Is It Illegal To Dumpster Dive In Washington State?

I come from a family of petty thieves and one thing my two younger brothers did when they were in their teens was car hopping and dumpster diving.

I was sad that my biological mother was once married to a man who would spend his night's dumpster diving but it was one way that they'd get extra cash for things that they needed.

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It never occurred to me if it was legal or not in Washington State.

I just knew that on a great occasion, my mother and her husband at the time would find something of value in a dumpster. My mother eventually divorced and remarried so her dumpster diving days were over and I was happy about that.

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The question remains though, is it legal or illegal to dumpster dive in Washington?

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Here's What The Law Says About Dumpster Diving In Washington State

A great website called AVVO.COM lets you ask those sorts of questions and here is what one attorney had to say about the legality of dumpster diving:

There is a number of laws that can potentially make it illegal to engage in dumpster diving in a particular place. First, many cities that provide municipal garbage collection services also have ordinances in place that prohibit private collection or transportation of trash or refuse, whether it was collected from private or public property. Similarly, the city may have ordinances that prohibit scavenging in city landfills or city garbage cans and dumpsters, unless the diver has a contract with the city or some other form of permission.

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Second, municipal codes and state laws prohibiting trespassing can make it impossible to legally dumpster dive, because the diver does not have permission to enter the property where the dumpster is standing.

Very often, trespassing laws cover so much of the available dumpster population that there won't be many of them available to dive in.

Even if a dumpster appears to be on public property, if it is locked, then the owner is sending the message that the contents are intended to remain private and protected and it would be unwise to assume that removing and taking anything that it in the dumpster is legal.

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Third, sometimes dumpster diving is a way to gather individual personal private information that is then used to invade bank accounts or steal credit information.

Identity theft is illegal, and it is not a defense to say that the information was found abandoned in a dumpster or something along those lines.

Finally, there is a U.S. Supreme Court case called California vs. Greenwood that is often cited as holding that garbage left out for collection no longer belongs to the person who put it out there, and therefore, taking it is not illegal.

The Washington Supreme Court rejected the analysis of the Greenwood case. Here in Washington, under our own state constitution, it IS an invasion of privacy if the police go rifling through the garbage people leave out to be collected.

It appears that as a law, dumpster diving isn't illegal in the State of Washington per se but if you are entering private property to do it, you might get arrested for trespassing.

If it's a business, might be best to ask the business owner that was they are aware of you.

You can read more about dumpster diving and the law here.

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