find many that I want, but I have scored several useful ones.

    Down at the cage I have recovered chairs; a couple of tables; some damaged furniture pieces strictly for the quality lumber they contain; particular types and sizes of cardboard that I have uses for; canning jars; a couple of bicycles needing repairs; several walkers of different types, a couple in perfect, unused condition and some needing repairs; a wheelchair needing minor repairs; and many other things that I cannot remember off the top of my head.

    Though it has been some time since I have run across one of my favorite finds, that would show up on an irregular basis. From what management told me, at least one agency that delivers food and other goods to tenets that are on various programs, uses (mostly) 6-gallon plastic milk jug crates, with the occasion 4-gallon jug size. These are the same ones used by dairies and grocery stores, not the lightweight ones you can find at Walmart and other container storesl.

    From just one to as many as four at a time. I have scored at least twenty of them over the years, almost all of them in perfect shape. I put a 42-gallon contractor’s clean-up bag in them, and then slide in an empty copy-paper box, which fits perfectly. The cardboard box allows me to see inside much better than the black plastic of the clean-up bags. Plus the box is smooth where the bag, since it is larger than the crate, has wrinkles and folds and such that can hide things.

    They are sturdy enough that I can fill them with more weight than I can carry. And, like the Action Packer totes I have, the Cabela’s version and the regular Plano version of their Sportsman’s storage box (I cannot remember off hand which size it is) of which I also have many, the 6-gallon size milk crates fit the game cart I use perfectly.

    Anyway, while I have been keeping my eyes out for abandoned items as I do my situational awareness scans when I am out and about all along, after reading this article and realizing that I am doing this anyway, I will be more vigilant about finding useful items that have obviously been abandoned. (I will not risk the chance that something is owned, therefore making me a thief or a looter.)

    I will also be a bit more likely to stop, go around the block, or even turn around and go back, to check out something and recover it if it turns out to be a suitable scavange item for me.

    Just my opinion.

  • 30 plus years ago I had a regular route checking gas stations and car repair shops for old tires. The owners were happy for me to pick up their old tires. On my regular job I worked night shift and did this on my trip home about 1:00 am. These tires were sold to a retread business for $2 to $4 dollars each. For just a few hours each week I would make an extra $100+ dollars. This was quite meaningful to a young family of four living on a single income. I’m not sure “retreads” are even done any more but it was a nice source of ‘disposable” income for us back in the 80’s.

  • DH ‘trashpicks’ small engine items like lawnmowers and snowblowers all the time. Most often, they only need an oil change and a new sparkplug to work just fine. We also haven’t paid for any new major appliances by scavenging. When the kids were little and we had little money, I often picked up furniture that we needed the same way. These days, many dumpsters (esp at large chain grocers) are enclosed/locked so it’s more difficult to scavenge (which is a darn shame given the great amount of food waste…don’t believe those ‘zero waste’ claims).

    • I manage a retail store and I can tell you several reasons why the dumpster areas are locked.

      #1 to keep people from putting their household trash there.

      #2 safety. In todays society people will climb into a dumpster and hurt themselves then sue the company because they weren’t locked away so they couldn’t get into them.

      #3 people will go diving then just leave all the trash they pulled out of the dumpster laying on the ground for the store employee’s to clean up.

      The real shame is the fact that most people have lost all sense of personal responsibility for their own actions

  • You forgot to mention the joy of it. I have been a picker since I was a child and forbidden to do it…but I did anyhow. After college, international travel, career, ect. I still love to pic and I am always blessed by it. From silver shot glasses, expensive tools, and vintage trailer ovens and mint interiors, I have made money, but more importantly, I have been blessed and blessed others by selling a sought after article the world threw away, but resold as retro. We throw away our elderly, and we throw away our own youth seeking what doesn’t matter. Slowing down and praying while we pic is a holy time often greatly rewarded.

  • Which is it Omar, scavenging or stealing?
    “Scavenging is a last resort, yet a legitimate and dignified activity, in my opinion – especially when compared to the option taken by many (crime, in case it isn’t clear)”

    “Some scavengers steal mostly metal parts from public lighting fixtures, manhole covers, handrails, electrical wires, even parts of statues and plaques from civic patrimony to sell as scrap or to vendors in second-hand or black markets. Cast iron, steel, or brass parts, especially copper, weigh quite a bit and are of high value.

