Most of us should know where our dumpsters are. Some of us would remember the time we spotted something that look quite interesting. Upon a closer look, you realize that the condition of the thing is really good.
But you debate whether you should take it or not.
That is your dumpster brain speaking to you. If you hear voices like this, you are a mixture of frugal, cheapskate, and environmentally friendly.
What could you find in Singapore’s backyard dumpsters?
I used to think that people throw away useless things only. Turns out that people throw away things for all sorts of reasons.
Rather than tell you what can be found, I will share with you Colin’s early experiences finding treasures in Singapore’s backyard. Colin has been dumpster diving for the past 7-8 years. Sometimes, he wants to explain to his friends why he dumpster dives, what can he find and what he feels like doing it.
So he chronicles his self-confessed cheapskate experience in Extreme Cheapskate Singapore.
By the end of this article, you may have a better idea of the treasures in some of our dumpsters.
This is written from Colin’s point of view.
Why I got Interested in Dumpster Diving
Several years ago, I quit my full-time job as a piano teacher. To make my savings last longer, I started to watch YouTube videos on saving money.
I chanced upon the American reality series called Extreme Cheapskates. They have different experts showing us how to save in many extreme ways. The show is really entertaining. And of course, I did learn a few valuable tricks and life skills from them.
I noticed that all the experts kept saying that dumpster diving was still the best way to save money. Basically, this means that you look in the trash to find useful and expensive items.
Later, I watched videos of top American dumpster divers in action. They would drive from dumpster to dumpster non-stop and fill their vans or trucks with mountain loads of good stuff.
Some even calculate the total amount of money that they save by rescuing these TRASH-URES. Then they will brag and boast about it. You can see their excitement in their “trash” talking.
After watching one full month of “instructional” videos, I finally decided to try it out for myself. So below are my top 12 stories from the last few years of dumpster diving.
My First Night
On my first night, I was very nervous naturally. I brought a supermarket trolley along. Within only a few minutes, I saw about 12 giant transparent bags of ladies clothes, bags and shoes. They were the sexy type of apparels for young women.
I went closer to have a better look and the condition was very good. Suddenly, I noticed someone behind me and she dropped another big bag on the floor. The noise gave me a shock.
I got the courage to ask her whether she was shifting house or not. She said no. If she were shifting, she wouldn’t throw away so many good stuff. She was renovating her floor and that’s why everything had to go. She wasn’t going to have a floor to put anything on the very next day.
Then she begged me to take everything.
She said that everything was mostly branded. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The stuff I found in the trash on my very first day was better than anything any of my YouTube dumpster heroes had ever found!! I was really in the surreal twilight zone.
Certainly, I would wish to help but these were sexy supermodel clothing for Miss Universe contestants. I was a guy and I didn’t know what to do with them. In other words, I wasn’t prepared to “cross-dress” as a supermodel just to save these clothes, bags and shoes from ending up in the incinerator.
Besides, I didn’t know how to “drag” everything back either because my trolley was too small. I had such a big haul on my first day and I wasn’t logistically prepared. So I just said sorry and went away.
I’m sure your question now is “Did you ever find anything that huge again? ” The answer is no. I guess it’s true when they say “beginners’ luck”. It applies both to casinos as well as dumpsters. Hahaha. Such a shame because right now I know how to ship cargo overseas.
Diving and Doing Good at the Same Time
On my second night, I found a genuine leather black Prada bag. It was so beautiful and the workmanship was exquisite. Then I realised that the pocket inside had a tear. Of course, nobody would notice it because it was inside. The exterior leather looked immaculate.
I was so happy that I couldn’t believe it. I’m an extreme cheapskate and I would never spend money on a bag like that. Basically, I got a free upgrade from PRATA to PRADA.
Later that night, I found 2 big Ikea bags of new H&M and Forever 21 clothes next to the dustbin. I think there were roughly 60 outfits. They all looked really nice and trendy.
Then I thought to myself. What should I do with this? Once again, I am a man but to be very honest, I’m actually slim enough to fit into those dresses while most women wouldn’t. Haha.
Suddenly, a wild and random thought came into my mind. I should bring this home and ask my tenant to bring to his workplace the next day to ask the girls there whether they believed that all these came from the trash or not.
Nobody believed it for sure, so I told my tenant to throw everything away in front of them to prove that it was real. Just then, someone said, “Can you give everything to me? My Filipino maid can ship these very cheaply to her village back home in northern Philippines.”
Of course I said yes to that because ultimately anything is better than throwing good stuff away, right?
Afterwards, the maid would come to my place and take every small item I found in the dustbin. I asked her why she only took small stuff and her answer was that shipping cargo companies charged by volume but aeroplanes charged by weight.
In other words, big items are expensive for ships whereas heavy items are expensive for airlines. I bet most of you didn’t know that and of course I didn’t either.
Most of you know that this initiative that I started with this maid turned into a gigantic project now with thousands of people in Singapore giving hundreds of Filipino maids in Singapore millions of small used items.
Our website for that is
But please only check it out after you read this article. I still got 10 stories more to go, right? .
