A MUM and daughter salvaged more than £27,000 worth of discarded items a year from store bins.
Calling themselves "dumpster chicks," photographer Tamara Benavente, 39, and her mum, Ana Ortiz, 68, a former psychologist, became hooked on the unusual hobby in September 2016.
Clad with hand sanitiser, gloves and a torch, Tamara, of Miami, Florida, USA, recalled how they set off in search of their first haul, saying: "It was dusk and we headed to a department store around the corner from where I lived.
"We pulled over by the dumpsters and sat there for what felt like ages. It's a lot scarier than you think. It felt like we were doing something wrong.
"After 10 minutes or so, we finally got out of the car. Mum stood next to the dumpster with a bin bag, while I started rummaging around.
"It was my first dumpster dive – the name given to people who look for discarded items in store dumpsters – so I didn't get properly in there. But I still found some great things including a lovely pair of cast iron lanterns and a beautiful new coat.
"The high from our first adventure was two-fold. There was the buzz of getting stuff for free, along with the adrenaline of doing something that felt quite dangerous."
Initially, Ana, who is no longer with Tamara's dad, only went along for the ride – knowing that, intrigued by the amazing hauls she had seen on YouTube videos, her daughter was determined to give dumpster diving a go.
Now, four years later, not only are they accomplished divers, but they record their adventures for their own YouTube channel.
Tamara, who is married to a camera technician, who she prefers not to name, laughed: "It's very funny looking back at our first dive, Mum was so insistent that it would only ever be the once.
"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.'
"I'd never even heard of it before, but as soon as I saw all the free make up this woman had retrieved from the bin, I knew I had to give it a try.
"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."
Sharing weekly hauls, which can include high end items like $500 (£378) Dyson hair straighteners and $650 (£491) YSL shoes, Tamara only discovered dumpster diving as she was "obsessed" with watching makeup and beauty tutorials in her spare time and, one night, a video about it was recommended on the YouTube channel she was watching.
She said: "I'd never even heard of it before, but as soon as I saw all the free makeup this woman had retrieved from the bin, I knew I had to give it a try.
"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."
Soon tuning into dumpster videos, rather than make up tutorials, Ana started sending links to her mum, who became equally obsessed.
She said: "She was so intrigued by it, but also quite hesitant about giving it a go herself – as she thought it could be quite dangerous."
But, hooked after their first attempt back in September 2016, they soon honed their expertise – with Tamara using Google maps to locate potential treasure troves of goods discarded by stores ranging from chemists to homeware and beauty shops.
For the next 12 months, the dynamic duo trawled dumpsters once a week, devoting four hours to searching three to six bins in a single night.
Initially keeping their trips secret, Tamara said: "We were very hesitant to tell any other friends or family at the beginning.
"It was our little secret. 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."
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 per cent 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."
As they became more accomplished, in the summer of 2018, the pair also started sharing videos of their hauls on YouTube.
"It felt like a great way to shine a light on all the waste that is being produced by retailers," Tamara said.
"After all, it was YouTube that got us into diving, so we wanted to encourage more people.
"We go through our hauls every week and upload it to our YouTube channel.
"But, before long, followers were asking to see us on the job, so we started including footage of the whole process."
Amassing over 1,000 followers in 18 months, after Miami went into lockdown in March, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, mum and daughter suspended their diving activities for three months.
We live in a throwaway culture and mum and I won't stop diving until something changes.
Now, with lockdown measures eased, they are back doing what they love – with a few extra precautions in place.
"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 enjoying their hobby, Tamara's eyes have been opened by their finds and she hopes that, one day, dumpster diving will not 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!"
To keep up with the mother daughter duo's dumpster diving antics, visit: www.youtube.com/dumpsterchicks
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