I’m a big-time scavenger. Often I’ll see certain trash and think “I can do something with that!”. This is a pretty common mentality of hoarders, so I have to temper it with a few rules. First, I have to have an example off the top of my head on how it will be useful, and second if I scavenge something I try to take only a few of the same thing unless I have a specific project in mind already.

For example: At work we have what are called “Bunny Suits”. These are light, cloth suits made out of that stuff that’s used to make those reusable grocery sacks from. At work you have to put one of these on if you’re going into a sterile area and you don’t have any scrubbs. After you leave the sterile field you throw the suit away. Now, these suits are made from a yard or two of perfectly good fabric. There is also a zipper and a few pieces of elastic. It’s a huge waste to throw them away; especially if they didn’t get dirty (and usually they don’t if I’m just working on a computer). They make great splash suits for painting, or you can rip the seams apart and use the cloth. I’ve collected about a dozen of these with various projects in mind for them. I’ve had to stop collecting them as I still haven’t actually used any of them. But, I have projects in mind so I don’t feel bad in them taking up space. I’ve actually got one project I’m working on right now which will utilize one or two of these suits at the very end, so by the end of the month I’ll have finally used a few.

Now a lot of people salvage/scavenge out of a desire to be green. They recycle, reuse, or “upcycle” (I hate that term) things in order to be kinder to the environment. For me that’s just a bonus. The real reason I scavenge/recycle is because it’s either cheap, or better yet, free. If I can make something that works really well, I don’t often care how ugly it is; especially if it’s something that I’m going to be using outside or in my shop where it will get all munged up anyway. Free is the best price for something like this.

Anyway, in my scavenging I’ve found some great places to get various bits in order to work on kludge projects. But the holy grail of scavenging is the Construction Dumpster:

Oh Baby!

These things can have just about anything in them, and better yet if you find out who’s filling it they often don’t care if you dig through it for stuff. Often these construction dumpsters require the company using them to pay a fee based on how much junk is being hauled away, so many of them are more than happy to have you dig through it and haul some away for free.  Both sides win, so everyone is happy (well maybe not the disposal service, but they don’t have to know).

This isn’t always the case, though, some companies can actually recover disposal costs by recycling some of the more salvagable items. These bins are put through a sorting center where the recoverable materials are credited back to the company, so it’s always best to ask a manager before digging through their bins in case you’re actually costing them more money by taking their salvable goods.

But, provided you have the go-ahead to dive them, these bins can have a wonderland of useful stuff in them that would otherwise be going to a landfill. Short pieces of new PVC pipe, electrical conduit, wood, wire, bricks, plastic buckets, etc. The kludger’s gold mine. With some inventiveness and a few decent bins to dive into, you can build quite a few things for almost nothing.

There are three really good places to find these bins, and you’ll have various results from each of these:

1) New construction. These are the best bins, but hardest to get to. Everything in a new-construction bin will be good, new stuff; generally the bits and pieces left over that they can’t use.  Don’t let that fool you though, sometimes the piece left over can be huge; such as a 5′ section of PVC pipe or a 3×6 foot piece of plywood. However, these dumpsters are often behind construction fences in a hard-hat zone. These bins are also the most likely to be handled through a salvaging company and therefore be off-limits to you. The only real way to go about getting access to one of these bins is to find the site manager of the construction and get buddy-buddy with him/her. They’re busy people, so this is easier said than done.  But if you do get to be friends with a construction manager, you’ll have all the construction refuse you could possibly hope for.  Heck, if you get to be really good friends you might even be able to have him set aside the really good stuff for you, such as long lengths of conduit or big pieces of wood.  Just don’t press your luck too quickly.

2) Demolition. These are ok bins, but depending on the demolition, the quality can be all over the map. If it’s demolition of a very old building then it probably won’t be worth going through it. Most of the stuff you’ll find will be damaged, rotten, or otherwise unusable.  Pipeing will be rusty and full of gunk; conduit will be bent and mangled, and wood will be crushed and rotten. Further, some demolition companies work on salvaging contracts, so all the stuff they’re pulling out of the demolition is going to be sorted and sold anyway. Once again, getting your hands on a manager and asking him is the best way to find out what the deal it.

3) Large companies and large hospitals. Most big companies and hospitals that have been in the same building/campas for a few decades are constantly doing renovations and repairs to their fascilities. This means they will have a permanent construction dumpster parked somewhere, usually near the loading dock. These are rarely salvaging bins, and access to the junk is pretty wide open. Managers are generally more than happy to let you dig through the stuff, which is everything from mangled demolition to random odds and ends from facility repairs. You can find almost anything in these bins, and the contents change on a weekly or even daily basis. If you get friendly with the management of the dock you’ll have free reign to scavenge to your heart’s content. By far these are my favorite because they are easy to get access to, and have such a wide variety of stuff.

Other great resources for scavenging are:
•Your local Freecycle
•Your local cabnetry makers (often enough they’ll have a free wood bin, or just a dumpster with lots of wood pieces in it)
•Second hand stores
•Scrap and junk yards (Industrial junk yards are awesome)
•Yard/garage/rummage sales
•The local dump collection center. Seriously. Just walk around and look at the stuff people are throwing away. Often you can just walk up to somebody and ask for their garbage, they don’t want it anyway so what do they care who gets it? And some dumps are structured so that it’s pretty easy to snag a nice piece of junk.
•The curb. A lot of interesting stuff gets dumped on the curb for disposal. Wood furniture specifically can be easily rebuilt into something useful.
•College campuses during move-out. Lots of stuff to be had.
•Big Appartment complexes. You can find lots of stuff sitting by the dumpsters; usually furniture.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?