My Friend Dickson’s Little Problem
When I got more popular for dumpster diving, some friends wanted me to teach them how to do it also. So I agreed but only for one participant at a time.
Dumpster diving can be dangerous if you are new and inexperienced. Most newbies want to just grab every bag they see but that’s not a good idea.
Sometimes there are broken glass or nails sticking out of wooden planks. If you see those, you should just abandon that dumpster and move on to the next one.
Your estate has hundreds of dumpsters and the whole of Singapore has tens of thousands. It’s an inexhaustible resource just like sea water or fallen tree leaves. Basically, your apartment wouldn’t be able to store everything anyway.
But of course, that wouldn’t stop the hoarders. Oh my God! These hoarders keep every good item they find. They keep saying, “This costs money, that costs money, …..” So before you know it, their homes are filled with stuff to the ceiling and they can hardly walk in their own homes.
Even though I dumpster dive many times more than the hoarders, my room is very empty. You know why? Because the Filipino maids take everything and ship them as quickly as possible. My room looks like something from the cover page of a minimalist magazine.
Let me now relate to you the curious story of my friend Dickson. He quit his career young and now dumpster dives for fresh food from stores and merchandise from residential dumpsters.
His entire house, except his bedroom, is filled with good stuff to the ceiling. The wife threatened to divorce him unless he cleared the mountain.
Some men obviously find women hard to understand. You don’t give them anything, they get angry with you. You give them some things, they are happy with you.
When you give them even more things, they are even happier, but when you give them too many things, they want to divorce you!!
Men are generally different. More things = better. When the house explodes = best. So women follow the bell curve. Men follow y = 100x straight line upwards.
Anyway, back to the story. Dickson panicked and asked me for help. I sent a team of maids to his place to clear out everything. I even offered to pay for the van cost. It took a few van loads to clear everything. It was such a satisfying moment when everyone benefited from this pick up.
An interesting story that I can’t forget about Dickson was that he found a live stingray in the trash one night. Someone probably broke the glass aquarium by accident. Instead of transferring the stingray to a pail, he decided to throw everything away.
Of course, Dickson didn’t know what to do. But he seriously wanted to help. Then he brought it home and put it in a pail. He asked me for help and I posted the information and the photo on social media.
One condo manager contacted us to put it in the condo’s huge fish pond. I thought that it was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, Dickson rejected it. He explained that stingrays were bottom feeders.
If you don’t know what he is saying, it means that when they feed the fishes, the food will be eaten up before any can even reach the bottom for the poor guy to eat. In other words, nice guys always finish last. There wasn’t any “ray” of hope. Life is tough, at times it even “stings”.
Later, someone texted us and said that he just bought a new tank and was about to go to a fish shop to buy a stingray. Dickson was satisfied with the guy’s sincerity and he came that same day to pick the ray up.
When the Police Decide to Take a Look
I brought someone for dumpster diving training one night. Actually, he didn’t really need much training since he was already digging in the trash since young. His father taught him how to do so.
However, he is only what we call a CASUAL dumpster diver. This means that he just picks up stuff which he stumbles upon on the way to somewhere else.
Actually, you can already become a hoarder by doing that since there is so much stuff to find on a daily basis.
On the other extreme, I’m known as a COMMANDO dumpster diver. I try to get as much as possible because I have a huge quota to meet. Some people dumpster dive a lot to sell because it’s their source of income. But I dive a lot to fill up shipping containers to benefit poor people in the Philippines.
Anyway, we were enjoying ourselves going through the trash and a police car stopped in front of us. We were shocked because the trash area was quite dark and suddenly it became very bright from the vehicle light.
The police approached us and asked us what we were doing. I was a bit afraid but my friend just continued to dig the trash and ignored the police totally.
I explained that we were digging for the good stuff in the trash to ship to poor people in the Philippines with the help of our Catholic church members. The police were stunned. Then I showed them a new Coach bag which I found and a pile of clothes and toys.
The police couldn’t believe that anyone would do this. I just told them that God had been generous to me and in turn, I should be helpful to the less fortunate. They praised me for my initiative and left.
They also told me that it was their job to check on people digging the dustbin to verify if they were hardship cases. Basically, they just wanted to check that I wasn’t eating from the trash due to hunger.
And as you would expect, my friend wasn’t even paying attention to what I was saying to the police at all.
Some Treasures will Fill Your Stomach
Once I was dumpster diving during the daytime, which was rare for me. Then someone tapped me from behind on the shoulder. I got a fright!!
It was a Grab delivery man. He handed me a big bag of food to me. He said that he went to deliver some food but the person was not at home. Then he said that I looked pitiful digging the trash, so he wanted to reward me with a good meal for the many nights when I went to bed hungry.
Then I explained to him that I was actually digging the trash to ship to poor people overseas, but of course, he didn’t bother to listen to me. He just quickly sped off in his motorcycle like a speed demon or a bat out of hell.
My tenant and I opened up the bag and there were many boxes of steak inside. The bill was around $70. The food was still hot and fresh. What a treat! I think that the Grab delivery man most certainly felt the pain of throwing such good and expensive food away.
Once, I also found some nice gourmet food in a bag on the park bench. It was around $60 from crystal jade restaurant. Nothing was touched. The food was still hot.
