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February 10, 2012

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United States – 10 Feb 2012 –

For hundreds jobless in Sacramento, dumpster diving is their livelihood.

Cans, bottles and cardboard isn’t trash; it’s a paycheck.

“I see CRV Tax, I see a penny on the ground, I see 3 cents on the ground, I see money,” said dumpster diver Stephon Lee.

It’s a job that’s taken very seriously.

Donnie (who refused to give his last name) is a veteran dumpster diver and isn’t shy. In fact, he’s recognized as one of the most successful scavengers in Sacramento. He celebrates this like a job promotion and offers up dumpster diving tips to YouTube.

To see Donnie’s “Millennium Cart” video, click here.

So, I decided to see how much money I could make if I dedicated a typical 8-hour work day to scavenging for cans.

I started in my neighborhood it was trash day, so I knew the cans would be full. The job wasn’t easy.

Each trash can held a different disgusting surprise, but there was also money to be found. Some bottles were easy to grab because they were lying on top of the trash, but others took a little bit of digging to find.

By the time I was done, I had collected full bags of recycling – and a few strange looks.

Unlike me, scavengers like Donnie have a bit more motivation. For him this business means the difference between sleeping inside our outside, being full or hungry.

“Top ramen is about as cheap as you can go. You used to get nine for a dollar,” said Donnie. “Now, the economy is so screwed up, you only get six for a buck. Yeah, even top ramen is becoming a rich man’s meal.”

The harder Donnie works, the more money he makes. So he hits the dumpsters early, following the same route each day, wasting no time. He jumps from one dumpster to the next and protects his territory from competitors.

“If I catch someone following me or something, I will turn around and let them know,” said Donnie, likening it to claim jumping. Donnie says he makes between $50 and $80 a day, on average.

David Kuhnen, with Recycling Industries, says in the past year he has seen more people survive job loss, pay cuts and tough times by recycling. The biggest money-maker is cardboard, netting $90 a ton.

“We do hundreds of people through this facility on a daily basis,” said Kuhnen.

When divers like Donnie take their recycling to a recycling center, employees will separate aluminum, glass and plastic because each pays differently.

So, what did I earn after eight hours of pulling cans and bottles out of the trash?

Five bucks.

If Donnie were my boss, he would tell me “not bad” for my first day of scavenging. But I had better improve if I was going to survive in this line of work because for them, this isn’t spare cash; it’s their life.

“You could most definitely say I am very passionate,” said Donnie. “You have got to love the plastic and the cans and the glass. It’s really all I know how to do.”

“There really is nothing else.”

Before you decide to give dumpster diving a try, you should know that it’s a misdemeanor. So, how did we get away with it? A loophole.

– You can not dig through cans that are already on the curb. Once they’re there, those cans are considered property of the city.

– You can not dig through cans against homes or businesses, because they’re on private property.

– However, if you have permission from the property owners, it is legal.

All of the cans we went through were either from FOX40 employees who allowed us to collect or places who knew we were there and gave us permission. FOX40 also contacted police ahead of time. Read original article and watch video