How We Found $250 in the Garbage

Not too many years ago, I stood on the curb by the grocery store as my friend and mentor-in-frugality, Sue, rummaged through the newspaper recycling bin for coupons. I remember thinking, “God, I hope no one recognizes us!” That was early in my training and I’ve come a long way since. Now, my neighbors see me in the garbage area of our apartment building more often than they see the actual garbage collectors and I don’t care. I’m so proud of our accomplishments as dumpster divers that yesterday I outed myself on Facebook.

We live in an area of Florida that is filled with wealthy older people. Sadly, wealthy older people don’t always care about being wasteful. On any given day, we can walk by the dumpster area and find a dozen things that could have and should have been given to a thrift store like Goodwill, ARC, or the Salvation Army. We even have one such thrift store less than 1,000 yards from the dumpster! After a few times of saying “how thoughtless”, we decided to do something about the problem. This weekend, we made our 10th trip to Goodwill to donate the useable items that we had collected from our apartment’s garbage. We haven’t been able to save everything – it is unreal the number of people who toss good clothes, shoes, purses, and blankets into the deep recesses of an empty dumpster – but it feels good to know that we made a bit of a dent.

Re-recycling, as I like to call it, also gives us an excuse to rummage for Coke Rewards points. Hunting for points has been fun; almost like an urban scavenger hunt. We’ve checked the recycling bins in parks, airports, rest areas, and roadsides from Miami to Baltimore. We even looked for points when we were in Cancun but Mexican Coke caps are different.

During December this year, Coke held a promotion called the 12 Days of Christmas, where select rewards were offered at 50% of their original point value. We had saved all 3,017 of our points in anticipation of just such an event. Over the weekend we cashed out (and cashed in!) We were able to get:

2 AMC Silver Experience Passes – each with 2 movie tickets, 2 large Cokes, and a large popcorn

1 AMC Silver Pass with just 2 movie tickets and 2 large Cokes

1 $10 Domino’s Pizza gift card

Add this to the rewards we already cashed out earlier in the year, which included another full AMC Silver Experience Pass, a 10 cent discount per gallon on a tank of gas, and a coupon for $20/each off on up to 4 Southwest tickets, and we essentially found $243.50 in the garbage this year.

I’m not sure if the folks at Coke care about our re-recycling project or the fact that we donate the used caps to reCAPture to make park benches, but since we’ll be in the dumpster anyway, I sincerely hope they continue the MyCokeRewards program next year.

If dumpster diving is just not your thing, there’s still a way that you can help make our landfills a little less full. When you’re tempted to toss your unwanted items in the garbage, take the extra few seconds to put them in your car. With so many donation boxes and thrift stores scattered about, you’re sure to come across one on your next trip to the grocery store. The few moments of thoughtfulness that you spare will help preserve our environment, provide clothes and household goods to those in need, and give jobs to the workers who process, re-purpose, and sell these items.

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