Is It Legal to Go Dumpster Diving in New York?

Have you ever wondered if it’s legal to snatch up something that somebody has clearly thrown away? After all, the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” must’ve come from somewhere.

20 years ago in college, I dumpster dove next to one of the dorm housing units, and wound up finding some useful accent furniture. So from personal experience, I know it can be done successfully.

Conversely, I’ve thrown out perfectly good items just because I didn’t want to deal with them anymore, or was too busy to donate them to a thrift shop. This happened just last week. I threw away a standing floor lamp that worked fine… but it slightly leaned forward and it annoyed the hell out of me. But someone who might not be bothered by something like that would’ve found a perfectly functioning, useful item.

For those who seek a deal, you can go no lower than dumpster diving. It’s free.

In the broadest sense of the term, rummaging through trash is perfectly legal in all 50 states. There was a Supreme Court case in 1988 (the State of California vs. Greenwood) that deemed it legal as long as it does not interfere with any county, city or state ordinance.

Along those lines, you can’t just go prowling around someone’s private property and digging through their garbage. But once that trash has been placed on the street, picked up by the city waste management company, or placed in a municipal dumpster, it’s fair game. Just make sure the dumpster itself is not on private property, and there are no “No Trespassing” signs posted.

Some people get their kicks out of finding lost treasures. It’s the same psychology as someone who loves finding deals at a thrift store, just to the extreme. It’s an adrenaline rush. There are plenty of YouTube channels that center around dumpster diving.

Many of these YouTube channels also offer tips and tricks on dumpster diving, just in case you want to suit up and get filthy this weekend. Hey, I’m not here to judge.

Happy hunting!

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