    But that’s a crime in most places and can be punished by law or by “popular justice.” It’s not uncommon for someone to get shot or badly beaten when caught stealing from private property or public appliances and utilities. It’s also risky: thugs do get hurt and even electrocuted when trying to steal electrical wiring, for instance.”

    • The distinction should be obvious: if you´re dilapidating private or public patrimony it´s crime. If you´re rummaging through discarded stuff, it´s not.

  • One way to save time when scavenging is to look through Craigslist or Facebook neighborhood where free stuff is listed, sometimes it’s a curb alert. You can select what you want and go get it.
    I’ve used this and gotten rid of stuff I no longer needed.

  • “Scavenging” (selective trash picking in good times) can be a way to generate cash, find useful items for oneself, and can provide raw materials for new projects.

    Fancy sensitive people call selective trash picking “freecycling”, “upcycling” and other wonderful names so that it becomes acceptable in their minds.
    The “social stigma” is very much out there.

    I personally “scavenge” all the time.
    If I see something useful laying at the curb on trash day, then I’ll pick it up.
    At work if I know something is going to the trash that I can use or make money off, I’ll grab it.
    If I see deposit bottles and cans (worth a nickel in my parts) I’ll pick it up.
    Wood pallets provide raw materials for building projects.

    One guy I met while I was scavenging pallets for useable wood makes his entire living “scrapping” (metal recycling) and “upcycling”.
    Many second hand stores fill their shelves with trash picked items that have been cleaned and repaired and made presentable again.

    During “good times” going out and looking for useful stuff provides you with knowing which areas may prove useful in “bad times”
    I am by no means a big time “scrapper” (metal recycler), I’m more of a “hobby scrapper” — if I see stuff at the curb I’ll take it.
    But if I lost my job tomorrow and needed to generate cash, I could shift from “hobby” to “full on” simply because I know what to do now.

    Finding pallets for building material is somewhat easy, but establishing rapport with some businesses may make it easier for you to get the materials.
    Lots of people leave a mess and business owners hate this.
    I went into t business one time and asked if it was OK to come after hours and take some of the used pallets.
    The owner appreciated me asking and said I could come any time.
    We ran into each other one night when he stayed late and he gave me permission to go through his dumpsters any time too.
    That rapport has led to me getting some very nice raw material for projects.

    One of the survival skills that one builds through trash picking is imagination.
    Being able to see things not as they are, but what they can become.
    A lady at work knows that I scrap metal.
    She said she had some metal poles from a gazebo type structure, and If I wanted them I could have them.
    When I got there and was loading them my mind immediately said they weren’t scrap, but going to be used in the garden to build trellises.
    While showing pictures of my garden to her years later (she had an epiphany just prior to COVID and has started down the “prepper path”) she commented on my white poled trellises and how my garden looked nice too.
    I told her those were her “scrap” metal poles.
    She was truly amazed.
    It never crossed her mind that “garbage” could look like that.

    I have a deal that a small cafe saves me their “good” compostable materials (egg shells, raw vegetable scraps, coffee grounds).
    By diverting their “garbage” form the trash bin I get pure “gardeners gold” by putting it into my compost bins and using a bit of manual effort to keep things “cooking”.
    Scavenging “garbage” helps me build good soil structure, saves me fertilizer costs, by having healthy plants I have few pests so saves on pesticides which might harm my soil, and I have “networked” with someone who may prove valuable in “bad times”

    “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without” was a saying during the Great Depression that summed up how things were.
    By scavenging in “good times” you are practicing that saying and building your survival skills.

    While it’s always nice to chat about the latest “tacticool tier one survival gadget”, developing skills such as scavenging, imagination, reconnaissance (well you are looking for things aren’t you?), networking (talking to people who give you items) and building/repair skills will stand you in better stead should you face “bad times”.

  • Something more worth considering: a lot of grassroots-level charity work is basically an organized form of scavenging. The food pantry where I volunteer a couple days each week is one of the many places where all the surplus food and drink (at both the wholesale and retail levels; the government supplies the wholesale surplus to our food bank while a local grocery store gives us retail surplus, probably for some kind of tax write-off) typically ends up when it fails to sell. If it’s a slow week and not many poor people come looking for our handouts, we volunteers often end up taking home some of the more perishable stuff (such as sandwiches and pastries past their sell-by date) and consuming it ourselves.

