This is topic Is taking trash illegal? in forum Books, Films, Food and Culture at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by Starsnuffer (Member # 8116) on :
So this came up in the context of a can/bottle drive. Is it legal to empty returnable (for the deposit (in michigan)) cans and bottles from, say, a campus recycling bin that are located around campus near trash cans? Also, is it officially legal to take trash people have at the end of their driveway.
For example, if I was throwing out an old lamp and the neighbor kid came and took it could I call the cops and say "that kid stole my lamp."
I understand that probably nobody would care if you take trash, but I'm just wondering about The Law.
Posted by Shmuel (Member # 7586) on :
I am not a lawyer, local laws may vary, and I don't have any good citations to offer offhand.

That said, my understanding is that in most of the U.S., once trash has been placed on the curb, it's fair game for anybody to pick up; if it's on private property, it isn't.
Posted by scholarette (Member # 11540) on :
I would think (with no knowledge) that the lamp would be up for grabs, but the campus recycling bin seems like something debatable.
Posted by Juxtapose (Member # 8837) on :
The bins seem questionable to me because (I think) you're talking about collection sites. The people who throw their cans and bottles there are abandoning a piece of property, but I'm not sure if the school is gaining possession or not. It might depend on whether the bins are on school property or not. :shrug:
Posted by beleaguered (Member # 11983) on :
At first I thought of those instances of dumpster hopping by the homeless, and by those looking for celebrity memorabilia, and thought how yes it might be illegal. I don't think it's the taking of the trash that's illegal in that case. I think it's the trespassing that's illegal.

It seems to me (not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV), that if the school campus has a recycling program that weighs their recycling and/or gives them some kind of payment for their recycleables, or tax write offs, then to take it from them, from their bins would definitely be illegal. I know there's a guy who went in the dumpsters regularly at an apartment complex I lived in, and no one seemed to bother him. Why would that be any different than a campus trash bin? I figure the trash, if not trespassing, is fair game, but recycling might be illegal, though I don't know what that restrictive law might contain.
Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
In my city, and in many California cities (not sure about elsewhere), the trash cans are the property of the city. You can theoretically be prosecuted for stealing recyclables from them. Don't think it happens much though.
Posted by Sterling (Member # 8096) on :
Wikipedia on dumpster diving

It looks like it's mostly a trespass issue, but I'd advise against stealing items intended for recycling; that's less a case of "the owner chooses for this to go away" than "the owner chooses for this to be given to someone else for a different purpose", and the removal of the item is a interception in the midst of that transaction.
Posted by Ron Lambert (Member # 2872) on :
I know of several people who regularly cruise around on trash day picking up thrown-out items (like old air-conditioners) that they can fix up and then resell in a yard sale. Some of them make over $30,000 a year that way (at least so they claim).
Posted by mr_porteiro_head (Member # 4644) on :
While I'm not a big fan of talking trash, either dishing it out or receiving it, as long as you don't say anything that could be construed as threatening, I don't see how it could be illegal.

Posted by The Rabbit (Member # 671) on :
I'm fairly confident that taking things from a recycle bin is illegal, its different from trash.

I know it is illegal to take something from a collection bin for an organization like the Salvation Army or the DAV. I can't see why a recycle bin would be different. When you place something in a recycle bin, you are giving it to the recycler. The contents of the bin are the property of the recycler and presumably are of value to the recycler.
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
I'm fairly confident that the laws on that are dependent on state and locality.
Posted by scifibum (Member # 7625) on :
Originally posted by fugu13:
I'm fairly confident that the laws on that are dependent on state and locality.

Unacceptable! I'm calling my federal representatives. We need national regulation on this.


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