Another night, I found a big box of stir-fried king prawns, still hot too. The strangest one was when I found an entire birthday cake in a box on the metal table under my block exactly on my birthday.
But one night, I didn’t have the same luck with food. My tenant and I were dumpster diving for fun. Then we saw two medium boxes near a bin. I kicked it to see if there was anything inside, which was the usual procedure most dumpster divers did.
It was really heavy so we got excited and tore the boxes open. The boxes were very tightly sealed with scotch tape. We found lots of ground black pepper inside. Instantly we thought of shipping everything to the Philippines so that poor people there could use it to spice up their cooking.
So each of us carried one box back home. Then suddenly a car drove into the car park and stopped right in front of us. Then a man came out of the car and took the boxes from us and left quickly.
Then my friend said, “Oh, the guy forgot. That’s why he came back.” I said that most likely, he robbed the bank and put ground pepper on top of the money to conceal it and forgot about the boxes. Anyway, we will never know.
Whatever life goes on.
The Expensive Treasures Every Found
When I first started digging in the dustbin, generally people had 2 types of reaction towards me.
First is, “What you are doing for the poor is admirable but I wouldn’t do it because it’s smelly and disgusting. But I can help you by donating my unwanted items to your charity.”
Second is, “If you ever find any branded items, you call me and pass to me. Don’t give the maids. Give them only the lower end items that I don’t want.”
Ok, I kept this a secret for a really long time. But these are the following expensive items that I have found.
Within the first few days of dumpster diving, I found a Seiko watch and a Rolex watch. I didn’t know if the Rolex was real or not. So I went to YouTube to research. They said to look out for 10 unique features.
Number one – yes
Number two – yes
Number three – yes
My heart started pumping faster and faster just like a contestant in a game show. When it reached number ten, they mentioned the direction of the seconds hand. It was wrong!! I suppose 9 out of 10 ain’t bad. The watch was beautiful and the time was correct.
The second Rolex that I found was even more gorgeous than the first. I’m not a watch person, so I didn’t keep any.
One night, I saw a bag of office stuff and inside were some watches. Seiko, Fossil, French connection etc. Then I saw one extremely dusty watch. I wanted to throw it away at first but something told me to keep it.
I took some wet wipes to clean it the following day. The watch was the most beautiful of all. It was just sheer elegance but I never heard of the brand before.
It was IWC Schaffhausen. I was wondering why a nice watch would want to call itself WC. When I posted on my Facebook, one friend told me to keep it. She said that she worked in duty free before and this watch was very expensive. I googled it and saw that it was more than $10,000 if it was authentic.
However, it was not working and the face was too big for my wrist. I have a small wrist which is best suited for the teenager’s $20 Casio water proof watch.
So I went to the watch shop nearby. I told the man that I wanted a new battery. So he fixed it.
Unfortunately, it still didn’t work. So he opened it and checked. He said that something was broken and it would cost $180 to fix it.
I asked him if it was real. He looked at me blankly for a few seconds and said, “Of course it’s real. You mean you bought it and you don’t know that it’s real?”
Then I screamed so loudly that I think the watch uncle’s spectacles almost broke. Luckily, there was no one else in the shop, otherwise, some parts of their bodies would crack also.
I also had a similar case with a Breitling watch. I found it together in a big pile of trash together with 3 Seiko watches and a few Louis Vuitton wallets.
The strap was worn out but my neighbour loved it. So she brought it to the store to get a replacement. Everyone at the store kept staring at it. They asked my neighbour how much she bought it. She said, “I don’t know. My neighbour gave it to me.”
Then they laughed and said, “Wah, your neighbour is very rich and likes you a lot. This watch is around $20,000.” I think my neighbour nearly broke her high heels and fell on the floor. Hahaha. Hilarious.
How Much Money Does Singaporeans Throw Away?
You know that some friends can be very irritating. They keep asking me if I ever found money in the trash. If you mean a few coins, then of course. If you mean a few dollars, then of course. But if you mean a few hundred dollars, then of course also. Haha.
Once, I saw a small bag. When I opened it, there was $640 inside. It was thrown together with lots of other bags. I think most likely someone died.
I prayed to Jesus for guidance and I decided to give it all to my Filipino maids to pay for their boxes to ship our “trash-ures” back to their home villages.
People always say pray for a miracle to drop from above. I don’t know why people say such things. In my case, I pray for a miracle from below, as in deep deep below the trash can. Hahaha
A friend of mine found a $1,000 note in between old newspapers in the trash. He says that old people like to do this. Then I remembered that my grandmother said that old people like to keep money in Milo tins.
Hmmm, so if you ever see Milo tins in the trash and they look really old….. hmmmm…. you thinking what I’m thinking?
Once, I found a bag of 43 one dollar coins. I used it and paid for my electricity bill at the post office. And once I saw a pile of Chinese New Year red packets. I just took the top one and there was $10 inside. I was feeling the luck and so I went through the entire pile. Unfortunately, the rest had nothing inside. Well, it’s the law of first-time lucky again.
