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Beauty dumpster divers are the underdogs of the YouTube haul vlog clan


TextElla Fleck

One woman’s trash is another’s dream make-up haul

I’ve never been to Ulta but I know Ulta’s dumpsters - at least virtually I have seen them. In my bed, at 3am, my phone is almost touching my nose and my finger hovers over “DUMPSTER DIVING DREAM HAUL! LIVE DIVE! (TOO FACED UNICORN COLLECTION $2,500).” I tap and watch, and then tap on “HUGE $7,500 ULTA DUMPSTER DIVING HAUL! BRAND NEW” followed by “HUGE ! Ulta Dumpster Diving Haul - $5000+ Worth Of Makeup” and so on, until it’s 7am and I’ve got to get up and onto the bus to work, where I load “ULTA GOT ROBBED WHILE WE WERE DUMPSTER DIVING” for the ride.

The beauty industry is blamed often for its culture of waste: and for a while, everybody was talking about how nobody is talking about the beauty industry’s problem with packaging. We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns the UN, and so beauty brands are starting to find innovative ways to reduce packaging waste.

Beyond innovation and far from the glossy ethics of sustainable cosmetics labs (and Kylie Jenner in a hairnet), YouTube Dumpster Divers are finding treasure in the bins behind Ulta and other American drugstore giants (CVS, Sephora). I’m finding peace in watching them dive.

The loot of a successful Dumpster Diver is: (dirty) make-up, money and subscribers. Are they the real winners of the beauty industry? Dumpster Divers don’t spend $2,500 at Ulta they make $2,500 from diving. They don’t receive PR freebies, instead, they take cosmetic testers without asking, unashamedly. Not quite thief, not quite pirate, Dumpster Divers are the underdogs of the YouTube Haul Vlog Clan. The scrappy underbelly of Tati, NikkieTutorials and Sacheau. Not as weird as Brandi TV but definitely weird in their own right. Some repurpose or sterilise their finds, others sell them on Mercari or “secret” Facebook groups (Lillian Kay advertises her’s in her video “LUCKY ULTA DUMPSTER DIVE | Secret Facebook Group Access!”) Most are after money or subscribers, but some don’t explain their aim, they just dive and find and they are most serene to watch.

Dumpster Divers shoot their footage often at night on a phone, lit by a torch or flash. There’s lots of rustling, close-ups of hands pulling apart cardboard boxes and plastic wrapping. Like a bad unboxing video. Some divers won’t disclose their face, some do (taking trash from a dumpster isn’t illegal, trespassing is). As expected of someone filming in a dumpster, the camera work is pretty frenetic and the resulting images are abstract. If you watch them with an ambient track, I think they can also be quite beautiful. Following the dive footage is a summary, a spread of the finds: Nars mascara, TooFaced primer, a returned bath-bomb, a candle with a shattered case and so on. The quality of film is low, the setting domestic, lighting diegetic. It is a distant world from ring lights, velour backdrops and Desi Perkin’s setup.

Though many divers, like Dumpster Haulics, remain lo-fi, there are a few who have attempted evolution to the 1080p Lifestyle Blogger. Most famous of these is Lillian Kay (94,327 Subscribers), whose video “Am I done with Dumpster Diving?” uploaded on 31 August 2018 is sponsored by Movavi Clips. A comment by user K.I.Visions reads, “I know its click bait...but DDing and the love of it is what actually built this channel...majority of your audience was brought here because of it...including myself...love the videos!”. She is loved by an esoteric audience for her dives, but today Lillian uploads GRWMs, LookBooks and Routine vlogs alongside increasingly rarer Live Dives. “Day in the Life | Dumpster Diving & Thrifting” has 40k views, whilst her upload “TOP 3 HEALTHY VEGAN SMOOTHIE BOWL RECIPES | Kitchen Chronicles” has 1.7k.

Lillian Kay might struggle to squeeze a Lifestyle Channel out of a DD channel, but her success as a DD YouTuber does not go unrecognised within the DD community, some of whom complain her fame is responsible for Dumpster Diving droughts: YouTuber Shgurr Fan comments on Kay’s channel, “This girl ruined DD for so many divers that have been diving for many years before she was even in middle school! Ulta has done so much to stop divers! She has put it all on blast and it has gotten so hard to find anything. Go figure she has a “you tube channel now with sponsers” and many of us older divers are empty handed thanks to her sharing this hobby in detail all for followers and $$!!! I used to find things weekly now I am lucky to find anything. Thanks!”

And a cursory browse of r/DumpsterDiving suggests DD YouTubers are more harmful than good to IRL DD with Reddit user Palehorse78 commenting: “Ul - ta is dead because of indiscriminate divers / YouTube. Management will destroy or take home anything of value. The only time you might get lucky is when an employee is fired and tries to steal using the dumpster.”

So this article too feeds into the DD damaging ether Shgurr Fan and Palehorse78 bemoan. Online DD and Offline DD can’t co-exist, they are different species feeding from the same fruit. It’s survival of the fittest: Online DD needs Offline DD for content but YouTube diving is bound to destroy it’s IRL counterpart. With subscribers comes exposure alerting Ulta’s management who are enforcing stricter systems (destruction of products by “souping” or locking bins) to deter divers and make diving near impossible. It’s an unsustainable practice. The fate of YouTube Divers’ is in their own hands, too much success will also be their downfall. Maybe it will not last much longer, and as a viewer and a writer I’m partially to blame, but for now, I roll over and watch Jones Tube (the dumpster diving couple) pick concealer out of an Ulta’s garbage and thank YouTube for the archive of DD at my fingertips.

In the words of Chelsea Breanna, “Blah. Some days you win, some days you lose.”

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