Service of Caveat Emptor: Amazon Shoppers, Watch Out for the Splash of Dumpster Divers!

December 23rd, 2019

Categories: Dumpster Shopping, E-Commerce, E-tailing, Quality Control

I love bargains but after reading Khadeeja Safdar, Shane Shifflett and Denise Blostein’s Wall Street Journal article “You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally,” my instinct to be choosey and on alert about where I find good deals set off alarms.

The reporters wrote: “Just about anyone can open a store on and sell just about anything. Just ask the dumpster divers.”

And I know dumpster divers exist because when I had a garage sale a few years ago I offered wonderful things, chucking stuff not appropriate for sale in a dumpster that was near the garage. I found several people in that dumpster sorting through my garbage!

Back to the topic. Safdar and colleagues reported: “They are an elusive lot. Many The Wall Street Journal contacted wouldn’t give details about their listings, said they stopped selling dumpster finds or no longer listed them as new, didn’t respond to inquiries or stopped communicating. Some said they feared Amazon would close their stores.”

The reporters found “a stencil set, scrapbook paper and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd” with expiration date of May 2020 in dumpsters in New Jersey and set up a store, DJ Co. “’Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality,’ an Amazon spokeswoman said. Examples the Journal presented to Amazon of dumpster-sourced listings ‘are isolated incidents,’ she said. ‘We are investigating and will take appropriate action against the bad actors involved.’” No comment re. the Journal’s store. When Journal staff submitted items for their store they weren’t asked about sell-by dates or origins.

“After a later dumpster dive, the Journal was able to go through almost all of the listing process with salvaged breath mints, sunflower seeds, marmalade, crispbread, fig fruit butter, olives, a headband and a Halloween mask—stopping just short of shipping them to the Amazon warehouse, which is required for an item to appear for purchase on the site.” And “To list a sunscreen lotion, Amazon asked for a safety-data sheet. Attempts to list a protein powder, a pea-powder dietary supplement and a face sheet mask—all from the dive—elicited a request from Amazon for proof of purchase.”

Amazon recently changed its policy: No items taken from the trash could be sold nor could items a manufacturer, vendor, retailer or supplier identified as unsalable. The company says it’s not responsible for what’s sold. A former employee who oversaw the department that handled logistics for third-party sellers until 2013 told the reporters: “We had an internal saying: Unless the product’s on fire when we receive it, we would accept anything. Ultimately consumers are the police of the platform.” Amazon denied this and said “it requires sellers to provide government-issued identification and uses a “system that analyzes hundreds of unique data points to identify potential risk” and “we proactively block suspicious businesses.”

One of Amazon’s online merchants fills his Amazon and Ebay stores with clearance items, stuff abandoned in storage units and dumpsters. He cleans blemishes so the stuff looks new and gets the shipping packaging from the trash.

One Amazon merchant said he wouldn’t sell salvaged food but “Amazon’s not going to ask ‘Where’d you get it from? Did you get it from a dumpster?’ ” A Connecticut merchant who sells his items as “used” trolls bins behind GameStop, Michaels and the town dump for videogames, toys, electronics and trinkets.

A former [until 2017] quality assurance inspector based in Florida said he ignored broken things “more often than not.” Staffers were asked to scan hundreds of items in one hour. Productivity over precision was required. So as to avoid a complicated process to dispose an item some inspectors changed expiration dates.

“To see if Amazon customers shared such concerns” [about dumpster items], “the Journal analyzed about 45,000 comments posted on Amazon in 2018 and 2019. It found nearly 8,400 comments on 4,300 listings for foods, makeup and over-the-counter medications with keywords suggesting they were unsealed, expired, moldy, unnaturally sticky or problematic in some other way.”

The reporters continued: “About 544 of the 4,300 products were promoted as Amazon’s Choice, which many consumers take to be the company’s endorsement. Amazon’s website says the label reflects a combination of factors such as ratings, pricing and shipping time.”

Have you bought food or cosmetics from stores on Amazon? Are you surprised about the dumpster allegations?

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11 Responses to “Service of Caveat Emptor: Amazon Shoppers, Watch Out for the Splash of Dumpster Divers!”

  1. BC Said:

    I do not like Amazon. They have put too many small businesses out of business. However, we do get books from them. Otherwise, I do not do business with Amazon!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m a minority who loves to shop. I buy online–standard things like tee shirts–but usually not via Amazon. I have bought second hand books from the Amazon merchants and have no clue from where they fished them out–never before thought of it but I will now!

  3. Hank Goldman Said:


  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia wrote on Facebook: Very little surprises me, and that includes fishing from dumpsters. Ours is a wasteful society, so countless treasures may be coaxed out of the garbage can. I buy books, games and etc. from Amazon — no gooey stuff!

  5. Edward Baecher Said:

    Edward wrote on Fecebook: Believable. Wondering who would buy food on Amazon?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Edward, after knowing this—from one of the merchants?
    They would be nuts

    Amazon owns Whole Foods now. So if from Amazon you’d be safe.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A woman asked if she could have slides I’d put in my dumpster. For personal use dive away ! But sell to others? Not cool.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: Slides for sale? If not porn, the clientele would be limited. It’s possible the lady is telling the truth. If not, who cares?

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    She said “people like slides of foreign places.” I had boxes of those from my years living in Turkey when I also visited India, Ethiopia, Thailand, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

  10. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: If she’s right, she’s enterprizing and could make good money.

  11. Martin Johnson Said:

    Martin wrote on Facebook: Amazon is both a great asset and a great threat to our society. Right now there are safety concerns about delivery speed of one day or less. Profit is the only motive.

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