I also found something which looked valuable but I didn’t know what the market value was. They were British King George stamps with the envelopes intact. It’s not Queen Elizabeth’s father. It’s her grandfather, the one with the beard. I found quite a lot of his stamps also. I love the design, so regal and majestic.
I also found a big King Edward coin. He was Queen Elizabeth’s great grandfather. I instructed my friend to sell it online and we prayed that we could get enough to eat a McDonald’s Big Mac meal each. Then almost instantly, someone transferred $80 to us. We were so glad. We could now eat the Big Mac meal, upsized with additional ice cream sundaes.
But deep in my heart, I was thinking that maybe the guy resold it to Sotheby auction or the British museum. I quickly told myself, “Please snap out of this, just enjoy the burger.”
And if any of you know the true worth of that coin and want to comment below. My suggestion to you is PLEASE DON’T. I would rather not know. All I know is, big Mac is more tasty than old king Edward coin.
If one day in the distant future, I see the British prime minister present my coin to the future King Charles during his coronation as a royal gift, I will quickly switch off the tv and go to the shower and cry.
For the Gadget Freaks
I find lots of nice electronics also. I found a very new big screen tv at the trash of a famous electronics store. Then I realised the plastic stand was cracked.
Unfortunately, it was too heavy for me to bring back plus it was way after midnight and I couldn’t get anyone to help me either. Such a shame!
Once I found 2 big tv sets near my place and I contacted my friend. Then his father came to collect from me with a car.
A few nights later, I carried a bag from the trash. Once again, the weight of the bag should indicate whether there is good stuff inside or not.
I could see only 2 half eaten styrofoam packets of rice but it was very heavy. Naturally, I had to investigate. There was a nice and sleek laptop inside that had the label MacBook Pro.
I’m a PC Microsoft windows user. During my university days in the mid 90s, almost everyone would opt for the PC instead of the Apple. Everyone said that Apple was difficult to use, so the section would be very empty.
So, I never got myself to learn to use any Apple products. I just avoided them totally. It was too different for me.
I didn’t know what to do with the laptop, so my tenant and I agreed that if nobody came to our place to pick it up, we would use it as a kitchen chopping board. The smooth metal surface was so lovely and shiny. It would surely enhance our food preparation experience.
So around 3am, I posted it on social media. I don’t recall my exact words but my advertisement was something like this.
I found a MacBook Pro laptop in the trash tonight. I don’t know if it’s working because I don’t know how to use it. I’m a windows user. If nobody wants this, I will use as a chopping board mainly for roast pork and “char siew”. Time to replace the old chopping board.
Then after I pressed enter, 30 people responded to reserve it. Some wanted to come to my place instantly. But I saw my friend on the list. I texted him to say that I would rather give it to him instead since I didn’t know who the rest were.
He said that he had no money for a taxi to my place and back with midnight charges. I told him that it was ok. I would hide the laptop in my dog’s pram. He came early in the morning to take it although he lived very far away.
He went home to test it and he said that the screen was damaged. I suggested to him to HDMI connect to the big tv that I gave him a few days earlier. Guess what, it worked perfectly.
I asked him whether he was ok with it since the electrical cost would be higher. He said that his father didn’t mind. They were just glad to have a big screen computer to use for the total cost of “free”! I was very glad also. Can you imagine both the tv and the laptop going into the land fill as a working set?
There’s another interesting tech story also and I’m going to get so much criticism for this one. I’m already prepared.
One night, I saw a very big black machine in the trash. It was so heavy that I could hardly move it. I didn’t know what it was. I saw the word COOLER MASTER. So I thought it was a fan but it didn’t look like a fan. Then I thought it was a fridge but it wasn’t either.
So I thought to myself, why is there the word COOLER? Is this the new type of Ice Kachang machine? Or seven eleven slurpee?
Then I went home to tell my friends. Their eyeballs nearly dropped. They said that it was a high end game machine. Their instruction was “Go back and get it!!”. But I said that I didn’t know if it was working or not. They said never mind. We could test out first and ask the service man to come if needed.
I replied, “Is asking the service man to come worth it?” Their reply was, “You know how expensive this is?!! Quickly go!”
So, I returned back despite being super tired. But when I reached there, it was gone. My friends nearly died from heart pain but I was totally fine because I was not a gamer. A few days later, I found a working PS3 and yes, this time I took it and passed it to my friend. Hahaha.
The Oil Painting
I am a very rural kampong type of person. All these high tech gadgets don’t excite me. Of course I do have a desktop, a laptop, 2 tablets and 4 mobile phones. Hahaha. But I don’t go crazy when I find gadgets in the trash, not like my geeky friends. Face Palm.
I tell you what I go crazy about. I love the high end big soup pots from the German brand WMF. I find many of them in the trash. I kept one for myself to cook soups and another one for my tenant to steam heat his food in a metal tingkat. The rest I pass to the maids to ship to Philippines.
I find soup pots very useful. I find lots of unopened packet food and recently expired canned foods. Sometimes I find nice vegetables thrown behind stores. I cook them together to make a soup in the Filipino “pagpag” style. Basically, the poor in the Philippines go and collect fresh food thrown in high end restaurants. They wash it and cook in hot boiling soup.
