What are the laws, if any, about dumpster diving within the city limits? As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A certain thrift store on East Second Avenue throws away some donations, then locks the dumpster and harasses anyone who ventures to peek inside. My down parka was surreptitiously pilfered from said dumpster. It’s the warmest thing I wear and nothing was wrong with it. – Dumpster Divers Unite
Action Line is thrilled to offer free legal advice.
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Judges have ruled in favor of scroungers on several notable occasions, including a landmark 1988 Supreme Court ruling.
That case, California v. Greenwood, the nation’s highest adjudicator decided 6-2 that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit a warrantless confiscation and search of garbage left outside for collection.
Here’s the backstory: A dimwit drug dealer, Billy Greenwood, left detritus of his trade in garbage bags, thinking it would go away.
But police took the trash. They combed through it and obtained a search warrant for Greenwood’s home. Inside, pot and cocaine were found along with drug-trafficking evidence.
The Supremes pointed out that street-side trash is “readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”
Thus, there’s no expectation of privacy.
The Colorado Supreme Court, in People v. Hillman, said ditto four years later.
Another numbskull drug dealer, James Hillman, deposited the stems of 1,272 pot plants inside a dog-food bag and left it out for pickup. Same result.
Trash taken. Evidence found. House searched. More drugs. Perp sent to the hoosegow.
So curbside garbage is fair game. Dive away.
This was corroborated by our good friend Steve Barkley, Durango’s ace code enforcement officer. He pointed out that garbage is “discarded items that the city disposes of.”
Recycling, on the other hand, does have some minimal worth, and city code prohibits cherry-picking thereof.
But let’s get back to that unnamed dumpster location that goes by the initials United Methodist Thrift Store.
Diving there is ill-advised for a number of reasons, the least of which is that the private dumpster is on private property. Scavenging there is trespassing.
Moreover, removing the locked lid is breaking and entering.
But the real question is, why anyone would dumpster dive after reading this?
“There’s a darn good reason we throw stuff away,” said a thrift store worker. “An item may look fine, but you have no idea what it came with.”
The details are disgusting.
“We get boxes from attics, garages and sheds, often filled with rodent droppings or dead animals. There’s mold, spoiled food or just plain filth.”
The thrift store does everything it can.
“We recycle clothes and sheets into rags. We clean stuff up. We even cut the buttons off unusable shirts. But some items are beyond hope.”
Dumpster diving can cause coronary health problems, added another thrift store worker.
“A couple of times, I’ve gone out to throw away garbage and up pops a ‘Jack-In-The-Box.’ That’s our term for dumpster divers who stand up suddenly. Scares me to death. I could have had a heart attack!”
So do yourself and the thrift store volunteers a favor. Leave the vile castoffs in the dumpster where they belong.
As for your coat, Action Line strongly urges a formidable disinfectant, some delousing powder and a scalding-hot wash.
Better yet, visit any of Durango’s awesome outdoor-gear stores for winter clearance.
You’ll find awesome deals without worrying if your coat was bedding for diseased vermin.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can ask for anonymity if you know that the city’s Spring Cleanup begins April 10.