Thursday, November 25, 2010

Check Your Pockets

When and if you encounter any old jackets, back packs, wallets, hand bags... always, ALWAYS check every pocket.

Just the other day I found a bag full of old clothes, within there was an old purse and the little pocket on the back had within it a crisp forgotten fifty dollar bill. A jacket within that same bag had $1.25 in quarters in one of the zipped up pockets.

I remember putting on my winter coat in the fall as a child and discovering pockets full of soiled tissues and occasionally money. So don't forget to check your own pockets.

Law and the Dumpster

So, what kind of trouble can I get in for diving into the trash? Well aside from the physical dangers inherent in the practice, some legal constraints do exist.

The supreme court of Canada as well as the US Supreme Court have both ruled that once trash has been discarded it enters the public domain and therefore is not protected by privacy laws, and since the material has been rejected by the discarder, they no longer have legal claim to it.

The Canadian Supreme Court heard the case of R v. Patrick (2008). The police suspected Patrick of running a drug production laboratory within his home. With insufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant the police surreptitiously picked up Patrick’s garbage on six different occasions, once it had been left out for collection in opaque plastic bags. The evidence, found within the garbage, allowed the police to acquire a warrant for the search of Patrick’s home where an ecstasy production laboratory was discovered and Patrick was charged accordingly. Patrick’s defence, in an attempt to challenge the validity of the search warrant, argued that Patrick has a privacy interest in objects left in opaque plastic bags, and within the boundaries of his private property. In this case the Canadian Supreme Court concluded Patrick’s privacy interest was abandoned when he left the garbage for collection. Garbage left at the edge of one’s property is exposed to and accessible by any member of the public. Dumpster divers, animals and garbage collectors may all have access to the contents of one’s garbage, so any privacy interest in its contents is abandoned once left for collection.

The United States Supreme Court concluded in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), that no expectation of privacy can hold over anything which runs the risk of being exposed to the public, therefore your trash becomes public domain as soon as it has been placed outside the home for pickup. In its decision the United States Supreme Court concluded with a statement of the US law of search and seizure: “[w]hat a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of [constitutional] protection.”

So, it’s within our rights to dig through the trash and lay claim to items found there. Where this becomes blurred in the eyes of the law is the subject of trespassing. Trespassing on private property is an illegal act and should be avoided. Business owners, property managers and home owners, if unpleased with your presence, will claim that you are trespassing upon their property in hopes of scaring you off. In most occasions it is wise to take this opportunity to leave the area to avoid confrontation. If the police get involved they will most likely side with the owner of the property. Remember you are within your rights but police officers are not the courts, a police officer will attempt to diffuse the situation and act within the boundaries of the law but in absence of clear guidelines they will leave the consequence to the discretion of the court. Remain calm, courteous, and respectful to all parties involved and accept the consequences graciously. Save your arguments for the judge, if it gets that far. If you left when warned and the owner is satisfied that you were frightened off they may decide to leave well enough alone, if not you may find the garbage secured behind a gate or locked within the bin the next time you drop in.

To clear up the trespassing boundary lines here are some examples of areas that are fair game and those that are off limits. Dumpsters in alleys are placed on public property and definitely on the market, dumpsters within fenced in compounds are on private property and require express permission before their treasures may be plundered. Garbage left at the curb or in the alley for pick up are fair game, however you may want to stay clear of trash left outside someone’s back door well within their property. A locked dumpster could arguably restrict public access and therefore may be protected under privacy laws, however an argument could be made that on the day of pick up the dumpster is left unlocked where by the contents then become accessible to the public voiding privacy protection. The lock itself is considered to be the property of the entity renting the rubbish bin, so the forceful removal of the lock could be construed as destruction of private property and possibly theft under $1000. So think twice before you cut that lock loose. If the lock happens to find its way to an unlocked state without being damaged or lost consider yourself fortunate.

