Dumpster Diving and the Law

e aren’t lawyers but this is our best understanding as plain-old US citizens.
Dumpster diving is legal in the United States except where prohibited by local regulation. According to a 1988 Supreme Court Ruling (California vs. Greenwood), when a person throws something out, that item is now the public domain. Here is some language from that ruling: “It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”
However, if a dumpster is against a building or inside a fenced enclosure marked “No Trespassing,” you could be questioned, ticketed or even arrested by the police. Other law-enforcement tactics to discourage dumpster diving include:
– to ticket or arrest for littering (hence the legal as well as common courtesy reason to leave a trash area neater than you found it!);
– to ticket or arrest for disorderly conduct, if you are blocking a sidewalk or generally creating a ruckus while dumpster diving, or refuse to leave an area when requested to do so.
Unless a town or city has specifically made dumpster diving illegal, generally the police will not come unless called by a store manager or property owner. In our experience, this is yet another good reason to be courteous with any store employee (or resident with a dumpster) who questions the dumpster diving in progress, and to use common sense about how long an individual or group stays at any one trash location. If anyone asks you to leave, consider doing so, even if the law is on your side– there are plenty of other wasted resources to be found. (souece. https://freegan.info/ )

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