Everyone these days is trying to budget and spend their hard earned money wisely. One place I found that I was able to spend a very limited amount or get items for free is at the local dump. It is a great place to accumulate items you could use in a SHTF situation. This may relate only to individuals living in suburban or city areas. There may be one in your county; it is important to find out if there is. If you have not been to your local recycle center or dump, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Take note that there might be a yearly or daily fee associated with using the dump. If at all possible, research the requirements to use the dump by calling ahead or using the local government web site. The only thing that was required at my local dump was being a resident of the city and to purchase a twenty dollar yearly pass to the recycle center. Dropping off household appliances and tires had extra fees on top of the yearly pass. The pass included free mulch and sometimes top soil.
[JWR Adds: Consult your local laws and landfill rules. Be advised that because of their well-justified fear of liability lawsuits, many municipal dumps and contracted commercial dumps now have “no scavenging” policies.]
There is a social community at the dump and you would never believe it unless you have experienced it. During my time spent as the dump supervisor for my local town, I interacted with many people that were involved with the unique subculture of the recycle center. I would like to give the readers some suggestions what might go a long way in the type of treatment and service you receive. This helps in order to be uninterrupted in gathering items or commodities that will be useful to you. Develop a first name relationship with the attendant or attendants and even patrons. People have developed strong friendships with other individuals and families they have encountered. At your dump there might be a no scavenging policy. I was the type of person to look the other way if I knew you, or you minded your own business. A small act of bringing the recycle center workers a bottle of water or a snack will bring you leniency. The main key is to be discreet and quick. If you see an item that might be useful grab it. Having a hook like tool and small tool box will be something useful to bring with you. That way you can extend your reach into dumpsters and do small disassembles for parts if necessary.
The dump is a great place to find useful items for bartering. I gathered candles, tools, books and anything I figured could be useful in a barter or economic collapse situation. I furnished my first apartment with a lot of things I found. People throw away things still brand new in the box! I once found a $500 coffee machine unopened in the original packaging. Many residents I was friendly with would put in orders with me for items they were looking for and sometimes put up rewards for finding those items. Couples and families would make a routine of showing up and making rounds just to see if they could find anything good or what had value.
Firewood is a sought after commodity by patrons that frequent the local dump. The firewood and yard waste would go into a special area. It either came from residents doing yard work or from the forestry division of the city. It was constantly searched for spring, summer and fall. Residents would brag about how much they saved on their energy bills each month by burning firewood to heat their homes. Gathering firewood for winter was very serious business for many people. I have seen individuals go to such great lengths as to bringing their own chainsaws to make lumber pieces more manageable to carry and load into their vehicles. I often saw people collaborate to help each other. The most common occurrence was residents dropping off wood and another person that wanted the wood would arrange going directly to each other’s home to help each other. In the end both parties received what they wanted while taking less trips to the dump and conserving fuel. I have seen great friendships come about by this practice.
Another thing residents really took advantage of was the recycle center provided mulch. The mulch came from the forestry department composting of trimmings and branches. I have watched families work at least eight hours making trip after trip refilling their buckets with mulch. I was told it works very well for helping growing vegetables in the garden. With your yearly pass you were able to get unlimited amounts of mulch. That is a great deal for someone trying to be frugal with their resources. Besides the two main interest grabbers being the firewood and mulch, there is a lot more things that might be useful in times of uncertainty. There was a section at the dump for dropping off a mixture of rocks, stones, dirt and bricks. A lot of people would pick up rocks and stones and take them home. I could picture someone taking home dirt, stones, and bricks home to set up a nice root cellar. Good dirt would not last long at all at the dump. It would be taken home for a variety of home garden needs. I could also see someone using a mixture of dirt, stones, rocks and bricks to set up defenses around ones property. With these items again, I have seen people communicate interest in what someone is dropping off. They will talk with each other and work out arrangements to cooperate. That is an efficient system for both parties but best for the one picking up the items. That way they don’t lose out on anything while they go home to unload to prepare for another run.
