Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Dumpster Diving Illegal?

It is true that many perfectly good things get thrown away in today’s society - clothes, furniture, decorations, food, useful supplies - too much of it get tossed by businesses and people who have no need for it any more and often no idea of where it might be recycled, re-purposed, or reused.  

In 2008, during the mortgage meltdown crisis in America, the stock market tanked and many people who considered themselves safe and prosperous lost their jobs and most of their assets in the aftermath.  It has been a long and painful road from there for many families - all of which has lead to creative acquisition of goods and services, often through begging, borrowing, or stealing.  Dumpster diving falls in a gray area of the last category, although more and more people are doing it these days, including new groups that style themselves as freegans.

According to, freegans are “people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.”  Freegans, in this sense, are vegans (although not all of them) who eat for free from what they find discarded by grocery stores or other sources.  People who scavenge trash but do not eat from it, are known as dumpster divers.  

From a legal perspective, trash thrown out on the curb is fair game for anyone, and it cannot be considered theft to rummage through it and take what you want.  Dumpster diving on private property is a little more complicated, partly because of the trespassing aspect.  Additionally, if the dumpster abuts a building, is behind a fence, or has a sign such as “Private: No Trespassing,” that’s when dumpster divers enter a gray legal area and can be questioned, ticketed or even arrested by the police.  Often stores and home owners will object to dumpster diving on their property because they are concerned about liability.  If someone were to be injured, they could be sued, a most undesirable outcome.  

However, besides the legal risks of dumpster diving, there are also physical ones.  Dumpsters are, by definition, filled with trash, and that trash can be medical waste (and therefore seriously hazardous), decomposing food (with potentially toxic bacteria), or broken things with sharp edges, be they metal, glass, or wood.  Any of those can give you a nasty injury while at the same time infecting it.  Getting in and out of dumpsters can be tricky and dangerous.  You could easily end up straining or breaking something in that attempt to bag some discarded bread or old umbrella stand.  Finally, some people can also be territorial about dumpsters they have “claimed,” and may object to others horning in on “their” dumpsters.  This may be especially true in urban environments where demand is higher and resources scarcer.

For all of the above reasons, rummage through dumpsters at your own risk.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Proper and Improper Dumpster Materials

Roll-off dumpsters, being rather large, are very versatile in what they can contain. Most people have seen dumpsters on construction sites, re-roofing projects, and rental properties, but don’t realize they can also be useful for:
  • Recently transferred properties - whether for buyer, seller, or renter, moving tends to generate a significant amount of waste. Perhaps the previous owner left a number of items behind, or the new owner has no idea what to do with the boxes used to move - a dumpster can be a lifesaver. Rental property owners know tenants can leave behind unwanted belongings and trash. Having a good dumpster company on file is a must.

  • Yard waste - One good storm can leave behind a great deal of broken branches and debris. Renting a dumpster can be a cheaper way of clearing off your property than calling a tree service.

  • Junk removal - Everyone knows at least someone who has a hard time parting with anything. If you have a pack rat in the family, you may be called upon to help clear out an attic, garage, basement, or entire house. Sometimes it’s worth having a garage or an estate sale, and sometimes the dumpster is a better place for broken furniture and plastic knick-knacks.

  • Landscaping changes - Did the previous owner of your property border all their flower gardens with railroad ties or broken cement? A dumpster could be an easy solution to what to do with hard-to-recycle items.
While the above suggestions are for what can or should be put in a dumpster, there are also a number of things that should not be disposed of that way. These include: explosives, liquid wastes, pathological or biological waste, radioactive waste, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, used oil, and sealed drums. Please call for rates before disposing of tires, propane tanks, appliances, or mattresses.
Finally, it should go without saying, but people and animals do not belong in dumpsters. There seems to be a distressing trend in Grand Rapids of dead people being found in or near dumpsters. Deceased bodies belong in a funeral home or a morgue. Do not dispose of your unwanted pets in dumpsters either. This is animal cruelty. The Kent County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Kent County will both accept found or unwanted animals. Take them there. Animals are not refuse!
To order your life-simplifying dumpster in Grand Rapids, MI, call 616-915-0506.