Is Dumpster Diving Illegal in Texas?

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Dumpster Diving in Texas

Is dumpster diving illegal in Texas? Before we answer that question let’s go into a bit more detail on the subject. Since you’re asking the question, you probably already have good reasons to ask, but others might be curious as to exactly what it means to dumpster dive, so for that reason, let’s explain a few things first.

Why Do People Dumpster Dive?

People find many reasons to dive into a dumpster; some look for treasures to repurpose, artists look for things they can use to create with, and some people dumpster dive for food and other things for survival. While this may seem like a nasty thing to some people, others may find it an exciting hobby.

When it comes to dumpster diving you might hear people use other terms like trash picking, curb shopping, containering, dumpstering, or street scavenging. If a person is looking for metal, they can sell they might refer to the term as scrapping and people who are looking for food thrown away from farms will sometimes call it gleaning. 

No matter what the reasons people choose to dumpster dive, there are precautions you should heed before taking the leap.

  • First and foremost, you should know the laws for dumpster diving in your city, state, or county. (We will discuss more details about this later.) 
  • Know that even if it is legal to dumpster dive in your area most people will frown upon it, so use caution before diving in because you never know who will be lurking around the corner.
  • Speaking of lurking around the corner, you must be aware of the creatures who may linger in that dumpster you are about to dive into. For this reason, consider using a long pole to shift things around before going in.
  • Pay attention to the signs posted; obviously, no trespassing means just that and if you ignore the sign then the owner of the property can call the police and you could be looking at a fine. Never cut locks or cross over any fences that might be in the way of the dumpster.
  • Of course, you will want to wear old clothing because you will get dirty and you might even rip your clothing along the way. Keep your skin covered with long sleeves, long pants, heavy shoes and socks, and, be sure and wear heavy rubber work gloves. You never want to take a chance of getting germs or a disease, there is nothing worth any of that!

The Legalities of Dumpster Diving in Texas

Get legal information on whether or not dumpster diving is legal in Texas.

Now that you have a better understanding of why people dumpster dive and all the precautions that should be taken, let’s get down to the business of legalities. Every state law and municipality vary when it comes to dumpster diving. 

In some cases, the laws state that once junk is thrown into a receptacle and put to the curb it becomes a free for all, while other laws state that it belongs to the rightful owner until waste management picks it up.

In places where junk becomes a free for all, you should still use common sense before diving in head first. Even when a dumpster is located outside in a public area the dumpster still belongs to someone and that someone has the right to post signs ordering people to stay out. They may also lock the dumpster or put a fence or chain around the area. In such cases like these, you will be considered trespassing and that will mean you can still get into trouble for diving.

The original question you asked was if dumpster diving is illegal in Texas? In some cases, trash that is thrown away in the state is not considered abandoned until it is collected by the trash collectors. Now, while we can’t vouge for the entire state, we can tell you that as of 2013, the city of Houston decriminalized the act of going into public garbage cans giving people the right to scavenge for things without getting a citation. 

This law went into effect after a homeless man was caught and fined going through a trash receptacle in the city center. It was within the rights of the law to fine the man, but the public didn’t find it to be a positive result and the law was then amended, making it legal to dumpster dive in Houston.  

As of 1988, the Supreme Court Ruling, California vs. Greenwood, states that dumpster diving is legal in the United States except where prohibited by local regulation. This ruling was determined after law enforcement went through Greenwood’s trash to find evidence leading to a search warrant of his residence. The ruling states; “It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”

So, when it comes down to the question of whether dumpster diving in Texas is legal or not you should consider contacting the Texas Department of Public Safety customer service (512) 424-2000 for the proper laws in your jurisdiction. 

You could rack up some hefty fines if you dive into a dumpster where dumpster diving is illegal. Don’t forget, even in areas where it is legal, you will encounter those who find it a nuisance and they just might call the police. Make sure you understand your rights, but at the same time, be polite and respect the authorities. They might ask you to leave the property, and when they do, don’t argue or you might be spending the night behind bars. 

Things to Remember Before Dumpster Diving 

Things you should know before dumpster diving.

Keep in mind that dumpster diving is a dirty hobby but can be rewarding when you find things that can be repurposed or when you collect day old food that still has a life to it. Just like Rob Greenfield, the creator of The Food Waste Fiasco,  you might even collect food for the well-being of those who are in need.

The following are a few things you will want to remember before diving in:

  • As we mentioned earlier, be sure to wear proper clothing. Old clothes that cover your skin, heavy rubber work gloves, and close-toed shoes are all a must when dumpster diving. It’s dirty, smelly, and you never know when you might get jabbed with an unwanted prospect. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it often. Stay safe, don’t risk disease or illness!
  • Know your surroundings. Never explore in an unfamiliar territory no matter how safe the area might look. You don’t want to risk being hurt by an animal or another person lurking behind the dumpster. Always remember that there might be people watching from windows or doorways. Look for ways out of the area just in case you need to run.
  • Carry your cell phone on your person. This is important for a couple reasons. One, you might need the flashlight on it, and two, just in case the dumpster lid closes with you inside you might need to call for help.
  • Dive when it’s daylight, NEVER in the dark. Stay safe. A well-lit area is best!
  • Seasoned dumpster divers say the best time to dive in is right after a business closes and the employees have gone home. They say that diving in the morning before the store opens can be a good time depending on when the employees show up for work, but it is highly discouraged to scavenge during the day when the business is open.
  • As we mentioned before, the laws may vary depending on your jurisdiction or that of the business. In some areas a business on one side of the street could be in a different jurisdiction from the one on the opposite side of the street, so know the laws before jumping in. 
  • Chances are that if you find furniture at the curb, the rightful owner is throwing it away, but out of common courtesy, it wouldn’t hurt to knock on the door of the owner to get permission before taking it away. The same applies to those bags of trash lined up along the curb as well.
  • NEVER cross a trespassing sign, lock, chain, or fence. Nothing is worth paying a fine or spending a night in jail. If you see something that catches your eye, consider asking a manager of the business if you can have it. You might be surprised when they say “yes”. 

Although we never completely answered the initial question: Is dumpster diving illegal in Texas? We are certain that you have a better idea now then you had before. Since the laws vary, we can’t answer the question honestly, so please consider contacting the Law Library in Austin, Texas for further information.

Stay safe while dumpster diving, know the laws before going in, and be sure to shower when you’re finished!

Happy hunting!  

We are not lawyers, therefore, the information in this article is by no means intended to be used as legal advice.