    As for less perishable items like appliances and clothing and furniture and the like, there are several charity thrift stores around the small city (about half an hour’s drive away from where I live) that accept and resell just about any kind of old junk people are willing to donate to them. In the bigger city over in the next county (about an hour’s drive away), there’s a Rescue Mission center I visited on a church field trip as a child that has a machine shop where the local volunteers help repair and recycle a great variety of people’s castoffs: everything from old computers and furniture and toasters and microwaves to dishwashers and stoves and lawn mowers and even the occasional vehicle. During the tour, the director also showed us pictures during a presentation of a pig farm the charity owns out in the sticks where they send food that’s no longer fit for human consumption and use it to slop the hogs there, and we got to see a baling machine the charity uses to bale up the clothes too old and damaged (or obscene) to sell in its thrift store; according to the director, a rag factory somewhere up in Canada then sends a trucker guy with a big semi down sometime once every year or so to come carry them away.

    In short, these charities’ food pantries and thrift stores are that extra step between throwing things out of homes and businesses and throwing them in the dump that keeps so many of those things from going to waste. Conversely, just as one can think of these charities as organized scavengers, one could think of all you dumpster-diving individuals out there who retrieve and repair these things for yourselves as freelancers. By saving yourselves a few bucks with your scavenging, you’re basically arranging a little “charity” for yourselves, so to speak.

  • I went to the (giant employer pretending to be “a charity” thrift store just outside of Portland Oregon) Bins today with gf. We brought water and snacks and put in 7 hours of shopping. For sixty bucks, we got stuff we wanted and about $500 in eventual resale merchandise. Best score was a 1999 Pioneer Elite receiver for $5. Phono preamp! No remote, but enough buttons to work.

    If I put enough hours in this place, I never buy anything retail. I also end up with enough stuff for the gf to sell sell sell for cash to buy fuels, taxes, insurance, etc. Fortunately, DeepBlueUtopia of pdx peeps believe in replacement of everything all the time, and donating to ” charity” for tax receipt.

    This is scrounging. It’s not 1992 any more.

  • In our part of the Midwest, people routinely put “trash” items out on their curb, sometimes with a sign or note with details. Just last night, I picked up a working vacuum that’s nicer than the one I have! The note on it said the suction is poor, but my husband will easily fix that by taking it apart and cleaning it.
    I’ve previously found replacement stove burners, a crock pot insert, kids toys, and patio chairs and gardening supplies.
    I have learned that one must make a fast decision. Pull over, inspect the item, and either load it into the car, or leave. It might not be there on your way back through. I still kick myself for not grabbing an antique wooden chair that would have matched some I already had. It was gone a few minutes later when I went back.

    • My chest freezer died during the Scamdemic. New ones were unobtainium with three month waiting lists, and used ones were selling for the price of new ones. Driving home one morning I spotted a larger chest freezer than the one that died on me sitting on the curb in front of a house. The homeowner was outside. I asked if the freezer worked and was told it did until the dog chewed the cord off it (Y’gottabekinddinme!!!). The guy said I could have it and even helped load it into my truck. I took it home, cut the cord off the dead freezer, and attached it to the “new” one. After that ten minutes of “work” I plugged it in and it worked fine, and has been working fine for the last three years! Oh… and I would have PAID to see the look on that dog’s face when he hit copper on that cord!!!

  • I used to go out every other Friday night to apartment complexes with a friend in his pickup and dumpster dive in his middle class/upper middle class city. We would find electronics, furniture, clothing, household items, etc. We would take our haul back to his place and clean up everything and repair what needed to be repaired and sell it at our yard sale held the following weekend. We usually made $200 a month each at our yard sales selling what we found.

  • I’m leaving the scavaging to others who really need it more than I do. I am more into foraging and producing my own. I hope I can help someone else by not taking what others really need.

  • Just when they have the next dumpster diving competition.
    I would love to win the coveted “Supertramp” 1st place prize.

