I’ve Made $40,000 Selling Trash

Leonardo’s saving the world and making big bucks
  • Leonardo Urbano, 29, from Surry Hills, NSW, grew up in a thrifty household
  • During Covid, he’d rummage through council clean-ups and patch up items to sell
  • Still at it, he’s also encouraging sustainability through Instagram

Here Leonardo tells his story in his own words.

Scouring the streets of Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, I came across a stainless steel fridge. Score! I thought.

Inspecting it, I could tell it was still in good condition – despite being dumped on the side of the road.

Heaving it into my van with the help of my housemate Lorenzo, I took it home. There I popped it in our backyard shed, which was filled with couches, bikes and lamps I’d rescued from landfill.

She’ll be sold in no time, I thought.

Being 2020, Sydney was in lockdown. Working in hospitality, my hours had been chopped, so I was relying on my side gig for extra income.

I’d grown up in Liguria, Italy, and my mum, Ana, was a thrift shopper who loved vintage bags and clothing. She was also incredibly conscious of the environment, recycling and reusing what she could.

And my dad, Oliviero, had a knack for fixing up broken bits and pieces, especially furniture. My parents’ thriftiness rubbed off on me too!

Moving to Australia in 2016, aged 22, I loved rummaging through council clean-ups.

Wow, look at this coffee machine, I thought, picking it out of a pile of trash soon after I’d arrived in Oz.

It was a vintage Italian appliance from the ’70s, worth around $800.

It needed a little love, but once I’d patched it up, I used it to brew my morning cuppa.

Leonardo Urbano
Leonardo Urbano (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I even found new designer brands!’

There! Good as new, I cleaned it.

Once I even found a gorgeous lamp worth $1000 that I’d been coveting for a while!

Now in lockdown, I had extra free time and found myself going for more walks around my neighbourhood.

Finding piles of second-hand furniture, pre-loved clothes and other items discarded on the street, I’d hunt through for gems.

‘Hey, check out these house plants,’ I showed Lorenzo one afternoon.

Soon our apartment was completely decorated with rescued treasures.

Sometimes, I’d rent a van to carry larger items, like white goods, home.

Pre-owned clothes dryer, I’d post on Facebook Marketplace, putting it up for $100.

Masked-up locals would drop by the front of our place to pick up their ‘new’ appliances.

I also put up lots of stuff like microwaves, and pots and pans, for free.

Grateful strangers couldn’t believe their luck, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of perfectly good items just being dumped in the trash.

Most of my clothing was now from the streets too.

I can’t believe someone would throw these out! I thought, picking up a pair of jeans in mint condition.

Incredibly, I even found new designer brands!

Salvaging a beautiful mid-century wooden chair, I lovingly repaired it by sanding and varnishing. But I loved it too much to sell.

By the end of 2020, despite giving away most of what I found for free,

I had sold roughly 450 discarded items, including shoes and mirrors, profiting around $10,000.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, I thought.

In September 2021, I created an Instagram page called TheTrashLawyer – because I’ll always fight for the rights of trash to live another day!

I started to show off my zero-waste home, explaining how I furnished my house for free.

Leonardo Urbano home
Leonardo’s home is full of found pieces (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I discovered the piece was worth $3000.’

In April 2022, I was fishing through a pile of junk when I discovered five stray kittens.

‘You’re coming with me,’ I said to one of the tiny kitties, naming her Bella.

Posting an ad online, thankfully I found a home for the other four.

One night in May that year, I spotted a bunch of artworks dumped on the side of the road. My eyes were drawn to a stunning minimalist nude painting.

It looks like an original, I thought.

It was signed by an artist named Dapeng Liu, who I found out was a three-time Archibald Prize finalist. And I discovered the piece was worth $3000!

I got in touch with Dapeng, who told me it was genuine.

‘I’m sorry I found it in the street, but I will treasure it as my own,’ I told him. He was pleased that his creation was going to a good home.

Over the last three years, I’ve made roughly $40,000 from selling trash.

I’ve found Dyson vacuum cleaners in need of a little bit of TLC, bikes in perfect nick, a working Nintendo and even a vintage Prada bag.

Spotting an overflowing bin in my area recently, after rummaging I found a zip-lock bag filled with Swiss francs. Amazingly, they were worth $1277!

Dapeng Liu painting
The Dapeng Liu painting (Credit: Supplied.)

But for me, it’s not just about the money. My goal is to save perfectly good items from landfill and find them new owners.

I even lend my tools to strangers to help them patch up their wonderful discoveries, encouraging sustainability.

When furnishing their home, not everyone goes rummaging through council clean-ups like me.

But through social media, I will continue to find a home for second-hand beauties before they end up in the dump.

Because you just never know who might treasure your trash!

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