There was a special section of dumpsters to recycle lumber. It was great for getting lumber or boards to burn if there was a shortage of firewood. You would be very surprised on the amount of good boards you could find, from hardwoods such as oak or mahogany or softwoods such as pine or cedar. Even treated lumber or press board is easy to find, from 2×4 pieces of lumber to 4×4 pieces. This is a great way to practice and learn woodworking. I knew several people that would use the lumber for all sorts of projects and build different things. One’s imagination is the only limiting factor on what could be built. You might even save up lumber to board up your windows or doors during an emergency situation.
A great thing about the recycle center is the individuals and families. It is a great community to practice on your people interaction skills. This is one of the most important skills you must learn for a SHTF scenario. If you don’t know how to interact with all different sorts of individuals, bartering almost seems out of the picture in a severe economic downturn. There were plenty of times where just being friendly and asking politely I received things of value without expecting to give anything in return. I will tell you about a couple examples of my personal experiences but these are just a few instances. A gentleman and I somehow got into a discussion about gardening and he was telling me about all the different types of vegetables he planted for this harvest season. Peppers were a vegetable he mentioned. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind bringing some pepper seeds to give to me if he had any extra to spare. He happily obliged and the next trip he made to the dump I was greeted with a friendly smile and a zip lock bag full of pepper seeds. He also gave me a brief explanation of what worked best for him when growing the pepper seeds. There was also plenty of occasions where I would help someone shovel mulch, unload, or just have a pleasant conversation and ask if they wouldn’t mind bringing me something to drink next time they came around. Believe it or not I was rarely turned down. Every so often residents even went further, once I was brought muffins and other times different types of snacks. Never be afraid to ask someone a question is one thing I learned. The worst thing someone can say to you after you ask them a question is no. There is an old saying the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. The dump is a great place to meet like minded individuals within your community and practice your communication skills.
After practicing and perfecting your people skills the next thing to work on is bartering. I would often collect lawn mowers and barter them to my supervisor for cash or alcohol. I have found snow blowers and traded them to a friend for cash. A great example of bartering was when I would find coupons and barter them to a friend for scrap metal. Bartering is an everyday occurrence at the recycle center. I have seen people trade different items they have picked often. Maybe one party throws in some dollars or another item to sweeten the deal. Often sometimes it could just be items that one party wants to trade for something that will be more useful to them. There are many more examples of bartering, but you need to get down to our own recycle center and practice. I believe the dump is one of the closest things you can get to a cash limited society.
There are all different types of ways you can practice and learn skills for a survival scenario. One of the best skills to learn and practice is to fix things that are broken. You sometimes will get lucky and find things you can use that are still working and completely functional. Often a small part in something you find useful might be broken. It’s a great skill to practice to take the item home and figure out how it works. Often you can buy replacement parts or even keep your eye out at the dump for another of that same or similar item to find the working part you need. I would often tell people it has a great return policy. Meaning you can take it home hold onto it for awhile and if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted and you were unable to repair the item just bring it back to the dump and throw it back out. A huge hit at the recycle center for home repairs were lawn mowers and snow blowers. Handy people would take them home tinker around with them and repair them if possible and sell them.
Another skill worth learning is trying to make money from the items you find at the recycle center. A lot of people I knew would gather enough items of value, fix the ones not working and host a yard sale. Besides gathering items and selling them, there were a lot of people interested in gathering scrap metal. You might get lucky and someone tossed out some copper pipe, old brass faucet, or some Romex wire after doing a remodel. Some people do not know what these materials are worth or they are simply too lazy or don’t have enough to make it worth their time. Learn to identify different types of metals and what they are worth. I always carried with me a wire cutter and a magnet to identify different types of metals. A magnet does not stick to copper, brass, or aluminum and those are the three main types of scrap metals you should be interested in. Be careful, it can become an addicting and fun hobby.
Besides all the barter and survival skills you can learn there is another other skill to be learned. The skill that I think everyone should learn is how to be charitable. It’s not a hard thing to learn at the dump when you are looking around. If you see an item say you might not want or could use but you know a friend could use take it and give it to them. I knew a lot of people what would stay on the lookout for items that they could give to their church to help others. I knew a father and son what would look for lightly used mattresses for women that were less fortunate. Those are just some of the instances what I have witnessed. Being charitable is also a great way to help others and reduce what goes into the landfill. Its great seeing people find useful items that find a new purpose with someone instead of being destroyed and never used again.