  • Wednesday was “bulk pickup” when I was a kid. “White privilege” in my day was when you were white, you asked permission to do something, and were given permission to do it! It SURELY didn’t imply having money!!! My dad and I were on our way home from Grandma’s house when he stopped in front of a pile of junk waiting to be picked up. A few minutes later there was a fully functional 3-speed “English racer” bike in our trunk, needing nothing but a cleaning and two new tires. I was hooked! I went out at dawn every Wednesday during the summer looking for gold! The rich folk in the south side of our town could think what they wanted to! I kept myself in bicycles, TV’s, radios, fishing gear, lawnmowers, tools, and the like until I left home! Heck; I even found two FUNCTIONAL outboard motors on the curb! A major side benefit of this was that I learned how to fix just about ANYTHING!

    I’ve never lost the itch for a good find, and am not above jumping into a dumpster to retrieve it!!! When the SHTF, those too proud to dig will surely die…

  • I work at that chain of thrift stores that has been mentioned in other posts – the one that has one color of their price tags on sale each week.
    Scavengers hit our outdoor recycle bins and our dumpster several times a week, and of course go thru’ the donations that people leave after over night.
    I’m really not sure what they actually take, other than some of the metal for recycling.
    They don’t take the clothes that didn’t sell at our store and we’re shipping to other stores.
    I can’t imaging what they get out of our trash. They don’t take the plates/glass ware that didn’t sell and we’re shipping to other stores. They rarely take furniture.

  • Try going to college towns at the end of school years. There are tons of goodies by the curbs of the outlying apartments off campuses.

  • As a kid, we lived near to a former landfill. Many, many hours and days were spent seeing what we could find in its hills and hollows. As an adult, we have found that some of the joy of buying a farm from the previous owner is picking through all the remnants and scraps and leftovers that come with it. Other places to practice scavenging is garage sales and thrift stores. You never know just what you’ll find.

  • Start scavenging before you actually need to.
    In America a lot of good and useful stuff is thrown away, so it’s not hard to take advantage of this. Grocery stores for an example throw away an immense amount of “out of date” or almost out of date food. One good answer to “What are you doing?'” is “I’m looking for moving boxes.”
    Even if you don’t really need what you scavenge, often it can be bartered for what you do want. Other times you can just pay it forward. When asked where it came from, just identify the store where it came from. “A friend of mine works at xyz and they were going to throw it away.”
    I have found it is best not to ask permission to scavenge at commercial establishments as they are leery of law suits.
    Wealthy neighborhoods are great scavenging territory on trash day (or better yet the night before).
    It is better to “specialize” if you plan to barter or re-sell, it takes time to know the market as well as how and where to sell or barter. Only the best barterer will be able to get all of their income from this.
    Final thought, it takes time to learn bartering skills, learn these skills before they are essential for survival.

  • When my kids were young I would go to resale shops and buy their clothes. Our neighborhood would put out unwanted large items for pickup every month, which was a gold mine of furniture and various stuff. Just finished remodeling our house and furnished the house with Craigslist, resale shops and antique stores. Nothing was new and all in beautiful condition.
    We should all look at the world with new eyes if SHTF.

  • I scavenged a 6 foot metal office desk from our local landfill ~30 years ago. Don’t know why it was dumped. The only thng wrong was one of the typewriter trays was missing.
    Still using it to this day n my home “office”
    Picked up a few other odds and ends from behind stores over the years.

  • I enjoyed reading your book Fabian. As a kid, my friend and I had an old pram and went around all the building sites to collect glass soda bottles and cashed them in when we couldn’t fit any more in. We felt like 10 year old millionaires. Didn’t know I was in training 😉 . I graduated to scavenging bicycles and parts from the landfill tip and never had a bought one until I started work.

  • Sounds like a life of scavenging is a miserable life. Who would want to live this way? Even people who talk about surviving if SHTF have no honest clue about what a life like that entails. What would be the point in extending your life if that included always being hungry all the time or having to scrape by daily for the rest of your life? That doesn’t even include sickness and diseases coming into play. Many preppers are pretty old and they move to these rural locations with their spouse with no regard for the future and what happens when one gets sick and needs serious medical care or when one of the spouses dies. Homesteading is not for the old and weak or the young and weak. If a person from the 1700’s or 1800’s time traveled to 2023 they would look at homesteaders like they were nuts.

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