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Professional Dumpster Diver On Finding Hidden Treasure Within The Trash


Matt Malone faces a philosophical choice every time he pulls into a store parking lot.

MATT MALONE: You can go two ways - you can drive in front or you can drive behind the store. I tend to drive behind the store.

RATH: That's because he wants to know what's in the trash. Matt Malone is a professional dumpster diver.


RATH: I bet you're remembering that old cliche that one man's trash is another man's treasure. But Matt has discovered a ridiculous range of goodies that anyone would consider valuable.

MALONE: The number of chairs is staggering. The chairs are usually about $300 to $400 a piece. I've gotten complete desk sets. I've gotten entire server racks. I've actually found a lot of laptops, a 42-inch touch-screen computer, a ton of printers and mainly wrapped around toner cartridges.

Those things are, you know, $100 to $200 a toner cartridge. Keurigs are a big thing that I find all the time - tons and tons of Keurigs. I found a Tesla coil and that was the best find for me. When you find that sort of thing, you're like sweet. I found a RoboLawn. It's kind of like the Roomba, but it mows your lawn.

RATH: Matt Malone was featured in this month issue of Wired magazine. He actually finds all of this great stuff in his spare time. Malone is a successful businessman - the founder of Assero Security, a data protection firm. You know how some couples go antiquing on weekends? Well, things are a little different with the Malones.

MALONE: My wife - we'll be driving down the road and, you know, I'll see the dumpster and she'll go no. We're not stopping. (Laughter) It has been kind of an ongoing joke that after - on date night, a lot of times we'll go to dinner and, you know, occasionally I will have to stop and look. And I have been known to jump out in a full suit and dumpster dive.

RATH: But he has rules - talk with store managers and stay off private property.

MALONE: This shouldn't be something, you know, you're sneaking around on the sly and doing it on the back end. I mean, this should very be ethical and honest.

RATH: And never actually go inside the dumpster. Malone says that's illegal. He just pulls up his pickup truck, stands on the tailgate and reaches inside. So the term dumpster diver is a little misleading. Malone prefers the title for-profit archaeologist.

MALONE: Archaeologists are really dumpster divers. They look at the stuff that people threw away years ago.

RATH: But instead of exploring ancient ruins, Malone ventures to big-box stores - Best Buy, Staples, Home Depot, Bed, Bath and Beyond - he finds returned items, products that he can repair, as well as discontinued items still in the box.

MALONE: If the box is still sealed and the plastic's still unopened, it's a new product.

RATH: Malone has it down to a science. Go for stores that are undergoing renovation, changing locations or better yet, closing. He says you'll find a treasure trove. Stores pitch out their demo displays, then the shelving units go, all the way up to the store's giant illuminated sign.

MALONE: Those signs are actually LEDs. So if you can see it from the road, those are pretty bright LEDs. And there's a ton of them inside those signs.

RATH: So Malone snags LED lights, too. He sells his finds on eBay, Amazon and Craigslist. According to Wired, if Malone did this full-time, he could rake in a quarter of a million dollars a year. But he says it's not about the money. He actually donates a lot of the stuff.

MALONE: Anytime a kid in the neighborhood wants a computer or a server - I mean, I've have given away more servers to kids just so that they can learn - take something that you can break and try and modify it and learn from it. We're extremely wasteful. I mean, we live in a consumable world, where we just keep consuming, keep consuming, keep consuming. But the reality is all this stuff can be reused.

RATH: Wisdom from for-profit archaeologist Matt Malone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.