Garbage dumps and waste transfer stations usually have strict no scavenging policies to protect them from liability claims filed from injured scavengers. Though you may not be trespassing you still must abide by their rules. Not all transfer stations are regulated and may have an open drop off policy for their area residents. If this is the case in your area, happy treasure hunting.

In almost all situations you will encounter regarding the law and diving, you can allow common sense to guide you. If you use conduct fitting of a business person you will be treated as one. If you act like you have something to hide you are sure to be treated like a criminal. When approached and asked to leave, remain courteous and accommodating, avoiding confrontation will serve you well. There is no need to fabricate elaborate stories to justify your presence as you have a right to be there. Be confident in that right and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Always clean up the area around the bin before you depart, this will show you mean no harm and strengthen your case for being allowed back.

On another note never pass up an opportunity to make a difference. Police officers and business owners are not your enemies. If the owner of a business asks you what you are doing feel free to start a dialogue and be honest about your actions. The owner pays to have their bin emptied so in a sense you are providing them with a valuable service. Let them know you are dedicated to cleaning up the planet as well as your immediate environment; they won’t want you there if you are constantly leaving a mess for them to clean up. Making friends could give you access to goods before they hit the bins or at the very least you may be able to acquire their consent to be there. Business owners usually have connections to other owners and can possibly spread word to others who may want to enlist your special services. If however you are disrespectful they may advise those same colleagues to restrict access to their bins as they plan to do to their own.

Recent developments in larger municipalities are bylaws making dumpster diving illegal. This can occur in larger centers where trash collection and disposal is handled through a contracted private firm. Private contractors are often paid for their services by the ton, hence the more we waste the more they profit. Presumably dumpster diving is a threat to the firm’s profitability and they will lobby the local government to create anti-scavenging bylaws to protect their garbage stream/bottom line. To find out if such a bylaw exists within your area contact your local bylaw enforcement officer, they are obligated to inform you of your rights when asked. While you’re at it make them your friend too, after all it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.

In the UK it is illegal to scour the skips. Waste is considered to be the property of the discarder until it is collected. At the time of collection the garbage becomes the property of the collector who is responsible for it until it is properly disposed of. This system insures accountability for the waste at all times. Unfortunately the garbage resource is cut off from reclamation and recycling programs. Though the law prohibits skip diving many individuals risk prosecution to pursue their passion for found objects nevertheless. This law is seldomly enforced against skip divers but remains an instrument of deterrence.

Please keep in mind that laws change all the time, become involved in the decision making process through public office to keep your bins accessible. This post will not hold up as evidence in any court of law, do your own home work before you get in over your head. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"ARGH! We all be wantin' at that treasure."

Why do we all have a special place in our hearts for pirates? I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with their goofy costumes or crazy euphemisms. Perhaps we all aspire to drink pillaged Jamaican rum while living a life on the high seas. No rules holding us back no 6AM wake ups, no commute to work, no rush hour(s), just the open sea and a flask. This could be it though I keep having visions of the incredibly painful head ache that would accompany that type of life style. No, I think we fantasize about pirates because we all secretly want at that treasure. This same fantasy is what forces us off the road whenever we come across yet another garage sale arrow. We’re all suckers for treasure. And just like a band of scalawags we horde our treasures. If we don’t know what to do with it now we bury it to be unearthed in our greatest time of need.

Scrap ribbons go in the old chocolate box, buttons in one of the many briny smelling jars that once contained pickles, lumber between the garage and the fence, old clothes in the back of the closet (every closet)... All of our treasures have value or at least they might some day. Not too long ago the collecting of useful objects was a necessity as there were little resources to spare. Now I’m afraid this remnant of the hard times of our past has turned from necessity to illness. Either we are unsure how to recognize when we have enough rubber bands and bread tags or this condition is due to the overwhelming abundance of bounty available to us. Some time ago I was introduced to a buccaneer who spoke of life in the time after the last Great War, a time before rural electrification or the commonality of the flush toilet. When I asked this mate why they had hundreds of rolls of toilet paper in their home the response was, “I never want to run out,” and, “They were on sale”.