I really find tonnes and tonnes of kitchenware but I just keep a few. The rest are shipped abroad. Once I found hundreds of ceramic plates with dragons and phoenix designs. So lovely and imperial. They look like the type you find in a shipwrecked Chinese junk ship.
The maids love these, so I give everything to them.
Speaking of high end imperial items, I also find a lot of elm, rose wood, and teak furniture. My neighbour likes them, so I pass to her. She puts them in her Malaysian house. Some of the furniture looks like they have been stolen from the Peking Forbidden City in China. But my policy is monkey don’t see, monkey don’t hear and monkey don’t need to know any further details. Monkey just shamelessly take.
Once I saw a real oil painting of goldfishes with Chinese calligraphy. It was very big. I think it was about 5 metres long. It was of better quality than whatever I’ve ever seen in Chinese museums.
I just stared at it for a few minutes and walked off. There was nothing I could do. I only had a supermarket trolley basket that old ladies use.
Then I told my best friend about it. He is some filthy rich person who lives in the penthouse of some luxury condo complex with a private lift. You know that type. You “love” to hate type.
He scolded me. He told me to go back and get it and he would send his workers to pick up another day.
Are you kidding me? It’s not a regular painting. Where am I suppose to put it? I live in a small apartment and my dog would certainly want to add some additional “artistic embellishment” onto it. Then I said ok, I will try my best.
Guess what? Once again, it was gone!! That’s why in the world of dumpster diving, the number one rule is Take First Regret Later. I think my friend is still cursing and swearing at me till this day. In my dreams, I can still hear him saying, “You know how much that costs or not?!” Aiyoh.
Speaking of paintings, I saw one that looked like the Mona Lisa. It was an oil painting with brush strokes just like Leonardo Da Vinci’s. From a very close inspection, it was very refined. People walking at the void deck were staring at it. Yes, I know what you are thinking, yet another Vatican museum art heist. Hahaha.
I saw a few awesome Chinese wood carved thrones also. There was one European one also, just like the type used by Queen Elisabeth. The chinese one was too heavy and the European one was too far away. So I didn’t bring either of them home. I call these the “thrown thrones”. Seriously, someone should make a tongue twister out of this.
Barter Trading Perfume with Fortune Telling
One night I found many sealed boxes stacked on top of each other in the trash. I kicked them and they were heavy. I opened them up and they were all hair colouring dyes. There were some very fragrant shampoos also. The hairdresser shop closed down, that’s why.
I grabbed everything I could put in my trolley and went home. The weight was too much for the trolley to bear and the wheels came off. There were a few hundred boxes. Some had colours not found in nature. You know those cosplay type of colours?
The maids came to my place the next day and I asked them what to do. They said that they could bring everything to Lucky plaza mall and give them to a hairdresser there who was their friend.
I said ok of course since I had no intention of dyeing my hair metallic purple. The hairdresser gave my maids some free hair treatment and she gave me $50 for good luck. Yeah!!
I had another stroke of good luck also. I read the news that the most expensive government housing was located next to my block. There are some government landed properties nearby. That very night I found a lot of good stuff near that house. There was a brand new high end sennheiser head phones. It was still in the packaging.
This was of course not the most expensive item I found but it was definitely the most useful one for me. I use it everyday when I listen to music. The sound is impeccable. On separate days, I found other sennheisers also plus audio technica, Sony, etc. As you would expect, I found guitars and amplifiers also. I even found the car speakers in full set.
Once I found a few hundred brand new bottles of Bel-air fragrance diffuser. I didn’t really know what they were but my friend wanted them. So I passed them over to her. She was so happy. She said that they were very expensive. I asked her to buy me dinner. She said no problem. The loot was worth thousands. Hahaha.
After dinner, she said that the meal was too cheap for me, so she would do for me a fortune telling session for free also. She was a professional fortune teller.
I said ok. Sure. But deep inside me, I actually wanted her to buy me a burger and some fries instead.
Her readings were :
a) I’m going to die very rich
b) I will have a car accident in my lifetime
Goodness, after hearing that, I didn’t know how to “un-hear” it. Damn it, next time I will remember to ask for burgers instead. No more physic readings.
Oh, she did a tarot card reading for me also. The first card I chose was the wolf howling. Yes, definitely better than choosing death. I tried again and it was still the same card. The third time also.
There was only one wolf in the entire thick deck of cards. I think in a casino setting, I would have won the mega jackpot already. You know the one with the loud siren and lots of coins falling on the floor?
But you know what she said? She said, “Your dog at home misses you, so you better take a taxi and go back now.”
Speaking of supernatural things, I remembered once during the hungry ghost month, I went out to take all the fruits back home after the prayers were over. Then I took a photo and posted it on social media.
I woke up the next day and I saw my photo on the Google news feed. I thought I was dreaming. Maybe I was still sleepy. Then I looked carefully. A Chinese newspaper wrote an article about me and other freegans who rescued fruits from prayer offerings.
Some netizens say we should not do it because after the spirits have “consumed” the fruits, the fruits will become tasteless. Others say that in the past, people usually ate the food offerings and shared them around. Nowadays, people just cannot be bothered and leave everything on the ground for the cleaners to clear the following day.
