Is Going Through Trash Illegal

Is It Legal To Go Through Someone’s Trash?

A lot of people, at one point or another and for different reasons, might be wondering whether you can legally go through someone’s trash after they’d leave it out on the curb for collection. We’ve done the research for you and the answer is actually a pretty interesting one.

You can’t actually take someone’s recyclables

Some cities, like Jacksonville, for example, consider it a violation when someone other than the recycling service designated by the city, takes recyclable items that have been left by someone else out on the curb to be picked up. The laws aren’t all that specific as to why you aren’t allowed to do this, but one of the obvious reasons is that the recycling company will share the profits with the city, as per the signed contract.

You should know that usually, your trash isn’t off limits

There are very few local laws that say that trash picking or dumpster diving is illegal in itself. In fact, garbage is considered public domain as soon as it is left outside of a property or home, based on a U.S. Supreme Court Decision in 1988, in a dispute between California and Greenwood. This means that as long as you are placing your trash at the curb, you shouldn’t expect any type of privacy related to your garbage. This is the general consent at the moment, although there are some cities and states that have tried to pass local ordinances to make trash picking illegal.

Things You Can Find in TrashThe Supreme Court based this decision on the fact that the expectation of privacy is seriously outweighed by the benefits of law enforcement finding important evidence of different crimes like drug dealing.

You might also like my articles on what happens to trash after it reaches your curb or how much should the monthly garbage bill be.

It was further explained by the fact that the expectation of privacy claimed when inculpatory items were found discarded in the garbage was not really reasonable, since they were left voluntarily in the trash collection area, which is suited for public inspection. And not just that but you can’t actually expect privacy as long as you leave plastic garbage bags on a public street, in a place that is accessible not only to law enforcement, but also to snoops, scavengers, children, and even some animals. And to top it all off, if you leave the trash at the curb with the purpose of a third party taking care of it, then the trash collector, becoming the owner of your trash, will have the possibility of not only going through it but also permitting others to do this, like the police, for example.

Some states have regulations that state that you might be given a warning or even arrested if, while going through abandoned trash, you either commit a crime, or you are verbally warned not to trespass and you ignore the warning or ignore a sign that is posted, that says trespassing is illegal. One such state is Florida.

Keep in mind that a lot of states also have laws against littering, that make it illegal for you to dump any trash you go through on private property or even on the street.

You can find a lot of private things from someone’s trash

Keep in mind that things you throw out, although seemingly not important, can give out a great number of details about you as a person and even track your daily movements, spendings, and activities. Anything from shopping recipes, bank or credit card statements, utility bills, discarded emails, and even empty pizza boxes can give out information on whether you have a favorite pizza place you go to every week or have your pizza delivered to your door.

They can even give out things like your favorite grocery store locations, what you talk about in private emails, what credit cards you used the most, who and when you call most often, what is your bank account balance, or even your social security number. This can then be corroborated to tell someone when you are likely to be out of the house and who you might open the door to on certain days.

As I said above, police will have no problem going through your trash even without a warrant if they feel they have probable cause to think that evidence of a crime is inside the trash. They can then use the evidence they find to go for a warrant. The same can be done by private investigators that are hired against you in custody, divorce, insurance, or civil cases. And of course, trash you leave on the curb is readily available for a lot of wrongdoers like stalkers, trash pickers, thieves, or other criminals.

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