Like many YouTubers, 23-year-old Shelbi, who goes by Shelbizleee, records herself sitting in front of her computer. A huge, child star-like smile spreads across her face, and silver makeup surrounds her eyes. "I know this makeup is extra as fuck!" she says in the recent video. Arguably, what's really extra is the way in which Shelbi uses YouTube and Facebook Live to teach young girls how to dumpster dive for makeup.
"I don't use any liquid lipsticks, anything that could have been contaminated and couldn't be sanitized," Shelbi tells me over the phone. She advocates for girls to scrounge in trash cans for powder-based makeups, and in the video, she describes how to spray alcohol on powder products and eye shadow, then wipe off any dirt. While hunting, she always wears gloves. "I use GermX on the regular," she says.
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Shelbi is not alone. For the past two years, YouTubers have dumpster dived for makeup in garbage cans and behind makeup stores like Sephora, and the trend has grown, garnering millions of views in the process. Since Facebook Live became a part of some users' daily social media routine, some divers have made livestreaming part of their garbage prowls. "People know there's a lot of waste, but [to see it firsthand has] that wow factor," Shelbi explains.
Dumpster diving, of course, is not a new phenomenon. James Jugan, a New Jersey-based secondhand makeup seller, has resold makeup from garbage bins since 1978. "It's like having a license to print money," he told Racked in 2015. "It's amazing." Shelbi started dumpster diving for similar reasons: As a college student in West Texas in three years ago, she and her girlfriend noticed kids tossing furniture at the end of the school year. They collected the furniture and then resold the pieces online. "We made hundreds of dollars that summer, from couches to beds," she says.
Shelbi loved the part-time job for multiple reasons. For one, it played into her interest in environmentalism. Since she first attended an educational summer camp between her junior and senior year of high school, she has obsessed over the planet's wellbeing. She liked dumpster diving because it decreased waste; it also made sense for her finances.
When Shelbi graduated and started paying all her own bills, she turned to dumpster diving to cut down on her spending. Last summer, she saw a video of Trina, one of the biggest YouTuber makeup dumpster divers. Trina films herself inside dumpsters behind makeup shops, sorting through white trash bags for discarded producers. The video inspired Shelbi to both use second-hand makeup and also to post YouTube videos to educate people. "I could show people [items you] throw out are still useable," Shelbi says.
In one video, Shelbi displays over $2000 worth of makeup she'd collected from dumpsters over the course of a week. "I know I can always go to an ULTA dumpster and always something," she says before unveiling her load: Gucci Bamboo, several Anastasia Beverly Hills contour palettes, and "some pretty frickin' full" Dolce and Gabbana perfume. She makes a point to say she wanted, but did not need, the beauty products, and she stresses her environmental message throughout—before examining her haul, she says, "If you think this is gross, I could not care less… I think this is awesome, I think what I'm doing is good for the planet, and if you have a different opinion, whatever. Just don't watch it."
Her warning doesn't seem to have deterred anyone: The video has been watched over a million times since Shelbi posted it in November of 2016.
ULTA is one of the most popular stores for girls to dumpster dive behind, according to the videos they post. Lacy, one of the girls behind Dumpster Diving Divas, says, "We started dumpster diving after I discovered a video on YouTube that titled 'ULTA dumpster diving,' and we just had to go see if this was real for ourselves." For her, she says, the appeal is "free stuff," but she also comes from a thrifty household.
Shelbi sees a more complicated reason for the videos' success."Coming from someone who is very interested in social issues and economics, I think it's just the state of our economy," she replies when I ask why she has become so popular. "It's becoming harder and harder to afford these things that society makes you think you need."
Unemployment dropped to 4.9 percent in the US in November, but millennials' finances remain troubled. According to a Time article on an Experian study, student loan debt grew 84 percent between 2007 and 2014, and the Atlantic reported that, according to the Young Invincible's 2014 analysis of the US Census Current Population Survey, young people's median incomes have shrunk in every industry besides health care.
"I think a lot of people just don't realize a lot of things in the world in general, like where wages are sitting," Shelbi says.
Dumpster diving for makeup, in other words, appeals to the economic realities of young women in America, and the videos could remain popular for sometime time. "My mom will spend tons of money from what comes from a clearance rack," Shelbi says. "Our generation is willing to go to a thrift shop or buy a better quality item, so we don't have to repurchase things."