So we end up saving all these things for a rainy day, praying that such a day never comes, and just like pirates we forget where our treasure was buried. In some cases this may be due to an over consumption of rum and/or pickles, but usually it’s due to the fact that we are all too busy following our soaps to remember and, as it turns out, we all suck at drawing maps. After all how could we possibly be expected to remember all the things we have acquired let alone where we put them? I can imagine what a map may look like... Five paces North, North East from the broken swing set you discarded last week because the kids no longer used it, past the unplanted half built garden plot filled with weeds, West at the pile of half broken cinder blocks you hoped to use to make an outdoor kitchen, three steps South past the collection of worn out snow shovels and broken broom handles, and here you will discover the mind you lost, X marks the spot.

We simply own too many things to account for it all at any given time. Since we can’t seem to keep track of our things without maps we all end up buying more. Here is an example of this neurotic behavior...

“I saved all these buttons in a pickle jar so that I could make a bracelet for my aunt’s birthday. When I went to build the bracelet I couldn’t find the jar so I had to go out and buy some buttons. That’s okay though ‘cause I found this huge hat box full of buttons at a garage sale on my way to the store. I built the bracelet then I stored the hat box on the shelf above all the old pickle jars. My aunt loved her bracelet so much that she said she decided to make some for her friends with a few of the buttons she has in a jar in her basement.”

The above story may or may not have happened to you but I’m sure you can still relate to this scenario somehow.

Burying our treasure makes it harder to find when we need it, and though it is buried it does not go away. Remaining organized with up to date maps can help manage what you have but the best way to stave off this wicked plague is to stop the accumulation at its source.

Perhaps we all would be better off on the high seas, living a simple life with our mates, our rum, and a few euphemisms. After all, these are our true treasures aren’t they?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Score one for the team

With the outcome of my last outing resulting in an empty hamper I was determined to make a great find. So the other night I went out once again and visited a couple of the bins that were empty the first time I looked. I wasn't out for long but I did discover a bin which should keep my family and friends fed quite well I think. Tonight we feasted on breaded mushrooms and they were divine. As time passes I am sure to find even more great places to plunder.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The hunt will continue

In a new town once again and time to discover my new route.

I decided to first explore the downtown core to see what the local little guys were discarding. I was not surprised to find most were either guarded by lock or had little to nothing to offer.

Next it was off to the larger stores located on... you guessed it, on the outskirts of town. Often larger grocery stores make use of industrial trash compactors due to the sheer volume of waste they deal with. Compactors are usually sealed up quite tight from the outside and if they aren't, the risk of climbing in is a strong deterrent, not to mention most items are squashed beyond use.

Some of the very large stores will often have a separate bin to handle larger object such as bicycles, old racks and shelving, pallets and all the returned electronics, clothes, appliances and so on. These bins are great, I've even encountered cases of fruit and vegetables thrown out due to too much stock. These are goldmines especially around x-mas.

As with the downtown core the larger grocery outlets and department stores came up dry. I did discover that the large dollar store and the business supply store had open bins, though they were mostly empty at this time and thus unfruitful.

Lumber yards and hardware stores usually have their bins locked up within the yard making them inaccessible. There is a lumber yard in town that has a "Firewood" area where you can come in during the day and pick up all their discarded stock. Just the other day I managed a load of 1x4 fence boards. There were two full pallets available, I took what I needed and hardly made a dent in the pile.

By this time I was feeling pretty down about my empty trunk and was ready to head home when I decided to take a quick look through the industrial area on the far side of town. What I discovered was a lot of oil field related businesses, a few manufacturing plants with chain link fences and commercial shops. On a bright note I stumbled upon a grocery wholesale outlet with a large open bin, empty again but surely not for long, and a cabinet shop with a bin hosting slightly damaged doors, hardware, sand paper and remnants from production. I didn't need any of this but I'm glad I discovered it just the same.

So it was a bust and I came home empty handed. I did however learn a lot about my city and know where to look in the days to come, when the bins have a fresh load. I am going to give some thought to approaching the produce managers directly and ask for their wilted produce, if asked why I could claim to want it to feed my animals, (a.k.a. the family). With the treasure locked up in a compactor I have nothing to lose.