Back at home, we were drinking orange juice everyday until we got scared. Fortunately some maids took some fruits and we almost managed to eat all. So the bottom line is SAY NO TO FOOD WASTE.
Another silly thing happened during ghost month also. As you know, many people will put their preloved items properly next to the letter boxes because they want someone to take them. They want to display everything prominently so that someone like me will rescue them and put them to good use.
But this particular person went overboard. He wanted to give away good quality blankets and bedsheets but instead of putting them on the floor, he hung them on the tree. Then they were blowing everywhere in a paranormal way. Anyway, I pulled all of them down and shipped them to Philippines.
This section is dedicated to embarrassing dumpster diving adventures or rather, misadventures.
One night, one Bangladeshi cleaner told me to follow him to the bin centre. He found a tv and he wanted to sell it to me cheaply. Tv sets are useful in Philippines villages.
Then he gave me some bags which he found also. I looked through them and suddenly I saw one which was so lovely. The leather was the best I have ever seen. I’ve seen the Prada, Gucci and Louis vuitton ones but this one felt more luxurious.
At first, I couldn’t find the brand name. Then I found it finally. It was engraved on a metal piece. It wrote HERMES. Then I involuntarily screamed out. All the Bangladeshi cleaners there looked at me. They asked me what had happened? I didn’t know what to say.
Later I said, “Cockroach”. Everybody went back to do their work soon after. Phew. I actually found 2 Hermes bags that night. Wahaha.
On another night, I went to the back of a block to investigate the dustbin. Then I saw a man in the darkness. He was watching a video on the phone using his left hand. Meanwhile, he was using his right hand to “enhance” the video viewing experience. It was indeed a “hands on” approach.
Then suddenly he saw me and got a shock. He quickly zipped his pants and shouted OUCH…!! Then the image of the actor Ben Stiller in the movie “There’s something about Mary” came to my mind. I quickly walked away and for the rest of the night, I tried to “un-think” it.
My last embarrassing episode went like this. One night, my Spanish student was sitting with me at the void deck after class. He wanted to learn the language because he wanted to travel from Los Angeles to Argentina overland.
Then a young lady and a young man were carrying a transparent bag of very new clothing to throw away. I didn’t know what I was thinking. I usually don’t do this but I said this to her.
“Hello, miss, we are from the Catholic church and we send good clothes and other household items to the poor in the Philippines. Can I have your bag? The poor people would love to have your items inside. Your clothes look very nice.”
Her answer was absolutely what I never expected. She said, “Next time I will donate to your charity directly but this bag has personal and private items which poor people don’t want.”
My friend and I were scratching our heads because we absolutely didn’t understand what she was saying.
Then they went away and we also went away for dinner. During dinner, both of us couldn’t swallow our food properly. We couldn’t talk about any other topics either.
So we finished up our food quickly and went back for her bag. At first there were some nice dresses, then some very new under garments. Good quality! Then there was a battery operated v*b**t**. No wonder she said it was not suitable for the Catholic church members to ship this to the poor in the Philippines.
I see. Now I understand. Mystery solved. We can go for a proper supper now. During supper, I purposely said to my student, “Why the lady think that poor people don’t need to use batteries?” My student didn’t feel that there was a need to respond to that.
Oh, I nearly forget another episode. I found a brand new box of something in the trash. There was a picture of a man in Paris with the Eiffel tower background and one of a woman in New York with the statute of liberty.
Then the box writes
USB chargeable. Activate your lover from abroad.
Then my friend said, “This should be a blue tooth speaker, but why it still needs WiFi?” My friend is very geeky and nerdy, so pardon his innocence. Personally, I think this has something to do with 5G or Bitcoin.
This section is for the miscellaneous small stories.
Once I saw nice black leather jackets thrown near the lift. I went to have a better look. They looked really expensive. I wasn’t sure whether my Filipino maids would need them or not because it may not be cold enough in the Philippines.
So I was contemplating. To take or not to take, that is the question. But of course, quality-wise, it was unmatched. It looks like something from the Armani winter collection.
Then a bicycle approached me and the rider rang the bell. I got up and went a short distance away. Then the rider stopped in front of the jackets and took them all. There were around 4, and now there were none. I couldn’t believe it. Why did he even need this in super hot Singapore?
Damn it. Once again I reiterate, “Take First Regret Later.”
At that very same spot, I found a full suit from Ermenegildo Zegna. It was worth thousands of dollars. So this time round, I grabbed first. Wahaha.
My life lesson had been finally learned. I gave it to a maid who wanted it for her son. It was actually my size but I had no use for it since dumpster divers don’t need to wear top Italian suits to do our work.
I find it annoying when I go out with friends all dressed nicely and they suddenly turn around to me and say, “Please give me a demonstration of dumpster diving.” I will say no because I’m wearing my clean clothes. Then they will pester and pester non-stop. So I give up and say, “ok, one minute demo only”.
