EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 145 - June 19, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 7

eBay Sellers Go Dumpster Diving

By Julia Wilkinson

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I used to shake my head at tales of people digging through celebrity trash. Wasn't that the ultimate in bottom-feeding? But, like George Costanza on the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" when he plucked a chocolate eclair out of a trash can and ate it ("It wasn't down in. It was sort of on top"), one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Although digging through another person's refuse can be tacky, if someone has set a whole bunch of stuff out in front of their house, waiting for the local trash authorities to fetch it, it's no skin off their nose if someone takes it off their hands. And for eBay sellers, the temptation can be overwhelming.

My first experience in grabbing a freebie off the curb came a few weekends ago, when, as I was about to leave a yard sale, I overheard an elderly man saying to the sale owner, "It's a gold mine over there. I got all kinds of melamine dishes for free this morning." Looking around, I spotted a whole bunch of stuffed black trash bags on the curb across the street, next to various units of shelving and old pieces of furniture. Spilling out of some of the bags were several books, and they looked shiny and new. So I headed over to check them out.

The books were indeed in brand-new to very good condition, and they were about dieting (an evergreen sell-well genre), fashion, foreign languages (textbooks and language instruction also tend to do well), law, and more. From that lot alone I made about $100 in sales so far, mostly by listing on Amazon, and some on eBay. Plus, several of them have yet to be sold. Here's a sampling:

  • Colloquial Dutch: The Complete Course for Beginners (Colloquial Series) -Audio ($23.95)

  • May It Please the Court: 23 Live Recordings of Landmark Cases As Argued Before ($15.95)

  • Language Success in German (Business Success Language) by Language Success... ($11.00)

  • Fashion Drawing in Vogue by Packer, William ($32.00)

  • London (Eyewitness Travel Guides) (Paperback) by Leapman, Michael; Scott... ($15.00)

I'm not even including a whole bunch of new-condition Weight Watchers recipe and cooking books I picked up,...that's because I may save those for myself.

But not everything from that lot was worth selling. I grabbed a few things I was not sure about, and after researching them on eBay, concluded they weren't worth selling. Those I will donate to charity, including:

  • a Raggedy Andy doll, large, which I estimate to be worth only about $10;

  • A Whoville-opoly game - Monopoly based on the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Also only worth $9-$10.

There were also a whole bunch of sewing patterns, buttons, etc., but at that point I had grabbed so much stuff, and a few other people came over to forage, so I thought I'd leave the rest to others who might want or need it more.

Turns out it was "special pickup" day in this particular neighborhood, part of the city government trash department's Spring Cleaning initiative. Twice a year, in the Spring and Fall, people can put all kinds of large disposables out on their curb on a designated night and the city will come by and get it the next morning. So I did a little online research, and determined that the city would be holding two more special pickup Saturdays for two other residential zones.

On one of those other weekends of "special pickup," I picked up a cement mermaid garden statue, a number of books about art, an old boxed set of classical guitar records (remember records?), and an interesting architectural arch. (The current euphemisms for the latter in places like HGTV and home magazines are "salvaged" or "reclaimed" architectural elements).

And I wasn't the only one trolling around. Turns out there's a whole subculture of people, many in trucks, trolling for reclaimable appliances, furniture, or what have you.

So if you don't mind acquiring some inventory in this fashion, you can look for similar bonanzas in your area. It starts with Google. Go to, and do a search on your local area's government. In my case, the government was the City of Alexandria, so I put "alexandria va government" (sans the quote marks) into the search engine window.

When I saw the Alexandria VA city government website pop up in the results, I clicked on that, then followed it down to its link to the Transportation department, where they had a link for Spring Cleanup. There, they have a map that listed which part of the city would have this annual pickup on which weekend.

Your local government may not have such a pickup - some may simply require individuals to call in a special pickup request, and do only ad-hoc pickups. But it's worth looking into, if you're interested. You can also check local governments close to your own.

Happy curbside, reclaiming.

About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.

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