The hunt will continue and the treasure will be unearthed.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


This is the time of year of new beginnings. Mother Earth has shed her shroud of wintry death and come to life once more. That's right, spring is here and with it comes time for spring-cleaning. As many know, spring-cleaning is when you take some time to sort through the mountain of things obtained throughout the last 12 months and decide what stays and what goes. It follows the assumption that we've consumed needlessly and because of this, we have more than we need.

Now, some people choose to rid themselves of their belongings through a mechanism called a Garage Sale. No, no one is trying to sell there garage, though some people do have too many of them, they simply pack all their unwanted things into the garage to have a sale. I myself have attended many of these events and at a time, I once held such an event myself. Anyone who has ever attended a garage sale can tell you this, in fact I mentioned it earlier in this rant, the items at a garage sale are un-needed things. Sure, you might find something interesting, you may even find something rare, perhaps you'll find a great deal you just can't pass up. One thing is for sure, you don't need it. If you needed it, you would have gone out and bought it months ago, that's what people do in our culture.
Now if you are not the type to hold a garage sale or you simply don't have a garage to sell out of you have a few other options. You could donate your belongings to a charitable society who in turn will sell them back to people just like you and me to help fund their cause. You could use a web service such as Freecycle or Kijiji, craigslist, ebay... the list goes on and on.

Another seldom thought of means of trinket disposal is to use a local auction house though it should be noted that items often are grouped for a sale and once the buyer has hold of the item they actually wanted many things end up tossed before the end of the day.

Since the vast majority of the items you are trying to dispose of could easily be cast into the category of JUNK, perhaps what is needed is a trip down repurpose lane. Bed sheets could become reusable grocery bags or covers for the plants in your garden. Old silverware could be turned into a beautiful wind chime. Yesterday's gift basket can be turned into a comfy place for a cat to sleep. The only limit is your imagination.

When you do your spring-cleaning this year try to keep everything, you can from going to the landfill. And this year try to keep from acquiring the un-needed.

Monday, April 27, 2009


My last trip to the landfill had me leaving with a new mantra and some new baggage.

One of my good friends and fellow scavengers, a.k.a. Trashcan Superman, has shared his slogan with me on many occasions and though I have found it to be accurate in the past, I hesitated to adopt it as my own, until now. It is a simple yet ironic view but accurate nonetheless.


It works like this... I'm in a skip looking through detritus when the weather changes and the wind picks up. Being that I'm at a landfill, the wind tends to pick up any loose debris and thrust it at you like a giant sand blaster. This makes vision a luxury only afforded to those who have come prepared. I try to always be prepared when scavenging but this time I was caught off guard. Luckily, THE DUMP PROVIDES, and as I looked down to find some footing I saw before me a bright blue box containing a wonderful pair of safety glasses that fit great, saving me from losing an eye to a flying bread tag.
I've found unopened bottled water when I thirst, a wheel for my office chair a day after one breaks at home, a toque and jacket just as I start to shiver, a flashlight as it gets too dark to see. The list could go on forever. Just as you have a need for something, you turn around and it's there. It's almost as if the wasteful being who tossed the item knew you were going to need it and very generously donated it to your cause. That must be it, they knew if they left those glasses at the curb for pick up on Wednesday that someone in need would find them just in the knick of time on a Saturday evening while rummaging through the rest of their trash. Bless their little hearts.

While there I also came away with a great hiking pack, a couple drums, two tambourines, a small xylophone and a set of dice to name a few. The hiking pack had tags on it telling a bit of its story. Bought in Vancouver, packed and flown to Honolulu, where it probably stayed in the hotel room, re-packed and flown back to Vancouver. Moved to this area and was discarded. Priced out, this bag is worth $50-$90. My win!

P.S. Another good mantra shared with me while scavenging... "He who digs, prospers." This is also very true. Thanks Ron.