Is It Illegal To Go Through Someone’s Trash?

Illegal To Go Through Someone's Trash

There are different laws that governs management of trash which may differ from city to city. In some cities, going through someone’s trash is illegal while other cities have no restrictions. Most of the times there are certain conditions that have to be met for going through someone’s trash to be considered illegal.

It is important for every member of a community to know the legal provisions that regulates trash handling. It is equally important for the community to know how to handle a situation where someone goes through their trash without their permission. There is a lot of information that can be derived from trash some which may be very confidential.

Why Going Through Someone’s Trash

There are many reasons why people go through other people’s trash. Some go through other people’s trash to make extra money by collecting waste for recycling companies. There are many metals and empty bottles or cans which can be found in the trash which people can easily convert to cash. Some people make money by searching these dumpsters or trash bins for valuable items which they can later sell and convert to cash. Some also search these dumpsters for food since in some areas a lot of food is thrown into the trash bins. Government intelligence people can also search trash to find confidential information that may assist them. This raises the question of whether it is illegal or not to go through someone’s trash.

What The law Says About Going Through Someone’s Trash

There are various garbage laws that dictates when it is legal or illegal for a person to go through trash belonging to someone.  It is generally legal for a person to go through someone’s trash provided the trash was on public space and not within the person’s property. This law however requires that someone should not throw away litter from the trash. In other areas like AZUSA, state laws prohibit going through someone’s trash whether private or public. For garbage within private properties, a person may be charged with trespassing without permission from the owner. So it is important that people understand these legal requirements from federal laws, state laws, county law and private property perspectives as there are a wide scope of laws that regulates garbage management.  In short, some cities allow anyone to access garbage on a public domain while others do not allow.

How To Go Through Someone’s Trash

The only way one can go through someone’s trash legally is to go within the legal confines of the various statutory requirements for one to do so. Below are the steps one may do to legally go through another person’s trash.

  • Ask for permission from the garbage owner. For anyone who is not on public refuse collection duty from local government offices, you need to have the permission of the garbage owner to go through his or her trash. Talk to the owner and give reasons why you want to go through their trash.
  • If the garbage is on a public street or place, you will need to seek permission from various law enforcement agents or city authorities. There are different procedures according to each state for one to get permission to legally go through trash belonging to someone.
  • Once granted permission, make sure you clean off all litter which escapes from the trash and secure it as it was. It is an offense to go through trash and leave litter on the ground.

This only applies to individuals and companies other than city authorities or intelligence departments which by nature of their jobs may be legally allowed to go through a person’s trash. It is always a good thing to leave peacefully when the owner refuses you the permission to search though his or her trash. Try other people than shouting or resorting to violence.

What To Do When Someone Goes Through Your Trash

There are many cases of conflict that arise as a result of unauthorized dumpster diving. It can be very annoying to see a stranger or someone going through your trash without your permission. The situation gets worse if the person does not clean off his mess around your garbage. Below are some of the steps one can take in such cases.

  • If you are comfortable to talk to the person you may talk to him or her. Try to be calm and avoid using offensive words. Get to understand why they are searching your garbage and request to see their permit from city authorities. If you are satisfied with reasons they give you may allow them to continue otherwise tell them they cannot go through your trash.
  • In case you are afraid or not sure whether the person will listen you may need to report the person to relevant authorities to handle the matter. There are many contact details online for the laws enforcers that may assist you in such cases.
  • Sometimes you may need to call in other neighbors to talk to the person.

It is advisable not to use violence to stop someone from going through your trash. Conflicts should always be resolved peacefully within the confines of the law.

Penalties For Going Through Trash

Depending on various city laws, there are different penalties that comes with violation of garbage laws. For someone who goes illegally through trash belonging to someone, they can be charged with trespassing and charged according to trespassing laws. This means someone would have walked into someone’s property without permission for purposes of dumpster diving.

In some cases, these violations may attract a ticket or fine and in worst cases imprisonment. This all depends on the laws and circumstances surrounding the offense committed. For public trash bins, going through them without permission is regarded as disorderly conduct which is also punishable according to state laws.


Going through someone’s trash can help in many ways but there are many laws that regulates garbage access and disposal which every individual should know. In some states one can legally go through someone’s trash while in other states it’s not allowed. Always consult authorities or others before tampering with any garbage.