Dumpster-diving mum and daughter have rescued £27,000 worth of rubbish from bins

Mum Ana Ortiz, 68, and her daughter Tamara Benavente, 39, share an unusual hobby: diving into dumpsters and digging around for hidden treasure.

That might not sound like the most appealing way to spend your spare time, but the rewards are tempting. The pair have salvaged more than £27,000 worth of discarded bits and bobs from bins.

Calling themselves the ‘dumpster chicks’, Tamara, a photographer, and Ana, a former psychologist. became hooked on the art of dumpster-diving back in September 2016, after seeing a YouTube video advertising the practice.

In their first dive together, the pair were tentative, but found a pair of cast-iron lanterns and a brand new coat.

After that, they were obsessed – and four years on, the duo, from Florida, are absolute pros, sharing their wisdom and adventures in rubbish on their own YouTube channel.

‘It’s very funny looking back at our first dive, Mum was so insistent that it would only ever be the once,’ said Tamara.

‘She turned to me and said, “I’m only doing this to get it out of your system!”

‘But after our first mission, she was bitten by the bug. As soon as I dropped her back home she said, “Let’s do that again”.

‘Four years later and here we are, diving every week, salvaging goods worth around $36,000 (£27,392) a year and with our own YouTube channel.’

The mother and daughter share weekly hauls of their finds, which have previously included high-end items such as Dyson hair straighteners and Saint Laurent shoes.

After their first attempt in 2016, Ana and Tamara learned tricks for finding the best bits and bobs, with Tamara using Google maps to locate treasure troves of goods by seeking out stores from chemists to homeware and beauty shops.

For the next 12 months, they trawled dumpsters once a week, devoting four hours in the dead of night to search between three and six bins for their hauls.

‘It was our little secret,’ said Tamara. ‘We were worried that people would judge us.

‘But we weren’t ashamed enough to stop. Each week we were finding more and more stuff.

‘Growing up, mum and I were so close, but when I left home and started working, like most children, I drifted away.

‘But dumpster diving really brought us together. It was our chance to spend hours of quality time together every week.

‘I love nice things, but I always put necessity first, which means luxury items aren’t always in my budget.

‘I was amazed that it was possible to get so many luxury items for free and my diving career really snowballed from there.’

With some of their most expensive finds including $400 (£302) worth of Kilner jars – each priced at $15 (£11.36) – and four crates of Barnes and Noble books, which they estimated to be worth $1,000 (£756) – before long the duo had more loot than they could accommodate.

Continually salvaging goods worth around $3,000 (£2,282) each month, they decided to start donating the majority to charity and friends – keeping just 20% for themselves.

‘If it’s something we really like we’ll keep it,’ Tamara said. ‘Mum loves crafting and she’ll keep nice materials – like chalk or fancy paper.

‘I like to keep the seasonal decorations and party hampers, but you can’t keep everything – and we wouldn’t want to.

‘At first the thrill really came from getting things for free – who doesn’t love a freebie? But as time as passed it’s become much more than that.

‘It’s about stopping all these quality items from being tossed away. It almost feels like our duty to stop perfectly usable goods from going into the crusher or to land fill.

‘There are so many people in the world – and even in our country – who can’t afford the necessities in life, let alone the nicer things and, knowing that we’re saving items that will bring people joy and donating them to charity, is really our motive now.’

In 2018, Tamara and Ana set up their YouTube channel to start sharing their hauls – not only to teach others the ways of dumpster-diving, but to highlight the huge amounts of waste produced by retailers, who often chuck away things that are still in perfectly good condition.

The pair, who have always used gloves, hand sanitiser, and torches for every mission, had to pause their dumpster-diving habit for three months when Miami went into lockdown, but are now returning to their hobby.

‘We have had to adapt because of the pandemic, but really it’s something we should have been doing anyway,’ said Tamara.

‘We wear masks now – as well as using gloves and hand sanitiser – and we leave the loot in the garage for 72 hours before going through it, to make sure any nasties have died.’

Despite loving diving around in rubbish and finding hidden treasures, Tamara hopes that one day, we’ll cut down our waste so dumpster-diving won’t be possible

‘It’s got to the point where we don’t need to do this anymore,’ she said.

‘But we refuse to stop until people desist from throwing away perfectly good items and treating them as garbage.

‘It only takes one dumpster dive to prove we’ve got a long way to go.

‘We live in a throwaway culture and Mum and I won’t stop diving until something changes.

‘Until we wise up and are more mindful about the way we treat our planet, dumpster diving gives me a perfect way to carry on spending quality with my mum!’

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