On the first demo, we were at Arab street. I randomly chose a shop house with a huge black trash bag. I opened it and guess what was inside. There were gold and silver forks, knives and spoons with exquisite tea pots and fine plates and bowls. The next bag had an expresso coffee machine. The next had a huge Christmas tree with full ornaments. The next had cups, saucers, sugars, salt, sauces, pepper, napkins and so on. Imagine we opened around 12 bags in total. Then I looked up and saw a sign.
Cafeteria closing down today.
My other friend drove over and we grabbed everything we could. Everyone was shocked. I just randomly chose a black garbage bag and I struck the jackpot.
On another occasion, my other friend pestered me again. I agreed to a one minute demo too. I went to a trash can and kicked some boxes next to it. They were super heavy. We opened them to have a look.
The boxes were full of frozen and marinated meat. There were all sorts of meat. We just grabbed whatever we wanted. My friend went for the fish fillet. I attacked the satay. I didn’t know how we brought everything back but we were feasting the next few days at home.
We opened all the other boxes and displayed the meat prominently so that other people might also take. These were high quality meats. We suspect that someone organized a big gathering but not so many people turned up, so he threw away the extras.
This is really heart breaking for the one who paid for this. Besides, I also hate it when animals die for nothing. So sad. But I tried my best. Food is really hard to rescue at last minute notice.
Once I wanted to try something different and I dumpster dived at a cake shop. There were around 4 huge bags. I think each was minimum 20 kilograms. I just took one and ran away from the “crime scene”.
I carried it until my void deck under my block. Of course, I didn’t want to bring it home. So I opened up and starting sorting.
First there were lots of buns and they were in individual plastic bags. Those were great of course. There were so many tuna ones which I loved.
Then there were cakes and sandwiches which were fused together. Example, char siew with chocolate. Or otah with strawberry jam. Or tuna with kaya. Or sausages with peanut butter.
Somehow some of the cashier receipts were stuck on the creamy part of the donut. And the best one was a scotch tape holder with the scotch tape stuck in the centre of a birthday cake.
When I told this to others, they said,
“Wow, tonight we go and try our luck.”
Oh my God!! What are they thinking?!
My scariest episode was when I kicked a box and the box started to shake. Then it moved by itself. I was so scared. Then a cat jumped out of it and hit the wall and bounced off 90 degrees to another wall and bounced one more time before it landed on the car park floor and disappeared into the darkness.
Wow, that experience was so surreal. I finally met the cat from the movie The Matrix. Speaking of encountering animals, once a Jack Russell puppy jumped out of a box in the dumpster and ran off despite an obvious limp on the leg. It was running faster than a cheetah, so I wasn’t able to help it.
One night I passed by a funeral wake and then I found many beautiful ladies bags in a dustbin nearby. Some were even new in the wrapper. I didn’t think much about it until I found a very new passport. The photo was of an elderly lady. So I took the passport and went to the coffin photo to see if they matched.
I couldn’t be totally certain because I could only have a quick look. But I think it was her, otherwise who in the world would throw away their new passport?
I passed the bags to this maid. Then suddenly her brother died in the Philippines. She begged me to allow her to sell the bags to offset the funeral costs. I said sure. Then I thought to myself. The bags from one lady’s death were being used to pay for another funeral in another country. How awesome is that!! This is zero waste at it’s best, man!!
The same policy applies to the maids who want to sell my dumpster trash-ures to pay for surgery and hospital treatment. Of course, I say yes to that. Jesus wants us to help the sick and the poor. This is certainly a very unusual and highly unconventional way of helping the sick but it is still of great assistance to them.
Just imagine the good stuff in Singapore trash is paying for medical treatment of the poor overseas. Nobody before was so “out of the box” to implement this in Singapore until a maid suggested it to me and I thought that it was a brilliant idea.
Recently, one of my Spanish students wanted me to guide him on dumpster diving. He came along and I told him not to expect too much. Some nights you can find lots of stuff, other nights there isn’t much. It’s just like fishing. There are too many unknowns.
At first, we found a few items for kids. Then suddenly he found a working gaming head phone and he was thrilled. Later we found around 30 big bags of stuff. We kept opening and found all sorts of stuff. My student took lots of gadgets like drones, ear buds, laptops etc. I was attacking the clothes, bedding and instant noodles.
Then a lady came up to us and gave us more things. I told her that I was from a Catholic church and we used our money to ship these items to poor people in Philippines. Then she started crying. She regretted not knowing us earlier. She threw a lot already and she was shifting the next day.
Apparently, she had been throwing for the past week. She really started to cry. I felt so sorry for her. I told her that I could have sent 10 maids to her place to clear everything in one morning. Then she cried even louder. My student didn’t know what to say because it was his first time dumpster diving.
This is such an unreal experience for him. Later he whispered to me. The lady cried because she couldn’t give her things to us in order to give the poor?
I said yes of course. She clearly didn’t know what to do. Oh my good Lord. The timing was so bad.
In any case, we tried to take whatever we could bring back that night. We couldn’t take the thick blankets. Our trolleys were already bursting.
The next day, the maids came to my house to ship our stuff out. Then I mentioned the 5 thick blankets I didn’t take. They said, “Sir, why? We want those for villagers in the mountains?” Then she gave me that look.
