- Chris Hatfield is a dumpster diver who has made over $23,000 this year selling other people’s trash.
- He uses eBay to resell most of his hauls from dumpsters behind Ross, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx stores.
- He’s also the owner of a pest-control company and hopes to turn his side hustle into his new career.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Chris Hatfield knows this better than most.
The 38-year-old Texan has sold thousands of dollars’ worth of “trash,” thanks to a side hustle that involves sifting through dumpsters for products to resell online. Just this year, Hatfield’s trash-flipping and reselling ventures have made him about $23,000 in total sales, showed screenshots of his eBay seller dashboard, which Insider viewed.
And with the gathering and reselling of discarded items having little noteworthy costs, save for transportation and cleaning supplies, his profit margin is higher than most other resellers.
“You’re getting your inventory for free,” Hatfield said in an interview. “That’s unheard of as far as in the reselling world.”
So far, Hatfield’s dives have yielded a pendant necklace, a retinal scanner, and a box of Amazon Echo Dots, among other rare items. He’s done it all as a member of a community of dumpster divers who turn a profit from what could easily end up in a landfill.
The average consumer throws away 70 pounds of textiles a year, the Council for Textile Recycling reported. When it comes to retailers, it’s not uncommon for returned products to end up in the trash as well. A report from Optoro, a company that manages returned items for retailers, found that returns from online shopping generated 5 billion tons of landfill waste in 2019.
Hatfield’s side hustle, while helpful in terms of greater sustainability efforts, is also incredibly lucrative. When shutdowns forced the closure of Hatfield’s main business, a pest-control company, at the start of the pandemic, he ramped up his reselling efforts on Facebook Marketplace and eBay. Once shutdowns ended, his reselling business continued to grow.
“Because of the pandemic, we’re actually doing so well that we’re considering just selling the pest-control company at the end of the year and just doing this full time,” he said.
Becoming a dumpster diver
Through his social-media networks, Hatfield encourages people to jump into the lucrative world of dumpster diving and reselling. Aside from the high profit margins that the practice can yield, the seemingly endless amounts of inventory are also benefits for those who worry about entering a market that is overly saturated with resellers.
“There’s always going to be inventory because, as a society, we’re constantly buying things and getting rid of what we deem as old,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield started his reselling journey in 2015 by flipping items that he found in Goodwill stores, and he still thrifts about 25% of the items for his reselling business. At the time, he was looking for a quick way to earn enough money to start his pest-control company. The first item he resold was a VCR, which he said he sold online in just a few hours for $90.
“I was hooked since,” he said.
Hatfield continued reselling in his spare time after starting his company. Eventually, he stumbled upon dumpster diving when he realized the number of items he could resell sitting in the trash behind different stores and strip malls. Sifting through the dumpsters behind stores such as Ross, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx, he was able to find bags of clothes, shoes, and other items — often with the tags still intact.
“It’s not glamorous,” Hatfield said, describing the process of jumping into dumpsters, breaking open bags of trash, and sifting for items of value.
These days, Hatfield also scavenges personal trash left on street curbs, a process he calls “curb shopping.” Here, he generally finds items such as strollers, car seats, and boxes of used clothes. To keep this process organized, Hatfield uses a schedule with the different trash days for various neighborhoods, which he managed to find through a simple web search.
After he completes his hauls, Hatfield cleans and inspects the items for any defects, holes, or stains, and makes sure they are devoid of any food waste or bugs. Hatfield said he generally avoids dumpsters near strip malls with food courts or restaurants to keep the food waste in his hauls to a minimum.
Once the items are readied, they are photographed and listed online via Hammoq, an automated listing service that cross lists items on eBay, Poshmark, and Mercari. About 90% of Hatfield’s sales occur on eBay.
If an item doesn’t sell after 60 days, Hatfield and his wife then lists it on Facebook Marketplace. If that doesn’t work, it ends up in a yard sale or donation box. Hatfield also sells mystery boxes for between $100 and $125 each that include a variety of more atypical items, such as electronics and knickknacks, each of which can be sold for a profit by whomever purchases them.
In some cases, Hatfield’s most atypical items turn out to be the most valuable. During one particular dive, he recalled stumbling upon what he initially believed to be a human leg.
“I got freaked out, jumped out of the dumpster, took off running,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Great. Two things just happened: Either I just found a dead body and I put my fingerprints on it, or that’s a body and now I have to call the cops and explain what the heck I was doing in the dumpster to begin with.'”
In the end, it was a prosthetic leg. And a lucrative one at that. Hatfield managed to sell the limb for upwards of $500 in a matter of weeks.
For those looking for similar reselling success, Hatfield said it all starts with a conscious decision to take a chance on some trash.
“Just do it,” he advised. “Just check it out. Just lift the lid and see what’s in there.”
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