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Is it Legal to Dumpster Dive?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on October 06, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One man's trash may be another man's treasure, but you should make sure you aren't breaking any laws when you go dumpster diving. Is there anything  illegal about dumpster diving, anyway?

It depends.

It may be legal, depending on where you live, and what laws and ordinances your city and state have passed with regards to dumpster diving.

It's possible that dumpster diving can violate trespassing laws -- especially if the dumpster is on private property.

And dumpster diving might end up being a violation of privacy even without trespassing laws. This, however, depends on each state's laws.

A Supreme Court decision has held that people have very little expectation of privacy in the trash they've left outside on public streets. Some states have upheld this determination.

However, some cities still have ordinances that make it illegal to dumpster dive. So check your local regulations.

Sure, most of us would agree that looking through garbage isn't necessarily the most sanitary thing to do. But, despite its dirty (and oftentimes smelly) appearance, garbage can contain a wealth of information about the person who dumped the waste.

Discarded check stubs, bills with personal information, and other discarded items may make it easy for criminals to steal someone's identity.

Still, not everyone who goes dumpster diving is out to steal information. Some people legitimately enjoy going through garbage to find buried treasures. If you're one of these treasure-hunters, just be sure that it's legal to dumpster dive where you live, because if it's not you could be facing penalties.

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