Oh no, I felt so bad but I was already so tired and we came home at 4am with bodily pain everywhere. The blankets were the very good type. I think they retail for $500 to $700 in total. Such a shame!
Once I found nearly 10 cartons of this unknown soft drink in the dumpster. I opened one can to try and it tasted like Pepsi. So I brought everything home. I have no idea how I did it. It wasn’t even near my house. I guess I was enticed by nice drinks after a good gym workout. Hahaha.
The very next night at that same dumpster, I found hundreds of new lipsticks and eye shadows. You should see me in action. I was a middle aged man grabbing hundreds of cosmetics in the dustbin at 2am in the morning. Just try to visualize that. I think some cosmetic shop closed down. Otherwise, how do you explain this?
I remember also finding lots of toys which I used to play with while growing up in the 70s. You might remember Old Maid, Aeroplane Flying Cards, Mastermind, Racing car cards, Chinese checkers, etc. When I was young, I couldn’t afford to buy these. Now, I get them for free in the dustbin but then again, now I’m also old enough to be a grandfather. Sigh, bad timing again.
Oh, I found a nice Darth Vader helmet in the trash but once again, I realised that it wasn’t quite 1978 anymore. But it’s fine. At least I’m still “staying alive”.
Sometimes people throw so much good stuff that I can work the entire midnight shift gathering everything. Once I was shocked to see so many school students waiting at the bus stop.
I was wondering what they were doing there. Then I took out my phone and realised that it was already 6am. Can you imagine that I started at 8pm and ended at 6am? And I was still not done yet?!
If you ask me the retail value of the merchandise I get in one good night, I would say easily $20,000. I only rescue items that look new. I’m very particular about my quality control. The maids know this about me. That’s why every article that I pick from the trash will 100% guaranteed be selected to be shipped to Philippines.
People ask me how the pandemic has affected my dumpster diving. The funny thing is that the pandemic actually helped a lot. Before covid, I used to have to endure a few dumpsters which were smelly. Also I had to go late at night so that people wouldn’t see my face. But now with the mask, it’s more like dumpster heaven.
I don’t smell anything bad and nobody can see my face. How come I never thought about this before? Before covid, I thought only dentists wore masks. I didn’t even know that we could just buy them from a pharmacy and use them for digging trash. Oh well, one giant leap for human kind.
People always ask me for my top dumpster diving adventure. I think it is meeting this vegetable shop owner Daniel Yap who is now famous for rescuing fresh fruits and vegetables from wholesale markets in Singapore.
People like to compare him to me because both of us rescue mountains of useful items that people don’t want anymore to give to poor people who want them.
I rescue merchandise to ship to villages in Philippines and he rescues perishable food to give to local people.
Let me make this story as short as possible.
One night several years ago, my friend and I went shopping for electronics in Little India. After that, my friend said to me.
“Colin, you are an expert in digging the dustbin for expensive stuff to send to Philippines. So can you find some vegetables for me to cook for one week?”
I said sure. That’s so easy because Little India is well known for grocery stores throwing away fruits and vegetables in very good condition.
So I randomly picked a dumpster to open. Inside was full of carrots, cucumbers, bottle drinks etc. The drinks were expired by only one day!
I grabbed the drinks and my friend went for the vegetables. Suddenly, a man came up to us and, with a loud and fierce voice, said, “What are you all doing?”
My friend probably urined in his pants on the spot. I was still calm but I thought I might end up in the police station later.
I told the man that we were rescuing edible food to eat. I told him that he should take all these good food and give it to poor people or any organization or whatever because anything is better than throwing fresh food that people need into the trash.
After I said this, I was already prepared to go to the police station. My friend looked like Medusa had already turned him into stone.
Guess what!! The man loved my idea and as a Buddhist, he knew that throwing away good food was bad karma. Giving good food was good karma but he didn’t know whom to give to.
After some thought, he said that he could start by blessing a vegetarian Hare Krishna association. I agreed that it was a great idea but deep inside my friend and I were only planning our escape.
Of course as you know, the rest is history. He later rescued mega tonnes of perishables from the wholesale market to distribute to old folks or low income families.
Right now, he is most satisfied stocking up community fridges around Singapore. I will provide the link to his video below.
We rarely see each other nowadays because we don’t rescue the same type of items. Perishables are for local consumption and merchandise is for cargo export. That’s why we never meet.
I hope that you enjoy all these little short stories by Colin. Do feel free to follow him on Facebook if you wish to.
Here is a short documentary on Colin:
A few weeks ago, I recalled the days where I immerse myself in the freegan movement (you can read Freegan, Dumpster Diving and Financial Security, Independence).I wanted to share Colin’s experience because their experience may greatly shift your perspective about certain key line items in your expenses.
If you have never encounter the other side of Singapore food, this documentary of Daniel Yap gives you a glimpse of it:
If you want to make sure that the stuff you don’t want, may eventually flow to the poorer people in Philippines, now you know a way to bless them. You may ask: “Kyith, why only Philippines??” The truth is… sending it to other countries cost a lot! Just sending 1kg of stuff back to Myanmar cost like S$6! Colin revealed that sadly, only Philippines is the only place you can send that is more cost effective.
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