My focus is household waste. I love finding bits of history and – occasionally – treasure. There’s also money to be made from business / corporate waste, but I personally don’t find it nearly as exciting. If you’re interested in that, I’d suggest tracking down a dumpster diving community. I know there’s one on reddit, but I can’t personally vouch for any single group.
Garbage collection is handled differently everywhere, so I’ll try to offer you general information instead of Montreal specific tips.
No matter where you are, step one is to figure out how trash is handled in your area, neighbourhood, or city. I’ve heard that some places have pretty draconian anti-trash picking laws (particularly in the US) so it’s good to know what you’re going into beforehand. Some neighbourhoods here have by-laws against trash picking, and if caught you could get a fine (as I did once).
Some neighbourhoods will let you put your trash out at night, while others say you can only put it out in the morning (though some people will still put their stuff out at night). Trash picking at night is more calming, but it’s harder to see what you’re picking. You’re less likely to have awkward interactions with strangers, but people are more likely to be skeeved out if they do see you (and they might call the cops). Trash picking during the day is nice because it’s easier to see the stuff you’re picking, but traffic is more annoying and you’re more likely to have interactions (good, neutral, or bad) with strangers.
—-under re-construction, old contents below—-
I look mostly for larger than average accumulations of garbage in front of a particular house or “spot.” I keep my eyes open for “for sale” signs, especially in suburban areas. By this point – I’ve been doing this off and on since 2004 and full-time since 2013 – I have a pretty good eye and also judge a pile based on the “look” of the bags. In general, a “saggy” bag means household waste, a dusty bag means renovation materials such as plaster, and a bag with sticks poking out means yard waste. Lifting the bag or giving a light kick reveals a lot about its contents.
I avoid a lot of the nastiest garbage through my screening techniques but still occasionally open bags filled with cat litter, rotting food, and diapers. I also see the occasional needle, a good reason to avoid digging into the unknown as much as possible. You need a strong stomach in this profession! I untie the bags as much as possible. Sometimes the knot will be too tight and I’ll rip the bag near the top and re-tie it when I’m done. The main goal here is not to make a mess, it’s not good for business and it’s not a nice thing to do in general.
I make my money selling online, mostly with Ebay but also with Etsy and Craigslist. I generally base my prices on current and completed listings and adjust up or down depending on my instincts. It’s hard to pin down a value for some items – in those cases I might start an auction at what I would consider a “very high” price in order to gauge interest. In general I use fixed-price “buy it now” listing but will use auctions when I think a bidding war could ensue. I make a lot of money from yard sales and bazaars as well, though these can be hard to organize in my current neighbourhood.
That’s the most of it! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.